A Tale of a Fool? explores the life of Guðrún Ketilsdóttir, a peasant woman born in Iceland around 1759. Guðrún worked as a farmhand for most of her adult life, and when she died she left behind a partial autobiography, which is believed to be the oldest autobiography of an Icelandic peasant woman.
In this autobiography, Guðrún writes openly about her life and provides colourful depictions of the society in which she lived, providing one of the few first-hand accounts that have survived from members of the peasant class at that time. A Tale of a Fool? demonstrates how it is possible to work with this kind of source using the methods of microhistory as a historical tool to study events and individuals of the past. In doing so, it not only provides an illuminating study of the life of a peasant woman in the 18th and 19th centuries but also addresses the question of the methods, priorities and interpretations applied in the collecting, cataloguing and publication of women’s writing.
Analysing the place of the individual in traditional agrarian societies and highlighting the impact that women have had on the cultural and social history of the period, A Tale of a Fool? is ideal for researchers of microhistory and early modern Iceland/Scandinavia.
Table of Contents
Introduction: women in a men’s world; Chapter 1 One woman, one story; Chapter 2 Early years; Chapter 3 In service: clever and well behaved; Chapter 4 Employment on her own terms; Chapter 5 When one door closes, another opens; Chapter 6 Guðrún at her professional peak; Chapter 7 Illugi Jónsson – a wolf in sheep’s clothing?; Chapter 8 Alone again; Chapter 9 We all grow more craven with age; Chapter 10 Auction of Guðrún’s worldly goods; Chapter 11 The bigger picture; Chapter 12 History of the manuscripts
Guðný Hallgrímsdóttir is an independent scholar at the Reykjavík Academy, Iceland, working on a variety of subjects concerned with women’s manuscripts. She is a former member of the board of the Icelandic Association of Historians and the Icelandic Studies Association.