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Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr: Individual agency and the communal creation of outsiders in Íslendingasögur outlaw narratives

WILSON, ALEXANDER,JAMES (2017) Engi maðr skapar sik sjálfr: Individual agency and the communal creation of outsiders in Íslendingasögur outlaw narratives. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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This thesis examines how Íslendingasögur out¬law narratives engage with socio-political concepts of community and the individual. It demonstrates that the sagas discussed share key anxieties over the deep structural problems in society, which are shown to restrict the individual agency of their protagonists, a restriction that motivates the transgressive behaviour of these individuals. The thesis suggests that these texts force their audiences to consider how each of their protagonists, despite his desire to live on his own terms, has his life and fate primarily defined—or indeed created—by the other members of his community.

The introductory chapter details important trends in literary-critical scholarship about Íslendingasögur outlaw narratives, particularly trends that have caused problems for analysis of the texts’ socio-political dimensions. Chapter two reviews the usefulness of interpreting Gísli Súrsson as a primarily anachronistic figure within his contemporary society; it argues that such an interpretation overly downplays how the society of Gísla saga is shown to be defined by conflicting systems of communal expectation, which underlie Gísli’s approach to vengeance. Chapter three discusses how Grettis saga shows that various social constructs, including outlawry, are used reductively by Grettir’s society to frame him as a figure of Otherness; it demonstrates that the text implies that society’s use of these constructs to create outsiders is a fundamentally problematic method for dealing with difficult individuals. Chapter four demonstrates how Harðar saga juxtaposes the extra-legal Hólmverjar with normative Icelandic society in order to highlight fundamental structural problems that affect both communities in their capacity to provide stable environments for their individual members. Chapter five discusses Fóstbrœðra saga’s treatment of sworn-brotherhood as a symbolically extra-legal community; it also shows how Þormóðr uses his status as an outsider to subvert familiar notions of normativity and Otherness, thereby gaining advantages in his dealings with society.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Old Norse; Iceland; medieval; outsiders; saga literature; outlawry; community; individual agency; outsiders
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2017
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:30 May 2018 14:25

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