Jakobsdottir, Svava

(1930-2004)
   An Icelandic novelist, short story writer, and playwright, Jakobsdottir started out in the tradition of social and psychological realism but quickly moved in the direction of the fantastic, which became a dominant trait in her work. Writing mostly about the lives of ordinary women, she also displays a strong feminist tenor in her oeuvre. Jakobsdottir had her literary debut with 12 konur (1965; Twelve Women), a collection of short stories mostly in the realist mode. Her next collection, Veizla undir grjotvegg (1967; Party under a Stone Wall), contained a mixture of realist and fantastic stories, but the feminist component was sufficiently strong that the Icelandic women's movement found Jakobsdottir's work useful to their cause, and Jakobsdottir was elected a member of the Icelandic parliament in 1971. Some of the stories are grotesque. In one story, the children in a family split their mother's head open and remove her brain in order to see what it looks like. The mother's functioning in family and society is not at all impeded, however. A third collection of short stories bears the title Gevfi5 hvort o5ru ... (1982; Give to One Another ...).
   Jakobsdottir's first novel, Leigjandinn (1969; tr. The Lodger and Other Stories, 2000), tells about a married couple who build a house and then accept a boarder. After a while the border and the husband merge into a single two-headed figure, which has been read as Jakobsdottir's commentary on Iceland's membership in the NATO alliance and the American military base located close to Reykjavik, with its attendant cultural influence. The novel Gunnladar saga (1987; The Saga of Gunnlod) also employs fantastic narration, but it is less grotesque and tends more toward the use of myth. Narrated by the mother of a young girl named Dis, who has been accused of stealing a prehistoric urn from Denmark's National Museum of Art, the story merges two temporal levels, for Dis travels back in time so that her identity is fused with that of the mythical figure Gunnlod, whom, according to Old Norse mythology, the god Odin seduced in order to get hold of the magic mead of poetry. The vessel that Dis has stolen from the museum is the urn that contained the poetry, and Gunnlod has essentially come back to modern times in the form of Dis in order to retrieve her property. The Danish police have a hard time accepting this explanation, however, which shows that Jakobsdottir was not entirely lost in the fantastic.
   The short story collection Undir eldfjalli (1989; Under the Volcano) is similar in tone to Gunnladar saga. Jakobsdottir has also written several dramas, including the stage plays Hvad er i blyholknum (1970; What Is in the Lead Pipe), Fridsæl verold (1974; A Peaceful World), Æskuvinir (1976; Childhood Friends), and Lokaæfing (1983; Final Rehersal), as well as the radio play I takt vid timana (1980; In Step with the Times). In general, the plays deal with social and political topics, including the fear of nuclear war.
   See also Jakobsson, Jokull; Theater.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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