Jo Shortt Butler
The role of the trouble-maker in the Íslendingasögur
Tuesday May 6, 2014, at 16.30
This paper forms part of my doctoral research into ‘trouble-makers and the making of trouble in the Íslendingasögur’. In it I intend to air my present evaluations of the role of a particular sub-set of characters in the Íslendingasögur; namely the ójafnaðarmenn. These ‘inequitable men’ appear in nearly every one of the ‘family sagas’, although their social position and role varies. In evaluating the different types of ójafnaðarmaðr found in the Íslendingasögur, the paper will emphasise the literary function of such characters using pertinent case studies. These will largely be drawn from regional Íslendingasögur and political narratives such as Hrafnkels saga Freysgoða. The emergence of conflict in these sagas will be examined and the role of the trouble-maker in instigating conflict and feud will be questioned.
Of course, no literary study can wholly overlook its associated social implications, so this paper will also put the ójafnaðarmenn discussed into the social context given for them by William Ian Miller, amongst others. The importance of ‘equity’ and balance to many aspects of saga society—and the inherent ambiguity of such a balance—provides fertile ground on which to build a study of these characters. Ultimately, this paper seeks to revise the assumption made by Theodore Andersson in his article on the heroic ideal, that ‘the ójafnaðarmaðr is always harshly judged’, and that any attempt to explore this would result in ‘overkill’. The former statement is not strictly true, and this paper will dispel thoughts of the latter by emphasising the individual priorities of each particular narrative.
Jo Shortt Butler is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic at the University of Cambridge, working on the literary function of trouble-makers in the Íslendingasögur. She has also worked on the character of Snorri goði, the narrative of Heiðarvíga saga, and the skaldic poem Húsdrápa.