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Kristmann Guðmundsson (1902-1983)


Icelandic writer, published over 30 novel and gained fame with his books of romantic fiction, several written in Norwegian. With Gunnar Gunnarsson (1901-1983) and Halldór Killian Laxness (1902-1998) Guðmundsson was among the first internationally known Icelandic authors. His novels often dealt with youthful, erotic passion, which earned him a reputation as a northern D.H. Lawrence. Guðmundsson published over 30 novels, which have been translated into thirty-six languages.

"Guðmundsson is a master of the modern romance. Like no other Icelandic novelist he understands the psychology of love, especially young love, and describes it with a realism that nevertheless seems ethereally romantic." (Stefán Einarsson in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, ed. Jean Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton, 1980)

Kristmann Guðmundsson was born in Þverfell in the district of Borgarfjörður. His father was a rover, but his mother offered him a model for love of the soil. Guðmundsson grew up in poverty which also was marked by lack of parental care and sickness. His formal education was minimal. However, he had a thirst for learning and nothing stopped him from optimistically trying his luck in odd jobs. In 1923 Guðmundsson started to work as a journalist. When many Icelandic writers moved to Denmark, among them Gunnar Gunnarson, he decided to go to Norway and become a writer. Guðmundsson was a free-lance writer in Copenhagen and Olso until 1938, when returned to Reykjavík.

In Norway Guðmundsson published in Norwegian a collection of stories, Islandsk kjærlighet (1924), which gained success and astonished the critics by mastery of Norwegian idiom and style. Livets morgen (1929, Morning of Life) was praised for its strong and noble protagonist who incarnates the heroic ideal of the sagas in his struggle against fate. Haldor Bessason, a sailor and farmer, is happily married with the beautiful Salvør. After a storm his boat is stranded on a far shore. He spends a passionate night with a French girl, and after returning home Haldor realizes that he cannot forget her. He separates from Salvør who marries a Danish shop owner. Haldor's life with Maria doesn't give him the comfort and happiness he experienced with Salvør. The autobiographical novel Hvite netter (1934) brought out his optimistic world view. Guðmundsson's other famous early novels include Brudekjolen (1927, The Bridal Gown), a family saga, and Det hellige fjell (1932), which describes the old Norse and Irish settlement of his birthplace. After returning to Iceland Guðmundsson began writing in Icelandic. He died on November 20, 1983 in Reykjavík. Guðmundsson's lawsuit against the writer Thor Vilhjámsson was the subject of Sigurjón Magnússon’s novel Borgir og eyđimerkur (2003).

Guðmundsson's central themes were obsessive love, hate and fear. The author himself, who was married seven times, was known as an incurable womanizer. Forces of nature play a major role in the stories. Det hellige fell opens with a sudden thunder, and then under the clear sky three Viking ship start they voyage toward north, to a strange misty island. Askell Gunnkallsson is leaving with his family Norway; the house is sold and there is no turning back. In Jordens barn (1935) Valborg falls in love with Thorgils in spring. The marriage is not happy and her little child, Gunnar, dies in a cold autumn night. In Brudekjolen a folk tale of a magic stain on a bridal gown allegorically reflects the tangled relationships between two families, which affect the lives of the younger generation. Kolfinnan, the central character of the story, inherits her mother's bridal gown but she washes the black stain away. An excursion into the early European history, Winged Citadel (1937), was a historical romance set in Crete during the Mycenaean times, but it also was full of allusions to psychoanalysis and World War II politics. In another historical work (Þakan rauða, 1950-52) Guðmundsson dealt with the creator of the ancient Völuspa poem, which probably came from the period when Christianity was making its way in Iceland. Its author represented the old faith in such gods as Odin, Balder, Loki, and the day of Ragnarok. Guðmundsson's own attempt in poetry, Kristmannskver, appeared in 1955. His later books from the 1960s and 1970s are considered light entertainment, which still show his joy in telling a good story. Ferđin til stjarnanna (1959), published under the pseudonym Ingi Vítalín, was s science fiction story.

For further reading: 'Kristmann Guðmundsson' by G.G. Hagalín in Iðunn 14 (1930); History of Icelandic Prose Writers 1800-1840 by S. Einarsson (1948); A History of Icelandic Literature by Stefán Einarsson (1957); A History of Scandinavian Literature 1870-1980 by Sven H. Rossel (1982)

Selected works:

  • Rökkursöngvar, 1920
  • Islandsk kjærlighet, 1926
  • Bjudekjolen, 1927 (Brúðarkjóllinn) - The Bridal Gown (translated by O.F. Theis, 1931) - Morsiuspuku (suom. Lauri Hirvensalo, 1933)
  • Ármann og Vildís, 1928 - Myrskyn mentyä (suom. Anna Talaskivi, 1934)
  • Livets morgen, 1929 (Morgunn lífsins) - Morning of Life (translated by Elizabeth Sprigge and Claude Napier, 1936)
  • Sigmar, 1930
  • Den blå kyst, 1931 (Ströndin blá) - Kaukainen ranta (suom. Mika Waltari, 1935)
  • Det hellige fjell, 1932 (Helgafell) - Pyhä tunturi (suom. Anna Talaskivi, 1938)
  • Den første vår, 1933
  • Hvite netter, 1934 (Bjartar nætur)
  • Jordens barn, 1935 (Börn jarðar) - Maan lapset (suom. Mika Waltari, 1937)
  • Lampen, 1936 (Lampinn)
  • Gudinnen og oksen, 1937 (Gyðjan og uxinn) - Winged Citadel (translated by Barrows Mussey, 1940)
  • Arma Ley, 1940
  • Nátttröllið glottir, 1943
  • Félagi kona, 1947
  • Saga um Sklad, 1948
  • Kvöl í Reykjavík, 1948
  • Leikmanns Þankar, 1949
  • Þakan rauða, 1950-52 (2 vols.)
  • Arfur kynslóðanna, 1953
  • Harmleikurinna à Austurrbæ, 1955
  • Kristmannskver, 1955
  • Isold hin svarta, 1959
  • Ævintyr í himingeimnum, 1959
  • Ferđin til stjarnanna, 1959 (as Ingi Vítalín)
  • Dærgin blá, 1960
  • Garðaprýði, 1961
  • Loginn hvíti. Saga skáldis, 1961
  • Voluskrin, 1961
  • Ísold hin gullna, 1962
  • Torgið, 1965
  • Skammdegi, 1966
  • Blábrá og fleiri sögur, 1968
  • Tilhugalíf: skemmtisaga, 1968
  • Smiðurinn mikli, 1969
  • Sumar í Selavík, 1971
  • Brosið. Skáldsaga, 1972
  • Leikur að ljóðum, 1974
  • Stjörnuskipið, 1975
  • Skaldeverk, 1978 (8 vols.)
  • Haustljóð, 1981

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