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“ In order to give as much actuality as possible to this drama, I traversed Iceland on foot from north to south and saw the places high up in the wild mountain waste where Eyvind lived with his wife. In my little garret in Copenhagen I had learned by my own experience the agony of loneliness.”
Sigurjónsson's first drama, Dr. Rung, was written in Danish and published in 1905. This tragedy presents a young Copenhagen physician, Harold Rung, who is endeavoring to find a specific against tuberculosis. In order to test the effect of his serum, he decides to inoculate himself with the disease, and the pleading of Vilda, who loves him, fails to shake him from his purpose. The remedy proves a failure; the young scientist goes mad, giving Vilda poisoned grapes.
The Hraun Farm was published in Icelandic in 1908 (Bóndinn á Hrauni), and in Danish in 1912 (Gaarden Hraun). In rewriting the play for the Copenhagen stage, Sigurjónsson gave it a happy ending, thus changing a tragedy into a pleasant dramatic idyl of contemporary country life in Iceland. It is the familiar Scandinavian theme of the struggle of human love with love of the homestead. An old farmer, Sveinungi, is a veritable patriarch living at the edge of the “ hraun,” the lava-field. His only daughter, Ljot, he has destined for a sturdy neighbor's son, who will keep up the estate. But the girl falls in love with a young geologist and arouses her father's wrath, until the play ends with a scene in which Sveinungi is won over by Jorunn, his persuasive wife. The action is interrupted by an earthquake. The dialogue is well maintained and rises to heights of lyrical splendor. In point of dramatic effectiveness, The Hraun Farm may be regarded as only a preliminary study com: pared to the next play, but its picture of pastoral Iceland makes it a fitting companion-piece to the greater drama in the present volume.
All other work of Sigurjónsson and the younger Icelandic dramatists pales beside Eyvind of the Hills, written in Danish and published in 1911.' The high sky of dramatic vision, the simple nobility of the characters portrayed, and the poetry of exalted passion raise above the ordinary this stern tragedy of natural lives in the wilderness. Eyvind is a man of heroic mould, who was forced by circumstances and hunger to the state of a common thief. When outlawed, he fled to the mountains. Seeking human companionship, he now descends into a valley where his identity is unknown and takes service with Halla, a rich young widow. She learns of his disguise only to fall in love with his real character. Persecuted by her brother-inlaw, who wishes to marry her, and possessed by a great love, she insists on sharing the outlaw's lot and escapes with him to his old haunt in the mountains. Here they have two children, but she is obliged to sacrifice them both in turn, and to flee ever farther away. The last act finds the outlaw and his wife facing each other in a lonely hut, in the midst of a snowstorm which has shut off every avenue of sustenance. Although the beautiful reality of love is there, they are tormented by hunger and utter need into doubts and mutual reproaches, and at last seek death in the snow.
According to the historical facts upon which the story is based, a stray horse found its way to the hut of the starving couple, and so their lives were saved. Sigurjónsson used this ending when he rewrote the last scenes of the fourth act for Fru Dybvad, who played the part of Halla in Copenhagen, concluding with Halla's exclamation : “So there is then a God!” With Eyvind, as with The Hraun Farm, we can thus take our choice of two endings.
'The English translation combines features of the original edition and a revised version printed in 1913. The play appeared also in Icelandic (FjallaFyrindur) in 1912.
The Wish (Önsket), Sigurjónsson's latest play, was published in 1915. Gloomy and terrible, but strong and restrained, it is built on a theme of seduction, remorse, and forgiveness in death, woven about the legendary figure of Galdra-Loftur, who lived in Iceland at the beginning of the eighteenth century. It ends with an intensely dramatic scene in the old cathedral church at Hólar.
In addition to these four plays, Sigurjónsson has also written some beautiful verse.
In Mrs. Schanche, Sigurjónsson has a translator well fitted by artistic family traditions for the task. Herself of Norwegian descent, she has been for upward of thirty years a resident of Philadelphia. She has interpreted the pure idiom of Sigurjónsson's dialogue with real dramatic perception. In editing the volume the Publication Committee has had the valuable assistance of Hanna Astrup Larsen.
Georg Brandes, the veteran Danish critic, though not given to over optimism, has recognized Sigurjónsson's distinction, and the Icelander is acclaimed by the public who best know Ibsen and Strindberg, in Copenhagen, Stockholm, and Christiania. Eyvind has been successful also on the German stage. « Poetic talent of high order,” says Brandes, “manifests itself in this new drama, with its seriousness, rugged force, and strong feeling. Few leading characters, but these with a most intense inner life; courage to confront the actual, and exceptional skill to depict it; material fully mastered and a corresponding confident style!” And the French critic, Leon Pineau, concludes a long account of Sigurjónsson's production with the following estimate of Eyvind of the Hills: “In this drama there is no haze of fantasy, no bold and startling thesis, not even a new theory of art—nothing but poetry; not the poetry of charming and fallacious words, not that of lulling rhythm, nor of dazzling imagery which causes forgetfulness, but the sublimely powerful poetry which creates being of flesh and blood like ourselves—to whom Jóhann Sigurjónsson has given of his own soul.”
Written by the author in a language not his by birth, this rock-ribbed tragedy of the strong and simple passions of Iceland lends itself peculiarly to international interpretation. It is with some curiosity, therefore, as well as satisfaction, that we introduce to English readers a young representative of the renaissance of Icelandic literature. How will he be judged by our countrymen, and what will be his place, if any, upon the American stage?
· H. G. L.
New York, June 1, 1916.