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A Tale of a Fool?


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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 Gudrun at her professional peak; Chapter 7 Illugi Jonsson - a wolf in sheep's clothing?; Chapter 8 Alone again; Chapter 9 We all grow more craven with age; Chapter 10 Auction of Gudrun's worldly goods; Chapter 11 The bigger picture; Chapter 12 History of the manuscripts

About the Author

Gudny Hallgrimsdottir is an independent scholar at the Reykjavik 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.


"It is no exaggeration to say that sources on women's lives, especially those of peasant women, are very scarce. Through her research, Gudny Hallgrimsdottir has drawn attention to the fact that sources about women are not only few: they are also catalogued in such a way that they are hard for scholars to find, however motivated they are. Gudny makes use of all obtainable sources, and her own imagination, to reconstruct the story of Gudrun Ketilsdottir, thus shedding light on the lot of the Icelandic peasantry in the 18th and 19th centuries - and especially female farm workers. Gudny's book is a most interesting study, and an important contribution to the history of Iceland, not least women's history. The author is of the view that conventional research methods have not been sufficient to throw light upon the many paradoxes of daily life in past times. She says that she has blazed a trail for research into the lives of other women who may have stories to tell, that lie forgotten in archives - often due to the imperfections of systems of classification and cataloguing. In this volume a remarkable body of research is presented to a wide readership in a clear and interesting manner." Margret Eggertsdottir, Saga"The author of A Tale of a Fool?gives an account of the views that have prevailed about the manuscript by the housekeeper Gudrun Ketilsdottir (1759-1842). Screenwriters and history reviewers in Iceland have counted Gudrun's life story as a "speech" by a "stupid" woman. This interpretation of the short manuscript of about only 2000 words, has been so unanimous that the life of Gudrun Ketilsdottir has been perceived as a peripheral and pathetic life, in other words of little interest and only as tragic and ridiculous - at best appropriate to to arouse pity:

It is both interesting and inspiring to follow Gudny's source and interpretation work in meeting the sources and the context through Gudrun's life phases. For it is the source investigation and context building that stands out as the great value of this microhistory. The starting point is the concise and rather fragmentary autobiography that makes up the manuscript of Gudrun Ketilsdottir. Through this primary source, the book author expands on the life phases of the historical person and makes us as readers understand that the image that often characterizes lower social groups is governed by characteristics from their last years of life." Nils Olav Ostrem, Heimen

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