The origins of many of the Icelandic sagas have long been the subject of critical speculation and controversy. This book demonstrates that an investigation of the relationship between verse and prose in saga narrative can be used to reconstruct how Icelandic sagas were composed; to this end it provides a detailed analysis of Kormaks saga, whose hero Kormakr is one of the most celebrated of Icelandic poets. Over sixty of his passionate, cryptic skaldic stanzas are
quoted in the saga, and the way they and the saga prose are fitted together reveals that Kormaks saga, far from being a seamless narrative of either pre-Christian oral tradition or later medieval fiction, is in fact a patchwork of different kinds of literary materials. This book offers an original
and productive way of understanding not only the compositional method and distinctive aesthetic qualities of Kormaks saga, but also the genesis of many other Icelandic saga narratives.
`a rare and therefore welcome book-length examination of those problems about Kormáks saga which troubled Gudbrandur Vigfússon ... O'Donoghue writes with refreshing clarity, her alert and sensitive readings producing individual aperçus in plenty.'
Andrew Wawn, Times Literary Supplement
'this book provides a highly accessible and scholarly discussion of the compositional practices in Icelandic sagas, one which could be taken as a model for further work in the field'
Karin Olsen, University of Toronto, Notes and Queries, December 1992
'the author's case is sensible and convincing and a distinctive contribution to our understanding of sage composition'
Russell Poole, Massey University, Review of English Studies, Vol. 44, No. 176, November 1993
Introduction to the saga: the saga's structure; the saga author; possible sources. Kormakr's courtship: the first meeting (verses 1-10); Nrfi (verses 11-14); the ambush (verses 15-19); the betrothal (verses 20-1). Kormakr and Bersi: the failure of the marriage agreement; the pursuit of the bride (verses 22-6); Bersi's duel with Kormakr (verses 27-35). The Bersi "digression": how the Bersi material is woven into the saga; how Bersi's verses are arranged in the prose (verses 36-50). Porvaldr tinteinn: Steingerdr's second marriage (verses 51-2); Kormakr's exploits abroad (verses 52-58); Kormakr's reunion with Steingerdr (verses 59-63); the false insult verse (verses 64-5); the duels (verses 66-75). The final stages: Kormakr and Steingerdr in Norway (verses 76-81); Kormakr's death (verses 82-85). Conclusions, the genesis of a saga narrative: the saga's component parts; the saga as a whole.