The Iceland bell

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The Icelandic Bell ( Icelandic Íslandsklukkan , written from 1943 to 1946) is the best-known novel by the Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness (1902-1998). The German-language first edition is from 1951.


The action spans more than two decades and takes place in Iceland under Danish rule in the late 17th and early 18th centuries; the temporal compression of events in local history that are actually further apart makes a more precise dating impossible. Some shorter episodes also take place in the Netherlands, Germany and especially Denmark. The social and political situation of Iceland plays a major role; It shows the impoverished peasants, the proud but also quite simple upper class and the rich Danish profiteers, but also the pride of the country and its old traditions among Icelanders of all classes.

Very closely linked, almost too closely to be seen as separate storylines, two stories are at the center. There is the only partially happy love story between the beautiful, self-confident and elegant blond judge's daughter Snæfriður and the scholar Arnas Arnaeus , who is looking for valuable old manuscripts in the country, some of which are misappropriated and exposed to destruction, for him the most important legacy from the glorious times of the now humiliated country. Later, as royal commissioner, he tried in vain to improve the situation on the island; his ideals of justice meet the stubbornness of the Icelanders, who are proud of their traditional social order, and the resistance of the Danish merchants. Again and again Arnaeus decides against Snæfriður and for other projects, which he believes are more important for the country.

The second storyline focuses on the farmer Jón . He is charged with murder, barely able to evade execution and then wanders through Europe for years. After his return to Iceland the process is rolled up again and again. Snæfriður's father condemned him for the first time on the basis of vague circumstantial evidence; the girl herself enables him to escape, her father then lets him return to the farm unmolested; Arnaeus, in the name of justice, has the first retrial, which ends in a harsh sentence against Snæfriður's father, and Snæfriður the second, in order to restore their father's honor by condemning Jon and Arnaeus.

At the end of the novel, Arnaeus refuses an offer from a Hamburg merchant to buy Iceland and make him Duke, thus blocking the last chance of a future with Snæfriður. A fire in Copenhagen destroys Arnaeus' library with the exception of a few works; his resignation prevents rescue. Snæfriður marries her "eternal suitor", who had previously been humiliatingly rejected by her, the learned, at times fanatically ascetic and Catholic-inclined new Bishop of Skálholt . Jon, now greatly aged, is finally acquitted.

The novel consists of three books or parts: Íslandsklukkan ( Eng . The Bell of Iceland , 1943), Hið ljósa man ( Eng . The light maid , 1944), Eldur í Kaupinhafn ( Eng . Fire in Copenhagen , 1946).

Interpretative classification and background

The storyline related to the farmer Jón, which is closely linked to the first one about Arnas Árnaeus, recalls famous picaresque novels such as Grimmelshausen's " The adventurous Simplicissimus Teutsch ".

Many important people and events are based on facts that emerged from the author's intensive study of the sources. The trial of Jón Hreggvidson and the Copenhagen fire actually happened. The figure of Arnas Arnaeus is based on the historical figure of Árni Magnússon (1663–1730, Latin: Arnas Magnaeus), who actually traveled around Iceland at the beginning of the 18th century and bought old writings. In this way, precious manuscripts, etc. a. Saved from decline and disappearance by sagas . The texts were initially kept in Copenhagen but returned to Iceland in the 1970s.

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