Often considered one of the most important Icelandic writers, he wrote the novel Af Borgslægtens Historie (translated into English as Guest the One-Eyed), the first Icelandic work that was ever made into a movie. He also wrote the autobiographical novel "The Church on the Mountain" in 1923-1928.
He started early writing poetry and short stories, and published his first books of poems at the age of 17. His family was too poor to provide him with traditional school education, but in 1907 he was finally able to enroll in the Askov Folk High School in Denmark. During the two years he spent there, he became determined to work as a writer. He also decided to write in Danish in order to reach a wider audience.
After several difficult years, Gunnarsson published his first novel in 1912, the first volume of Af Borgslægtens Historie (translated into English as Guest the-One Eyed). The second and third volumes were published the following year, the third one becoming a huge success in Denmark, and making his name as a writer. Four volumes appeared in this melodramatic epic relating the story of three generations of Icelandic farmers. Using the Cain and Abel theme, this is the story of two brothers, one of whom is a dreamer forced to choose between his creative longings and duty, while the other is evil incarnated in the first two volumes, but returns as the saint-like Guest the One-Eyed in the third, having atoned for his sins through service to others.
World War I brought a streak of pessimism into Gunnarsson's writings. Between 1920 and 1940 he published a number of essays on political and social issues, as well as on Nordic co-operation. He also gave numerous lectures in the Nordic countries and in Germany.
In 1939, Gunnarsson moved back to Iceland and first settled on Skriðuklaustur, a farm in East Iceland, where he built a house designed by German architect Fritz Höger. The house was later donated to the Icelandic state and turned into a museum in the memory of the writer. In 1948 Gunnarsson moved to Reykjavík, where he started translating his own works into Icelandic. This task was almost completed before his death in 1975.
Gunnarsson's books have been translated into many languages. He was considered for the Nobel prize in literature in 1955, although the Swedish Academy decided to award this to another Icelander, Halldór Laxness. His best-known works, after Guest the One-Eyed, include The Good Shepherd, and The Black Cliffs. He was an admirer of the Icelandic sagas and translated Grettis saga into Danish.
In 1911 Gunnarsson published Digte, a collection of poetry dedicated to his life-long love and companion, Franzisca Antonia Josephine Jørgensen. They were married in 1912. Franzisca Gunnarsson died a year after her husband, and they were both buried in the island of Viðey near Reykjavík, which used to belong to a Catholic church. Gunnarsson was a born and raised a Lutheran protestant, but his wife a Catholic.
During the late Middle Ages, Skriðuklaustur was the site of a monastery. This is now the subject of an archaeological excavation that started in 2002 and is scheduled to be completed in 2007.
"The Gunnarsson Institute welcomes recent discoveries clarifying why Gunnar Gunnarsson did not receive the Nobel Prize in Stockholm in 1955. Apparently, instead of basing its decision on the novelist's contribution to world literature, the Swedish Academy was swayed by unjust considerations. Now that half a century has passed since Iceland gained its first Nobel Prize winner in literature, it is time for the truth to be revealed. Hopefully this will happen when the Academy's documents are declassified."
Published in English:
'Birthday' tour.(INDUSTRY NEWS)(Gunnar Gunnarsson to start UK tour for launch of new designs of Reykjavik Eyes )(Brief article)
Mar 12, 2010; [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] THE CREATIVE force behind the award-winning Reykjavik Eyes frames, Icelandic eyewear designer Gunnar...