Thursday, 24 January 2013

Eirikr Magnússon 100 years on

On this day one hundred years ago, Morris’s Icelandic teacher and co-translator of the sagas Eirikr Magnússon died in Cambridge, where he is buried in the Mill Road cemetery. Whether any events are being mounted in Iceland to commemorate this centenary, I do not know; there certainly aren’t any over here. So could we at least invent a new Morris-and-Iceland research project to celebrate the day?

I have a feeling that we should be taking a closer look at the work of some of Magnússon’s pupils. Shortly after Morris’s death, the early English and Shakespeare scholar Israel Gollancz published Hamlet in Iceland: Being the Icelandic Romantic Ambales Saga (1898), a book which is dedicated to Magnússon, who had taught him at Cambridge, and which traces ‘Iceland’s long and painful struggle for a Hamlet Saga’ (p.vii). This field of argument was later developed by another important Magnússon student, Bertha Phillpotts, who published The Elder Edda and Ancient Scandinavian Drama (1920) and Edda and Saga (1931). Of the latter, the English literary critic F.R. Leavis once remarked that ‘I and my wife are always pushing it’, and he explains its significance for them in English Literature in our Time and the University (1969): ‘Miss Phillpotts’ book (I wonder it is not used more by literary students) establishes that there was a second ritual origin of tragedy in the North, and that a continuity of dramatic tradition runs down through the Middle Ages to Shakespeare’ (p.162).

One imagines Morris, who himself tried to displace Greek and Roman epic by a Northern version of the form in Sigurd the Volsung, being wholly sympathetic to such arguments; and any Morris student who tracks through the detail of the case as developed by Eirikr Magnússon’s protégés would be doing us all a favour.


Kotick said...

In the steps of William Morris: Society trip to Iceland 2013.

18-27 July 2013.
The William Morris Society is pleased to announce that in association with Excellentia Global Travel Consultants of Reykjavik, it is proposing to organise a visit to Iceland for Society members in 2013, the 140th anniversary of Morris’s second and final trip there.

18-27 July 2013 (10 days, nine nights)
New Reduced Cost: In Iceland: £1,690 per person (two sharing) – single person supplement £376.

Find out more on the Iceland 2013 page

Tony Pinkney said...

Have just discovered that May Morris was in correspondence with Bertha Phillpotts in 1931 (about WM's poetry), which firms up the links suggested here a bit further! See K.L.Goodwin on Morris's Unpublished Lyrics, Yearbook of English Studies, vol 5, 1975, p.191.

Gary Aho said...

I talk about Magnusson and his works in my Introduction to the Thoemmes edition of Three Northern Love Stories