Bergljót Kristjánsdóttir, Guðrún Steinþórsdóttir og Sigrún Margrét Guðmundsdóttir: “I felt I was in Pain” On empirical research in literature and two surveys of emotional reaction to reading stories
Icelandic literary scholars have not been known for empirical research, even though their foreign counterparts have been practicing it for years. But during the last few years, the authors of this article have been involved with such research – sometimes in collaboration with others – and the following is a recount of two of their first researches from 2012. However, they open with a general account of empirical literary research and different schools of thought regarding them, adverting to the constantly increasing interest for interdisciplinary research. Thus, they try to provide the readers with a broad overview of the current status of a field which has not been prominent in Iceland. The two researches were qualitative and the aim was to gather information from actual readers about how they experienced their emotional reaction to selected stories or literary fragments. In one research the participants read an entire work of fiction, the short story “Grimmd” by the author Halldór Stefánsson, while the other involved reading fragments from two different novels, Fjallkirkjan by Gunnar Gunnarsson and Samastaður í tilverunni by Málfríður Einarsdóttir. The research process, the difference between the two researches and their main theses is described, as well as the different approaches to reporting their conclusions. When examining the reaction to “Grimmd”, the most interesting finding was that the participants’ transportation into the narrative world happened at the same spot for the majority of those who dived into the reading, and that news reports on certain current affairs had evident influence on their opinion of the story. Two different age groups were compared when researching the fragments from Gunnarson and Einarsdóttir, and the most interesting findings were the vast difference between the reaction of young readers (ages 24–28) and older readers (ages 68–82), their sentiment towards certain characters and their ability to envision the narrative world they were presented with. The findings of both researches are gathered and interpreted, and suggestions are made for useful future research. Finally, possible motives are discussed for the lack of interest for empirical research within the field of literary study and the authors recount the usefulness and shortcomings of the two researches, as well as providing an insight into how they were later followed up.
Keywords: literature, reading, empirical research, qualitative research, emotional reaction „mér fanst eg finna til“