The Post-Classical Icelandic Family Saga

Author: Arnold, Martin
This book aims to establish theoretical principles for analyzing the group of late 13th- and 14th- century Íslendingasögur (Icelandic family sagas) traditionally designated as post-classical. Two periods of Icelandic history are examined. First, the medieval period is examined in terms of the cultural background to the production of the Íslendingasögur. Secondly, the 19th and early 20th centuries are examined in terms of the development of medieval Icelandic studies and the rise of an Icelandic nationalist movement. Both periods are interpreted as times when the dominant ideological forces were characterized by a form of National Romanticism.


“Dr. Arnold’s comprehensive exploration of the most celebrated Icelandic saga genre uncovers the soul of a people in search of an identity down the centuries. Like the other marginalized people of Western Europe – the Welsh, the Gaelic and the Breton – we see in the Icelanders how a people clung to their literature as the last bastion of their identity. In his search for ‘Icelandicness’, Dr. Arnold finds it in the way that thirteenth century Icelanders were forced to come to terms with economically aggressive neighbours, and in the way that scholars from the nineteenth century onwards have sought to impose their own romanticist and nationalist priorities on this extraordinary body of medieval literature. Dr. Arnold systematically reveals the layers of hermeneutic cultural archaeology by which the status of the Icelandic sagas has been variously determined.” – Professor David Crouch, University of Hull

“This is a solid, competent, and cogently written piece of work. The originality of this work lies in the parallels it draws between medieval and modern Icelandic attitudes to the sagas, and in the emphasis it gives to discussion of the post-classical Íslendingasögur in relation to the much more commonly discussed classical Íslendingasögur. With its combination of scholarliness and readability, it is a most valuable contribution to Icelandic studies.” – Dr. Rory McTurk, University of Leeds

"The author's analysis of the scholarly reception of the classical Íslendingasögur is thorough and careful. He shows how the subject matter of these sagas - the lives of Icelanders who built up an independent republic after the ninth-century settlement of Iceland, with its own legal and parliamentary structures - fitted perfectly the nationalist agenda of Iceland critics, and that saga style - that cool, realist narrative which continued to be privileged even when its subject matter came to be regarded as more fictional than historical - met the literary taste of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries ..." MLR, 2005

Table of Contents

Table of contents (main headings):
Preface; Introduction
1. Medieval Icelandicness as National Romanticism and the production of the Íslendingasögur
2. Evaluating the Íslendingasögur : scholarly determinations in the 19th and 20th centuries
3. The quintessential classical saga: the politics of classicism, class politics and the case of Hrafnkels saga
4. Beyond independence, towards post-classicism, and the case of Fósbrœðra saga
5. The post-classical Íslendingasögur and the re-evaluation of tradition in Króka-Refs saga
Bibliography; Index