Romanticism and the Struggle for Independence
Hótel Borg One of the buildings at Austurvöllur is Hotel Borg, built in 1930. The hotel's café has always been a popular meeting place for various groups, including writers and politicians. Vigdís Gríms dóttir's 1994 novel, Grandavegur 7, tells of Frída, a clairvoyant girl who lives in the western part of Reykjavík in the 1950s and 60s. Frída's alcoholic father abandons the family after the death of her younger brother and has rented room 212 in Hotel Borg, along with his mistress.
One of the main writers associated with Romanticism in Iceland is the poet and natural scientist Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807–1845). Jónas lived for a spell in Reykjavík and attended Bessastadir School, the official residence of the President of Iceland today, but moved to Copenhagen like many intellectuals at the time. Jónas was one of the poets and scholars who took an active part in Iceland's struggle for independence, literature having played a big part in that struggle. This group of people wanted to inspire the nation to great things and looked to the glories of the past and the golden age of literature. They were also interested in folklore and folk art, even though Jónas and friends criticized the aforementioned rímur harshly on aesthetic grounds. Jónas's poetry expresses great love for his country, and he was also a champion of the Icelandic language and found it imperative to ensure its constant renewal and preservation at times when Danish was becoming ever more influential in official discourse. For this reason, the annual Icelandic Language Day is held on the 16th of November to coincide with the poet's birthday. Many words that have now become an integral part of everyday language were created by Jónas, such as the word “sjónauki” (binoculars – literally: sight-enhancer). He is responsible for numerous such simple and transparent words that some people say characterize the Icelandic language. Many songs have been composed to Jónas'ss poetry and these songs are very popular with choirs, song groups and the public, and his poetry is taught in all schools. Jónas was an avid translator as well, translating poetry and stories from other languages into Icelandic, as he and his contemporaries believed it to be important to bring new trends from abroad to Iceland and give people the opportunity to read great, foreign literature in their own tongue. Reykjavík City Library offers a popular literary walk, tracing the steps of Jónas through the oldest part of Reykjavík.
From Grandavegur 7 I knock two times twice but the music drowns out the sound. Dad can't hear my signals. I knock again, harder, but still nobody answers. Then I rattle the doorknob and beat the door with my flat hands. Five times and my palms start to sting. Finally, the door opens a little. Dad looks out into the corridor and our eyes meet. He stares at me and I know he doesn't want to invite me in right now. He just wants to lie under the warm sheets next to the woman and listen to the song “Hraustir menn” [Strong Men]. Translated by Lingua
UNESCO City of Literature
Published on Jul 23, 2012