It’s quite remarkable that the first Icelandic writer to make a living from their writing was born in Kálfafellsstaður in 1845, a church seat in Suðurveit located just east of Jökulsárlón. Her name was Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm. She was the first Icelander to write historical novels and the first to receive an Artist Stipend from Alþingi. When she was 17, Torfhildur moved to Reykjavík to study languages, needlework, and drawing. In her early twenties, she went to Copenhagen to continue learning languages, including English. Upon returning home, Torfhildur taught and moved to Skagaströnd in the north, where she met a merchant named Jakob Hólm. Jakob died a year later, and Torfhildur moved to New Iceland, Manitoba, Canada, in 1876, where she lived for the next 13 years. There, she published her first short story in the Framfari magazine. After returning home, she founded two literary magazines, Draupnir and Dvöl, and served as their editor. Torfhildur’s books were popular with the public and sold well, even though critics were sparing in their praise. Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm died of the Spanish flu in 1918.

Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm on a stamp, released in 1970.

 

 

An article was published in the Vísir newspaper when 100 years had passed since Torfhildur’s birth. The article described her as a highly educated and talented woman who was both sensitive and short-tempered. Torfhildur was known for her honesty and could not tolerate any form of dishonesty. In her youth, she was considered a beautiful woman with a tall and well-proportioned physique. She had thick, well-styled hair, a high domed forehead, deep blue eyes, and a beautifully formed mouth. Her whole demeanour exuded grace and majesty.

 The view of Faxaflói Bay to Snæfellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavík remains unchanged since Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm arrived to study in 1862.

Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir Hólm, young in years.

Photographs & text: Páll Stefánsson
Reykjavík 02/01/2024 – A7R IV : FE 2.8/100mm GM