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Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm

Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir, also known as Torfhildur Hólm (2 February 1845 – 14 November 1918) was an Icelandic author who lived for many years in Canada. She was perhaps the first Icelander to make a living as an author,[1] and is frequently cited as the first Icelandic woman novelist.[2]


Torfhildur was born at Kálfafellsstaður [is] in Skaftafellssýsla (now in Austur-Skaftafellssýsla), where her father, Þorsteinn Einarson, was a clergyman. She went to Reykjavík at age 17 and studied there and in Copenhagen and worked as a private teacher[3] before marrying Jakob Hólm when she was 29. He died a year later and in 1876 she emigrated to Canada, where she lived in New Iceland and Winnipeg for 13 years.[4] After working as a teacher for a number of years, she returned to Iceland in 1889 and two years later was granted a writer's pension by the Althing, the first woman to receive such artistic support; there was disagreement about the appropriateness of the award and it was reduced and ultimately made part of her widow's pension.[3] She died in Reykjavík.


She published her first short story in 1879 in Framfari, the first Icelandic newspaper published in North America.[3][5] Her first novel, Brynjolfur Sveinsson biskup, was published in Reykjavík in 1882[3] and was both the first novel and first work by a female author to be formally printed in Iceland.[6] Elding (1889) is a historical novel.[7] Some of her work appeared in a Danish periodical published in Chicago, Illustrered Familjeblad. After her return to Iceland she edited two literary journals, Draupnir and Dvöl, in which her short fiction and two later novels appeared,[4] and a children's magazine, Tíbrá.[3] The folk tales she collected from Icelanders in Canada during her first few years there were published in 1962,[3] and point, according to folklorist David Buchan, to an interesting difference between the Icelandic and the Faroese traditions; in the latter the ballad tradition is one of male public performance, where the Icelandic tradition is found in the female, domestic sphere.[2]

Her writing shows both romantic and realist traits; some of her short stories are fables and allegories, but others deal with contemporary life, with the importance of women's education as a recurring theme.[3] As a historical novelist, she is credited with giving the genre "its most capable treatment" among Icelandic authors.[8]

List of publicationsEdit


  • Brynjólfur Sveinsson biskup (1882)
  • Kjartan og Guðrún (1886)
  • Elding (1889)
  • Högni og Ingibjörg (1889)
  • Jón biskup Vídalín (Draupnir)
  • Jón biskup Arason (Draupnir)

Short fictionEdit

  • "Spekingurinn og heimskinginn" (Framfari, 1878)
  • "Andvari" (Illustrered Familjeblad, Chicago, 1878)
  • "Guð heyrir börnin" (Framfari, 1878)
  • "Stjarnan mín" (Framfari, 1878)
  • "Seint fyrnist forn ást" (Framfari, 1879)
  • "Tárablómið" (Framfari, 1879)
  • "Heiðarbærinn" (Framfari, 1879)
  • "Gunnlög og Sigrid" (Illustrered Familjeblad, 1880)
  • Sögur og ævintýri (1884; collection)
  • Smásögur handa börnum og unglingum (1886; collection of children's stories)
  • Barnasögur (1890; collection of children's stories)
  • Þjóðsögur og sagnir (1962; ed. Finnur Sigmundsson)


  1. ^ Shaffner, Ruth. "The Women of Iceland." In The Chautauquan, Volume 22. Edited by Theodore L. Flood and Frank Chapin Bray. 1896. 270.
  2. ^ a b Buchan, David (1987). "Rev. of Ólason, The Traditional Ballads of Iceland". The Journal of American Folklore. 100 (397): 367–68. JSTOR 540353.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Wolf, Kirsten. "Þorsteinsdóttir, Torfhildur (Holm)", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Volume 14 (1998).
  4. ^ a b "Skáldkonan Torfhildur Hólm", Lesbók Morgunblaðsins, 11 February 1945, p. 77 (in Icelandic)
  5. ^ Lamonde, Y., Fleming, P.L., & Black, F.A., eds. History of the Book in Canada, Volume Two. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. 46-47.
  6. ^ "Continental and Foreign Jottings." The Printing Times and Lithographer. XIII (15 Nov 1882).
  7. ^ Luschan, F. von; et al. (1894). "Sitzung vom 17. Februar 1894". Zeitschrift für Ethnologie. 26: 81–136. JSTOR . 23079268 .
  8. ^ Williams, Charles Allyn (1903). "Rev. of Küchler, Geschichte der isländischen Dichtung der Neuzeit (1800-1900)". The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 5 (2): 222–24. JSTOR 27699746.

Further readingEdit