Halldor Laxness

Halldor Laxness
(1902 - 1998)

Icelandic novelist, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955.
Laxness spent most of his youth on the family farm. As a young man he spent several years traveling in Europe, where he became a Roman Catholic and wrote his first major novel, Vefarinn mikli fra Kasmir (1927; "The Great Weaver from Kashmir"), about a young man who is torn between his religious faith and the pleasures of the world. This novel marked the beginning of Laxness' dissociation from Christianity. During a stay in the United States (1927-29), Laxness turned to socialism, an ideology that is reflected in his novels from the 1930s and '40s.

After his return to Iceland, he published a series of novels with subjects drawn from the social life of Iceland: Salka Valka (1931-32), which deals with the plight of working people in an Icelandic fishing village; Sjalfst?tt folk (1934-35; Independent People), the story of an impoverished farmer and his struggle to retain his economic independence; and Heimsljos (1937-40; World Light), a four-volume novel about the struggles of a poor peasant poet. These novels criticized Icelandic society from a socialist viewpoint, and they attracted a great deal of controversy. The trilogy Islandsklukkan (1943-46; "Iceland's Bell"), set in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, has an explicitly nationalist theme; its style is influenced by that of the medieval Icelandic sagas. With this work, Laxness became firmly established as the foremost writer of Iceland.

Beginning in the late 1950s, Laxness increasingly turned from social issues; his works showed a greater concern with philosophical questions and with the problems of the individual. The novels from this period are more lyrical and introspective. They include Brekkukotsannall (1957; The Fish Can Sing), Paradisarheimt (1960; Paradise Reclaimed), and Kristnihald undir Jokli (1968; Christianity at Glacier).

In addition to novels, Laxness published plays, poetry, short stories, critical essays, and translations, and he edited several Icelandic sagas. In the 1970s and '80s he published several volumes of memoirs, including Sagan af brauddinu dyra (1987; The Bread of Life) and Dagar hja munkum (1987; "Days with Monks").

Peter Hallberg, Halldor Laxness, trans. from Swedish (1971), introduces Laxness' life and work.

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