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Skįldskaparmįl

						112                                             Alison Finlay
absent for three years, had been enforced, the island would have been cleared of grown
males . . . Among Sturlunga saga's reports of countless marriages of Icelandic chieftains
not a single case can be found in which women's wishes were considered. Rather, men
arranged the marriages of their womenfolk according to their own economic and
political advantages. Even the limited rights granted by Grágás to widows and divorced
women were ignored. (1995, 31, 39, 44)
The examination of the earliest Icelandic law-code, Grágás, compiled in the
thirteenth century but including provisions of varying ages, also suggests that the
view of marriage as a commercial transaction controlled by male members of both
families died hard. Jochens also points out that later thirteenth-century revisions
of Christian laws in Norway and Iceland, which introduced the notion of gender
equality in marriage, remained in conflict with secular codes regarding inheritance
and property (46-47).
Jochens identifies the new 'Christian' attitude to marriage largely as an
aspirational theme in the Islendingasögur or 'literary sagas', which accord to
women a degree of autonomy and influence which is not reflected either in the
festarpáttr [betrothal section] of Grágás or in Sturlunga saga's representation of
thirteenth-century Icelandic society. The law code's empowering of a woman's
male relatives to bestow her in marriage — her consent not being required unless
she is a fatherless widow — contrasts with the Islendingasögur, where a woman's
opinion is sometimes sought and deferred to. The rights of widows in the
Islendingasögurto arrange their own marriages, and of wives to declare themselves
divorced, also exceed those allowed by the laws. Jochens attributes the emphasis
on female consent in the Islendingasögur to a didactic impulse in saga authors,
often no doubt clerics, to promote the Christian doctrine of mutual consent in
marriage, which was known in Iceland by 1189:
The repeated emphasis in Iceland on female consent was most likely the local church's
answer to the common problem of male control over women in these matters. The
clerical authors regarded this issue so seriously that in their fictional lives of their
ancestors they made it an integral part of the pagan marriage contract, doubtless in
hopes of presenting a model to be emulated by their thirteenth-century audiences.
This didactic quality is further underscored when we perceive that in the family sagas
all the five marriages contracted against the expressed will of the women ended in
disaster. (Jochens 1986, 48)
This explanation is far-fetched considering the independence of the sagas, in
other respects, from religious dogma or the didacticism pervasive in most
medieval literature. There are other problems with Jochens' analysis, such as her
inaccurate assertion that 'the Iaw stipulates that a father or other guardian can
refuse a suitor twice, but if he comes back a third time, the woman can marry
him, provided she is over twenty years of age and can find another relative willing
					
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