Gunnar Gunnarsson Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Gunnar Gunnarsson (GUHN-nahr-suhn), who wrote in both Icelandic and Danish, settled in Copenhagen after receiving his high school education in his native Iceland. At first he joined a number of Icelanders who hoped to reach a large audience by writing in Danish, but he soon reacted against their cosmopolitan views to describe the lives of his ancestors and the fixed ways of his homeland in two notable series of novels. The four-volume “Borg” novels, about three generations of Icelandic farmers, first brought him fame in his adopted language. The most popular of these has been translated as Guest the One-Eyed. Gunnarsson’s autobiographical five-volume series titled Kirken paa Bjerget are marked by a gloomy concentration on the rocky terrain of Iceland and a forceful portrayal of rugged heroes living close to the soil.

Livets Strand, a story about the failure of a country priest and the enervating weakness of the people around him, is considered by many to be Gunnarsson’s finest work. He was concerned with intense moral struggles; especially powerful is his account of the destruction of a mind through villainy in Seven Days’ Darkness. As an interpreter of northern European life, he has been compared to Knut Hamsun and Johannes V. Jensen. Primarily a novelist, he also wrote several plays, a volume of poetry. and nine volumes of short stories.

Throughout his life, Gunnarsson worked on a series of twelve novels designed to dramatize the history of Iceland from the age of the Vikings to the present. Among the volumes translated into English are the first of the series, The Sworn Brothers, and the one most critically applauded, a novel set in the eighteenth century, The Black Cliffs. Throughout this series, as in all his work, Gunnarsson helped bring Icelandic culture to the rest of the world.

He returned to Iceland in 1938, and in his later writing he continued to explore fundamental issues of life and death, good and evil, which he saw echoed in the struggle between human beings and nature.

Gunnar Gunnarsson Bibliography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Beck, Richard. “Gunnar Gunnarsson: Some Observation.” In Scandinavian Studies: Essays Presented to Dr. Henry Goddard Leach on the Occasion of His Eighty-fifth Birthday, edited by Carl F. Bayerschmidt and Erik J. Friis. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965. A critical and biographical study.

Einarsson, Stefán. History of Icelandic Prose Writers, 1800-1940. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948. Covers Gunnarsson’s Denmark years.

Hoskuldsson, Sveinn Skorri. “Gunnar Gunnarsson and Icelandic Folktales.” In Ur Dolum til Dala: Gudbrandur Vigfusson Centenary Essays, edited by Rory McTurk and Andrew Wawn. Leeds, England: Leeds Studies in English, 1989. One of the most important critical studies of Gunnarsson.

Rossel, Sven H. A History of Scandinavian Literature, 1870-1980. Translated by Anne C. Ulmer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. A brief biographical sketch appears. Rossel describes Gunnarsson’s work and popularity but does not himself admire the novels.