Women in the Laxdaela SagaMen and women interact and make the world go around every single day. The idea of one gender being more important is very difficult to judge because men and women contribute equally and in different ways. The Laxdaela Saga is no exception to the interaction of men and women; much of the story depends upon these relationships. Although in medieval times women did not play a large role in society, they are very important in the Laxdaela Saga. Without the various gender related interactions the culture of medieval Iceland would not be as clearly understood one thousand years after the events have taken place.
The first woman of importance and really the first character of importance is Unn the Deep-Minded and the fortunes of her descendents. Unn is a very influential pioneer of the saga; she establishes dynasties in Scotland, the Faroe Islands and Orkney by marrying off her granddaughters to the men of her choice. Unn also laid claim to Breidafjord, an enormous area of land on the west coast of Iceland. Unn later gave away parts of Breidafjord to her followers according to their social standing and lineage. When Unn died she left her estate to her grandson Olaf Feilan. Following Unn’s death her name slowly fades out of the saga.
Her tight control over her land and granddaughters is the entire story line of the first part of the Laxdaela Saga. Other important women of the Laxdaela Saga are Jorunn and Melkorka. Jorunn is the wife of one of Unn’s great-grandsons. Jorunn was a very wise woman but she also had a bad temper. Although Jorunn and Hoeskuldur had several children together their marriage was not a pleasant one.
Their marriage is particularly in jeopardy when Hoeskuldur brings the female slave Melkorka home from the concubine. Jorunn is too proud for this and fights Melkorka until she moves to another farm. Melkorka turns out to be a special character. She first comes across as a dumb slave who attracts men and this seems to work because Hoeskuldur is willing to pay a triple price for her. Melkorka later impresses Hoeskuldur by telling him that she is the daughter of the king of Ireland. Melkorka’s son later marries and his marriage yields many children, their favorite being Kjartan and their foster son Bolli. The interactions of Melkorka, Jorunn, and Hoeskuldur later produce the ingredients needed for the rest of the Laxdaela Saga.
The main character of the second half of the book is Gudrun. She is the eventual cause of Kjartan and Bolli becoming enemies and her actions caused their deaths. As Gudrun grows older she becomes more and more demanding and passionate. Gudrun divorced her from her first husband because she fell in love with another man. The other man is also married to a fierce woman named Aud. He eventually divorces Aud but it comes back to haunt him later when she sneaks into his home and severely wounds his chest and arm.
Gudrun is very clever in convincing people to do her dirty work, like when she makes her brothers and her third husband, Bolli, kill Kjartan. Melkorka’s son Lambi Thorbjornsson and Helgi Hardbeinsson later kill Bolli. Lost in all of the commotion was Kjartan’s grieving wife, who eventually died of a broken heart. As Gudrun’s life continues she tries to avenge her husband Bolli’s name. She marries once more in her life but he tragically drowns in Breidafjord when he was travelling to fetch wood for a church he intended to build. Gudrun later grew very old and blind and eventually died and was buried in Helgafell.
Although women could not fight in wars or become priests, they really did not play a large role in the social system of medieval times. In the Laxdaela Saga the women controlled much of the land and they held a tight grip over the men in their lives and this eventually led to many problems in the saga that fueled the love-filled story. Without the importance placed upon the women in the saga the entire effect would not be as strong because the entire medieval culture is exposed.