The few Icelandic women writers to appear around the turn of the twentieth century travel from the countryside to Reykjavík. But it is not contemporary Iceland that frames, in their literary works, their depiction of Icelandic women’s struggles of the modern age.They choose the past as a time frame, the journey back to the patriarchal farming community from which the contemporary identity conflicts and attempted exoduses spring. From this perspective, they thematise the conflicts between duty and freedom and the ambivalence concerning women’s new liberation.
Gender and Class in Icelandic Women’s Literature of the 1970s
The start of the 1960s saw the publication of the first poetry collection by Vilborg Dagbjartsdóttir who, as a modernist and a multifaceted cultural figure, has inspired both a younger generation of Icelandic female poets and poets of her own generation.Poets such as Þóra Jónsdóttir, who made her debut in 1973, and Þuríður Guðmundsdóttir, who published her first book in 1969, were, like Vilborg Dagbjartsdóttir, born and brought up in the countryside, and later settled in Reykjavík, and they are, to some extent, preoccupied with the same poetic subjects. They express themselves in precisely chiselled, minimalist poems that demand the reader’s full attention.
A single woman, Arnfríður Jónatansdóttir, ought to be counted among the modernist group of Icelandic writers known as the Atom Poets. Her poems display the same characteristics: they are written in free form, in a concentrated language, and she makes free use of imagery.Before the emergence of the Atom Poets numerous other poets had straddled the divide between tradition and innovation, and many female poets had merged the old and the new in their poetry. This holds true of authors such as Sigríður Einars frá Munaðarnesi and Halldóra B. Björnsson. But the positioning of them, within Icelandic literary history is not a straightforward matter, and this problem illustrates their poetic conflicts.It is as though they are, themselves, in doubt about their position; they want to prove themselves within a tradition to which they do not, in fact, belong, and they are at the same time filled with enthusiasm for the free-form poetry. They gave themselves whole-heartedly to the new, liberated poetry after having demonstrated, in their debuts, their mastery of the traditional craft – rhyming, alliterative poems in a strict, rhythmical form.