Modern interest in the sagas of Icelanders was fuelled by similarities with the realist novel, but in important respects saga diverges from novelistic structure and style. Novelists drawing on the sagas typically appropriate setting and period into the mode and style of the historical novel. Taking an opposite approach, this practice-led project rewrites Grettis saga into the contemporary UK, maintaining saga style while updating the setting. Its othering of the saga on the one hand and the realist novel on the other sheds light on both, and in particular complicates attitudes to the role and depiction of violence in each.
Medieval versions of the Nibelungenlied contain aspects that are strange from a modern perspective: the lack of psychologically coherent characters or the way of motivating the plot, amongst other things, present topics for an ongoing academic research as well as they disappoint expectations of a modern reader. Despite these challenges, the story of the Nibelungs is still not dead in German epic today, and some modern adaptations do not only borrow story elements, but re-narrate the whole plot. This brings up questions, for example, in what way the narrators of these texts treat the story they are telling as strange or as familiar, and how they deal with the ‘otherness’ of their – not only – medieval pretexts.
This paper will examine the literary works of Mary Gordon (Mrs. Disney Leith) – in particular her engagement with the Old Norse Njáls saga via poetry and travel writing – arguing that while George Webbe Dasent’s 1861 translation opened the door for engagement with the most loved of Iceland’s Íslendingasögur, it was the Aberdonian skáldkona ,who was Dasent’s staunchest disciple, bringing the often brutal imagery of the northern sagas into the polite circles of late-Victorian Britain. Moreover, the paper will consider how the subject matter of her poems – Old Norse blood-feud – sat alongside Gordon’s more conventional morally didactic novels written for young Victorian women.