Marriage and divorce “The Saga of the people of Laxardal”

Chapter 34


A man named Thorvald, the son of Halldor the Godi of Garpsdal, lived at Garpsdal in Gilsfjord. He was a wealthy man but hardly a hero. He asked for Gudrun Osvifsdottir’s hand in marriage at the Althing when she was fifteen years of age. His suit was not rejected but Osvif felt the difference in their means would be evident in the marriage conditions. Thorvald spoke indulgently, though, and maintained he was seeking a wife and not a fortune. Gudrun was eventually betrothed to Thorvald according to conditions which Osvif himself decided upon. He declared that Gudrun should control their common finances once they were married and would acquire the right to half the estate, whether the marriage was a brief or a lengthy one.

Thorvald was also obliged to purchase whatever finery Gudrun required in order that no other woman of equal wealth should own better, although not to the point of ruining the farm. Having agreed to this, the men rode home from the Althing. Gudrun was not asked her opinion and, although she was rather against the idea, nothing was done. The wedding was to be held at Garpsdal at hay-time. Gudrun cared little for Thorvald and was avid in demanding purchases of precious objects. There were no treasures in all the West Fjords so costly that Gudrun felt she did not deserve them, and vented her anger on Thorvald if he failed to buy them, however dear they were. [...]

Chapter 34


Thord Ingunnarson made a point of befriending Thorvald and Gudrun and spent a great deal of time at their farm, until soon rumours of the growing affection between Thord and Gudrun spread. When Gudrun subsequently asked Thorvald to buy her a new treasure, he retorted that there was no limit to her demands and slapped her in the face.

To this Gudrun replied: ‘Fine rosy colour in her cheeks is just what every woman needs, if she is to look her best, and you have certainly given me this to teach me not to displease you.’

When Thord came to the farm that same evening, Gudrun told him of her humiliation and asked how she could repay Thorvald.

At this Thord smiled and replied, ‘I know just the thing. Make him a shirt with the neck so low-cut that it will give you grounds for divorcing him,’*

Gudrun did not oppose the idea and their conservation ended.

That same spring Gudrun announced she was divorcing Thorvald and went home to Laugar. When their estate was divided Gudrun received half of all the property, which was larger than before. She had been married to Thorvald for two years. [...]

* Wearing clothing considered suitable for the opposite sex was sufficient grounds for divorce, and either men or women could advance such a claim.

Chapter 35


[...] One day, as they were riding across the Blaskogar heath in fine weather, Gudrun asked Thord ‘whether the rumour is true, that your wife Aud is often dressed in breeches, with a codpiece [mistranslation for ‘gore;’ gore is a triangular piece of cloth inserted to adjust the width of a garment] and long leggings?’

He replied that he had not noticed.

‘You can’t pay her much attention, in that case,’ said Gudrun, ‘if you haven’t noticed such a thing, or what other reason is there then for her being called Breeches-Aud?’

Thord said, ‘She can’t have been called that for long.’

Gudrun replied, ‘What is more important is how long the name will follow her.’

They arrived at the Althing soon after that, where the proceedings were without event. Thord spent most of his time at Gest’s booth talking to Gudrun. One day he asked her what consequences it could have for a woman if she wore trousers like the men.

Gudrun answered: ‘If women go about dressed as men, they invite the same treatment as do men who wear shirts cut so low ... — both are grounds for divorce.’

Thord then asked, ‘Would you advise me to announce my divorce from Aud here at the Althing or at home before the local assembly? I’ll have to collect a number of supporters because those whom I will offend by so doing will be determined on revenge.’

After only a moment, Gudrun replied, ‘Tarry-long brings little home.’

Thord then jumped to his feet and made his way to the Law Rock. He named witnesses and announced he was divorcing Aud on the grounds that she had taken to wearing breeches with a [gore] like a masculine woman. Aud’s brothers were not at all pleased but nothing was done. Thord rode home from the Althing with the Osvifssons.

When Aud learned the news she said,

Kind of him to leave me so
and let me be the last to know.

Source: Keneva Kunz, trans., "[Marriage and Divorce in] The Saga of the People of Laxardal" in The Sagas of Icelanders: A Selection, preface by Jane Smiley, introduction by Robert Kellogg, (New York, London, Victoria (Australia), Toronto, Auckland: The Penguin Group, 2000), 276-421. Notes: Translations first published in "The Complete Sagas of Icelanders," volumes I-V (forty-nine tales), Leifur Eiriksson Publishing, Ltd., Iceland, 1997.

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