Thórarinn Johannasson
Timeline: The Kalmar Union

Thórarinn Johannasson
Portrait of Thórarinn Johannasson

Born 13th? September, 1682
Halfdanbae, Eikland Fylk, Vinland
Died 9th January, 1741
Gudnýborg, Sud-Hafsvaedaland Fylk, Vinland
Profession Novellist, Essayist, Pamphleteer

Thorarinn Johannasson, Jan de Bruijne, was a Vinlandic novelist, essayist and pamphleteer. His novels, alongside those of his contemporaries have come to epitomise the literature of the Vinlandic Golden Age.

His mother, Johanna de Bruijne left Luxembourg Amsterdam during the bloody suppression of the 1680 Dutch revolt. Though Johanna was not a Calvinist who were the main targets of the suppression, it appears her employer, a clockmaker, was, so left with his family for Anglia. Johanna's employer barely made the crossing and died in Ipswich whereupon Johanna joined the household of a baker. His father is a mystery and it is unknown if she became pregnant in Holland or Anglia but Johanna's entry documents to Halfdanbae read

Johanna Debroin (sic), 20 ár, hollansk, ambítt (maidservant), ólaettur (pregnant)

Jan would be born in Halfdanbae then the entire household would move to the community of Hverfinísindristat, what was then a small farming village on the Jakobinaskagy. The northern shore of Ontario Vatn was a favoured destination of the less-skilled ny hollansk. There Johanna would meet and marry a Vinlandic farm laborer, Thorarinn Ásgeirsson, and little Jan was renamed after his adoptive father, though would keep his matrinomic surname. His mother and step-father would have several further children. At some point the elder Thorarinn started a tallow business, possibly via a loan from a successful local Dutch farmer, and this afforded the family a little capital to build their own house and send the children to school.

Johannasson (and his siblings) would attend the boarding school at Sumarháv, a little along the lake-coast to the west, and proved a quick learner. There was no money to send him to university but he gained an apprenticeship with the Gudnýborg (then, as now, Vinland's third largest city) printworks of Erasmus Hanneman. The actual business of printing was of little interest to him but he began to write pamphlets and news reports to meet the growing demand for news periodicals. There Johannasson married Elísabet Gerardsdottír, also of Dutch descent in 1703. They would have six children.

He began writing longer-form works at the urging of his friend and fellow writer Dagur Halfsteinnsson and his witty and readable style not only brought him success but also spurred other contemporary Vinlandic writers to try their hands at novels too. He and his fellow Golden Age writers spurned the topics which had been in fashion previously, historical fiction or fantastical allegorical works usually involving humans conversing with Norse or Greek deities. What Johannasson and Halfsteinnsson did, along with others like Baldur Valdemarsson and Katrín Brynjarsdottír was to popularise literature which reflected the current times or least set their fiction within living memory. That all said, his first novel was a retelling of a Gudnýborg ghost story which had appeared in a shorter form in the Gretasbók but at least that was more or less accepted as a true story.

He found more or less instant success and his books were also published in Europe, usually under his 'Dutch' name of Jan de Bruijne. His writings provided a small but steady income but he was profligate and was frequently in debt. He even spent some time in a debtors prison. The success of ..Halla Pjetursdottír afforded him a decent income and an audience with Eyfinna I. She would grant him some a title and some land to go with it; 'Langravine of Jófullinnsbrúbær'. This fuelled even further wanton spending.

He would run into severe financial trouble in 1720 and was obliged to sell the land and title to pay off his debts. The rural village of the same name was in the north of Nor-Hafsvaedaland Fylk anyway and Johannasson would only visit the community once. Most of the time Johannasson and his family lived in Vonáfjall outside Gudnýborg. This was a 'dissenter colony' town established following the 1703 ruling which banned non-Lutheran congregations in various towns and cities. Johannasson and Gerardsdottír appeared to have moved there because land was cheap and he aspired to be man of means with a 'country estate' but soon fell in with the other artists and intellectuals leaving the city and began to follow an antitrinitarian faith.

Johannasson was at the meeting of Eyfinna I and Herridr I on Bjóryjar in May 1717 and wrote various essays factually recording the meeting, pageantry and speculation on else the meeting could have in store. Then he wrote a fictional love story of two youths from the opposing camps.

The Life and Times of Halla Pjetursdottír

Johannasson's most famous novel, a farce concerning mistaken identity, was written in 1711. The plot revolves around two young women; Snaedis, the daughter of a merchant, and Asdis, the daughter of a farm laborer. Via a series of mishaps, are both mistaken for the rich and beautiful Halla Pjetursdottír who, when the book opens, been shipwrecked in Greenland. The girls only meet in the last few pages but their respective trajectories through Vinland's high and low society sows confusion and broken hearts in their wake.

With gentle digs at the excesses of the wealthy and a romantic look at rural life the book has been praised for its warmth and continued relatability whilst many of his contemporary's references have dated. It was an instant success in Vinland and proved popular in Europe too. Though in Luxembourg later editions would change all the names as Vinlandic-Luxembourg relations nose-dived.

There have been two film versions of the story so far. One 75 minute version and a 10-part serial which was lauded for its faithfulness to the novel.

Later Career

Johannasson remained prolific, in part to satisfy his creditors, but none of his subsequent works would match the popularity or wit of ...Halla Pjetursdottír. Still, his novels Bárinn vid Sundlugina and Gamal Gunnar o Unga Gunnar about rural life are still regarded as classics and taught in Vinland's schools. During the 1730s he relied more on his wealthy friends, or reading tours of Vinland to pay the bills but even so, spent time in debtors prisons in Gudnýborg and Karantóborg.

He would die in 1741. He is buried in the writers' crypt of Fjallasay Cathedral.

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