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Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 241 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RECENT LITERATURE The recent literature of Iceland has been in a more flourishing state than ever before since the 13th century Lyrical poetry is by far the largest and the most interesting portion of it. The great influence of Jonas Hallgrfmsson (18o7-1845) is still felt, and his school was the reigning one up to the end of the 19th century, although then a change seemed to be in sight. The most successful poet of this school is Steingrimr Thorsteinsson (b. 1830). He is specially famous for his splendid descriptions of scenery (The Song of Gilsbakki), his love-songs and his sarcastic epigrams. As a translator he has enriched the literature with The Arabian Nights, Sakuntala, King Lear and several other masterpieces of foreign literature. Equal in fame is Matthias Jochumsson (b. 1835), who, following another of Jonas Hallgrimsson's many ways, has successfully revived the old metres of the classical Icelandic poets, whom he resembles in his majestic, but sometimes too gorgeous, language. He is as an artist inferior to Steingrimr Thorsteinsson, but surpasses him in bold flight of imagination. He has successfully treated subjects from Icelandic history Grettisljocl5, a series of poems about the famous outlaw Grettir). His chief fault is a certain carelessness in writing; he can never write a bad poem, but rarely a poem absolutely flawless. He has translated Tegner's Frithiofs Saga, several plays of Shakespeare and some other foreign masterpieces. The great religious poet of Iceland, Hallgrfmr Petursson, has found a worthy successor in Valdemar Briem (b. 1848), whose Songs of the Bible are deservedly popular. He is like Matthias Jochumsson in the copious flow of his rhetoric; some of his poems are perfect both as regards form and contents, but he sometimes neglects the latter while polishing the former. An interesting position is occupied by Benedict GrOndal (b. 1826), whose travesties of the old romantic stories,' and his Aristophanic drama Gandreioin (" The Magic Ride ") about contemporary events, are among the best satirical and humorous productions of Icelandic literature. Influenced by Jonas Hallgrfmsson with regard to language and poetic diction, but keeping unbroken the traditions of Icelandic medieval poetry maintained by Sigur5r BreiofjorN (1798-1846), is another school of poets, very unlike the first. In the middle of the 19th century this school was best represented by Hjalmar Jonsson from Bola (1796-1875), a poor farmer 1 E.g. " The Battle of the Plains of Death," a burlesque on the battle of Solferino.with little education, but endowed with great poetical talents, and the author of satirical verses not inferior to those of Juvenal both in force and coarseness. In the last decades of the 19th century this school produced two poets of a very high order, both distinctly original and Icelandic. One is Pall Olafsson (b. 1827). His songs are mostly written in the medieval quatrains (ferskeytla), and are generally of a humorous and satirical character; his convivial songs are known by heart by every modern Icelander; and although some of the poets of the present day are more admired, there is none who is more loved by the people. The other is porsteinn Erlingsson (b. 1858). His exquisite satirical songs, in an easy and elegant but still manly and splendid language, have raised much discussion. Of his poems may be mentioned The Oath, a series of most beautiful ballads, with a tragical love-story of the 17th century as their base, but with many and happy satirical allusions to modern life; Jorundr, a long poem about the convict king, the Danish pirate Jorgensen, who nearly succeeded in making himself the master of Iceland, and The Fate of the Gods and The Men of the West (the Americans), two poems which, with their anti-clerical and half-socialistic tendencies, have caused strong protests from orthodox Lutheran clergy. Near to this school, but still standing apart, is Grfmur Thomsen (b. 182o). In the beginning of the 'eighties a new school arose—having its origin in the colony of Icelandic students at the University of Copenhagen. They had all attended the lectures of Georg Brandes, the great reformer of Scandinavian literature, and, influenced by his literary theories, they chose their models in the realistic school. This school is very dissimilar from the half-romantic school of Jonas Hallgrfmsson;, it is nearer the national Icelandic school represented by Pall Olafsson and porsteinn Erlingsson, but differs from those writers by introducing foreign elements hitherto unknown in Icelandic literature, and—especially in the case of the prose-writers—by imitating closely the style and manner of some of the great Norwegian novelists. Their influence brought the Icelandic literature into new roads, and it is interesting to see how the tough Icelandic element gradually assimilates the foreign. Of the lyrical poets, Hannes Hafsteinn (b. 1861) is by far the most important. In his splendid ballad, The Death of Skarphedinn, and in his beautiful series of songs describing a voyage through some of the most picturesque parts of Iceland, he is entirely original; but in his love-songs, beautiful as many of them are, a strong foreign influence can be observed. Among the innovations of this poet we may note a predilection for new metres, sometimes adopted from foreign languages, sometimes invented by himself, a thing practised rarely and generally with small success by the Icelandic poets. No Icelandic novelist has as yet equalled Jon Thoroddsen (1819-1868). The influence of the realistic school has of late been predominant. The most distinguished writer of that school has been Gestur Palsson (1852-1891), whose short stories with their sharp and biting satire have produced many imitations in Iceland. The best are A Home of Love and Captain Sigurd. Jonas Jonasson (b. 1856), a clergyman of northern Iceland, has, in a series of novels and short stories, given accurate, but somewhat dry, descriptions of the more gloomy sides of Icelandic country life. His best novel is RandiOr from Hvassafell, an historical novel of the middle ages. Besides these we may mention Torfhildur Holm, one of the few women who have distinguished themselves in Icelandic literature. Her novels are mostly historical. The last decade of the 19th century saw the establishment of a permanent theatre at Reykjavik. The poet Matthias Jochumsson has written several dramas, but their chief merits are lyrical. The most successful of Icelandic dramatists as yet is Indri6i Einarsson, whose plays, chiefly historical, in spite of excessive rhetoric, are very interesting and possess a true dramatic spirit. In geography and geology porvaldr Thoroddsen has acquired a European fame for his researches and travels in Iceland, especially in the rarely-visited interior. Of his numerous writings in Icelandic, Danish and German, the History of Icelandic Geography is a monumental work. In history Pall Melste6's (b. 1812) chief work, the large History of the World, belongs to this period, and its pure style has had a beneficial influence upon modern Icelandic prose. Of the younger historians we may mention porkell Bjarnason (History of the Reformation in Iceland). Jon porkelsson (b. 1822), inspector of the archives of Iceland, has rendered great services to the study of Icelandic history and literature by his editions of the Diplomatarium Islandicum and Obituarium Islandicum, and by his Icelandic Poetry in the 15th and 26th Century, written in Danish, an indispensable work for any student of that period. A leading position among Icelandic lexicographers is occupied by Jon porkelsson, formerly head of the Latin school at Reykjavik, whose Supplement tit islandske OrdbO,ger, an Icelandic-Danish vocabulary (three separate collections), has hardly been equalled in learning and accuracy. Other distinguished philologists are his successor as head of the Latin school, Bjorn Magnusson Olsen (Researches on Sturlunga, Ari the Wise, The Runes in the Old Icelandic Literature—the last two works in Danish); Finnur Jonsson, professor at the University of Copenhagen (History of the Old Norwegian and Icelandic Literature, in Danish, and excellent editions of many old Icelandic classical works); and Valtyr Gu5mundsson, lecturer at the University of Copenhagen (several works on the old architecture of Scandinavia) and editor of the influential Icelandic literary and political review, Eimrei6in (" The Locomotive "). See J. C. Poestion, Islandische Dichter der Neuzeit (Leipzig, 1897) ; C. Kuchler, Geschichte der islandischen Dichtung der Neuzeit (Leipzig, 1896); Ph. Schweitzer, Island; Land and Leute (Leipzig, 1885); Alexander Baumgartner, Island and die Faroer (Freiburg im Breisgau, 1889). (S. BL.)
End of Article: RECENT

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