Centre for Medieval Studies Lecture Series

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

Emotion words in Njáls saga and Egils saga

Construction of an Emotional Lexis

Thursday, November 18, 2021, at 16.30
Lögberg 101

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir

The Íslendingasögur (Sagas of Icelanders) are notorious for the apparent emotional reticence of their narrative style. As a rule, the narrative voice is externally focalised and emotional expression in the prose is mainly implicit; feelings are communicated through behaviour, physical reactions, and indirect allusions, and most often need to be inferred.

Even though scholars have often maintained that the Íslendingasögur are poor in emotional vocabulary, the emotion words in them have not been comprehensively explored. In this talk, I explain my construction of database of the words used to express feelings in two of the longest sagas, Njáls saga and Egils saga. The method used enabled the plotting of various variables, such as character, gender, social status, and speaker, against one another. This uncovered narrative patterns and formulas for action, as well as allowing the identification of anomalies. This further resulted in the production of the first lexicons of the two sagas’ emotional vocabulary.

The analysis of the emotional lexis demonstrates that, contrary to what has often been assumed, the sagas contain a wide variety of emotion words that are applied systematically, precisely, and purposefully to achieve specific narrative aims.

Brynja Þorgeirsdóttir received her doctorate in Old Norse Literature from the University of Cambridge in 2020, where she studied the emotional depiction in the Íslendingasögur. She is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, University of Cambridge, working on the collaborative project ‘The Íslendingasögur as Prosimetrum.’

The talk will be delivered in Icelandic and supported by visual material in English. All are welcome to attend (maximum seating capacity 50; masks mandatory).

Live stream: https://eu01web.zoom.us/j/62199315953

Brynja’s slides.