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  • The Maiden and the Patriarchy in Hlín Agnarsdóttir's MeydómurThe Year in Iceland
  • Gunnþórunn Guðmundsdóttir (bio)

At first glance, Hlín Agnarsdóttir's Meydómur: Sannsaga might seem like a familiar tale of a difficult childhood, a commonplace in the memoir landscape sometimes referred to derogatorily as a "misery memoir." But this relatively brief text, just over 180 pages, weaves a more complex narrative, with an emphasis on the personhood of the girl growing up, rather than a minute detailing of the abuse she suffered. This approach is highly effective and brings together personal reminiscences and a political awareness that leaves a lasting impression on the reader. Another characteristic of this text is how it takes on, describes, and explores the author's contradictory feelings toward a parent, without attempting to reconcile them or to "solve" the past. It is no mean feat to put these feelings down on paper to convey the impact such emotions have on a childhood and upbringing. But Meydómur describes just such feelings in a thoughtful look back on a girl's early years and adolescence.

Hlín Agnarsdóttir is a playwright, theater director, and novelist born in Reykjavik in 1953, and her 2021 autobiographical work Meydómur about her childhood and upbringing in Reykjavik in the 1950s and 1960s received critical acclaim. The title translates literally as "maidenhead," the Icelandic word "mey" refers to both virginity and youth, as does the word "maiden" with which it shares etymological roots. "Meydómur" is, however, a more common word in Icelandic than its English counterpart. The subtitle of the work, "sannsaga," has been used in recent years in Icelandic to denote what has been termed in English creative nonfiction.

Why the author chooses this term rather than "sjálfsævisaga" (autobiography) or "endurminningar" (memoir) is made clear early in the work. Meydómur is written in the form of a letter to a father who has passed away; he is addressed directly throughout, not by name, but by personal pronoun. It is creative nonfiction in the sense that it is a "letter" written after the father's death, so never delivered, but also in the sense that the author thinks of the main characters as in some ways fictional, as the narrator explains: [End Page 41]

Og hér kemur það loksins bréfið frá henni en ég veit ekki hvert ég á að senda það. Ef til vill er það ætlað öðrum en þér. Jú, það er líka ætlað mér og henni sem ég eitt sinn var, henni litlu minni, meyjunni sem þú kynntist aldrei. … Best að hugsa um ykkur bæði sem skáldsagnapersónur og reyna þannig að átta sig á einræðisherranum sem tók sér bólfestu í persónu þinni. Til að skilja þá ráðgátu leyfi ég mér að skálda. Án skáldskapar væri ekki hægt að tjá það sem varla er hægt að skilja. Þetta skáldaða bréf er því bæði um þig og dóttur þína. Hvorugt ykkar er lengur til, ekki í þeirri mynd sem hér birtist en engu að síður hafið þið bæði átt stóran þátt í að móta persónu bréfritarans.

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(And here, finally is the letter for her, but I don't know where to send it. Perhaps it is meant for someone other than you. Yes, it is also for me and for who I once was, my little one, the maiden you never got to know. … It is best to think of you both as characters in a novel, and thereby try to understand the dictator who made his home in your person. To understand that puzzle I give myself permission to fictionalize. Without fiction it would not be possible to express that which is almost impossible to understand. This fictional letter is therefore both about you and your daughter. Neither one of you still exists, not in the form in which you appear here, but you have nevertheless played a large role in forming the personality of the letter writer.)

Here the author refers to the work's...

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