Halldór (Kiljan) Laxness 1902–
(Born Halldór Kiljan Guðjonsson) Icelandic novelist, essayist, dramatist, short story writer, travel writer, translator, autobiographer, historian, and poet.
Laxness won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1955 for his success at invigorating the staid literature of Iceland and for his adept portrayal of the problems that modernization had brought to that isolated and ancient culture. Unfortunately, his innovations, symbolism, and lyricism cannot be fully appreciated in translation. Thus, though Laxness's work is monumental in Icelandic literature, he is not well known outside Scandinavia.
Laxness travelled extensively through post-World War I Europe and was influenced by literary trends there. Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír (The Great Weaver from Kashmir) is a notable work from this period of his career. It shows Laxness to have been under the sway of expressionism and deeply interested in religious questions. Written while Laxness was living in a monastery in Luxembourg, Vefarinn mikli frá Kasmír is a novel of ideas, full of general philosophical speculation and explorations of Catholic theology.
In 1929, Laxness published a collection of radical essays entitled Alþýðubókin (The Book of the People). Clearly socialist in many of its stances, this book marks the beginning of a long period in which Laxness's political beliefs were quite obviously integrated into his fiction. Salka Valka epitomizes the type of fiction produced by Laxness during this stage of his career. Set in an economically depressed fishing village in Iceland and written in an epic style, the novel contains a good deal of social criticism. Its world view is bleak, as is its view of human nature.
Laxness published the novel Brekkukotsannáll (The Fish Can Sing) in 1957, a work that is said to mark a third period in Laxness's writing. This novel and those that follow it contain less social and political criticism than the earlier works. They are more lyrical and introspective. Beginning with Brekkukotsannáll, Laxness seems to find solace in the human capacity for dignity and goodness.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 103.)