The Iceland Guide

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Illustrated travel articles about various countries, including France, Iceland, Scotland and the USA.

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The land and the people

Culture: Later literature

After the achievements of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, Icelandic literature declined during the troubled and difficult fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But the seventeenth century, although no less harsh to the Icelanders than its predecessors, saw a surge of intellectual and literary creativity. One of the major figures of the century was Hallgrímur Pétursson (1614–74), Iceland's greatest hymn writer. His principle work, Fifty Passion Hymns, was ten years in the making but ranks today amongst the finest examples of its genre found anywhere in the world, and has won a special place in the nation's life. It is recited annually during Lent and one of the hymns is sung at funeral services.

As mentioned in the history section, during the seventeenth century scholars such as Árni Magnússon and Thormóð Torfaeus greatly advanced the historiography of the Norselands, as well as preserving the country's heritage by collecting and preserving old manuscripts.

The eighteenth century was notable in particular for the appearance for the first time of scientific descriptions of the island, such as the celebrated account by Eggert Ólafsson and Bjarni Pálsson. Many practical (as opposed to literary) books were published during this period, as were translations of important European works.

Thanks to the invigorating influence of Romanticism, the nineteenth century proved to be the most outstanding century since the thirteenth in the history of Icelandic literature.

The great pioneer of Romanticism in Iceland was Bjarni Thorarensen (1786–1841) but his younger contemporary, Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807–1845) is perhaps the best-loved poet that Iceland has produced. During this period much was written that favourably contrasted an idyllic view of Iceland peasant life with the degeneracy enjoyed in Copenhagen, Iceland's foreign capital, with many authors developing a more political stance in their writing.

In prose, Jón Thoroddsen (1818–68) is widely regarded as the father of the modern Icelandic novel. His best works are considered to be Lad and Lass (1850) and Man and Wife (1876). During this century too, the first steps were taken to preserve the purity of the language with the formation of the Icelandic Literary Society in Copenhagen in 1816. The Society (now based in Reykjavík) remains active to this day.

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The land and the people

The first explorers
The Age of the Settlement
The conversion to Christianity
The discovery of Greenland and America
The collapse of the Commonwealth
The Dark Ages
The nineteenth century
The twentieth century
Culture in the Icelandic environment
Old Icelandic literature
Eddic and skaldic poetry
The Sagas
Later literature
Modern literature
Painting, sculpture and music
The Icelanders
Traditional living conditions
The seasons
Changes in the modern world
Independent minds
Superstition, morality and the media
The land
On the edge of Europe
The shape of the land
The volcanoes
The glaciers
The natural world
The climate
The economy and infrastructure
Industry and energy