Some outlines of a Motion Picture from Icelandic Coast-Life

Salka Valka - Fuglinn í fjörunni 1932

Enskur texti kvikmyndahandritsins að Sölku Völku

Author: Halldór Killian Laxness (from Reykjavík, Iceland)

Some outlines of a Motion Picture from Icelandic Coast-Life

Title suggestions:
1. Salka Valka
2. A Woman in Pants
3. The Icelandic Whip

There is a charming roughness about the whole story. An atmosphere of hard struggle for life, and misery. Uncultivated passions. The characters are rude, naïve and primitive. Nature is phenomenally barren and wild; the sea is usually restless and the psychology of the characters is closely tied together with this wild nature. Carefully and artistically developed details give the story a local color and contribute to its bizarre style.

An untidy fishing village situated on the outskirts of wild mountains on the Icelandic coast. The fishing here follows the same primitive methods as were in use before the age of motors. Each boat has six rowers and a foreman. The codfish is the predominating feature in the picture of the town.

First presentation of the leading character.
From a boat a young woman ascends the pier and walks towards the village. She is tall and strongly built. The chief ingredients of her facial expression: rustic virginity, dare-deviltry, primitive charm. She is dressed like a fisherman: wide pants, the bootlegs reaching up over the knee, a pipe in her mouth.

Story of Salka Valka, The Woman in Pants.
About fifteen years previous a poor woman came to this village, followed by her illegitimate female child, – a down-and-out-looking person pleading for a job. The populace of the village, being prudish and narrow-minded, took her for a public woman and the kids threw stones at her and her little daughter every time they appeared in the streets. After a devoted courtship, a rascal married her. No sooner were they married than he began to treat her as a beast, putting her to hard work by night and day, beating her on every occasion in the presence of her child. When trying to get in company with other children, Salka Valka continues to be treated as an outcast. She is only allowed to look at the other children play. She notices that when the children are playing “marriage”, the “husband” always beats the “wife”. The explanation is that “the women are to be beaten.” It is the custom in marriage.

One evening Salka Valka makes up her mind to escape the fate of women. She procures an old pair of trousers, mends the rents and puts them on, cuts off her bonde curls. The next day she appears on the playground clad as a boy. She is ridiculed more than ever before. But she has taken a positive resolution for the rest of her life and challenges the boys to fight with her. She knocks them down one after another and leaves them on the ground crying.

There is only one she does not match: Arnold, the son of a poor widower. They keep on fighting like young beasts till they have torn their clothes in pieces. They stand crying with anger in front of each other. Then Arnold makes the final attack on her and overpowers her. He treats her roughly.

In the evening the boy has remorse. He takes all his cheap toys, among which is his late mother’s necklace, containing a miniature photograph of himself as a baby, goes over to Salka Valka’s place, bringing his whole property with him as a present to her. (This is material for refined display of effects.)

Salka Valka’s mother dies as the result of slavery and bad treatment and the stepfather deserts the child.

Salka Valka the Orphan.
The only beautiful house in the village is that of an old harsh-looking but kind-hearted fish merchant who comes every season, sometimes accompanied by his wife and his young son, Angantyr, and stays there for a few weeks on business. Having been informed about the orphan, they make up their minds to take Salka Valka to their house and adopt her. The lady buys her a nice dress and promises to take her to the capital and make a fine lady out of her. Everything in the house is like a beautiful dream to Salka Valka. The queer conversation between Salka Valka and the well-bred son of the fish merchant, Angantyr.

But, on her first evening in this house, she overhears by chance a violent quarrel between the old couple, finishing by the husband striking his wife with one of his slippers. The same night, when the house is asleep, Salka Valka digs her old outfit out of the lumber-box, lays off her beautiful gown and runs away in her ugly trousers. The next morning she is seen on the pier, where the fishermen are laying up their fish, working.

When she grows older, she gets a job with the fishermen, rowing out with them as their equal. Because of her extraordinary courage and energy, she is preferred by all the foremen in the place. In a few years she gets a boat for herself and a crew. She soon gets the reputation of being the keenest foreman in the place and the luckiest dare-devil of all the fishermen. She is respected or admired by some, feared by others, as she is known to be able to knock down every fellow in the place. Every time she is contradicted, she makes use of her strong fists.

When Arnold grows up, he displays in a high degree the national Icelandic weakness for horses, poetry and women. Trying his luck as a foreman, everything goes wrong for him and he has to give it up.

He has three Icelandic ponies and a beautiful whip. To possess an Icelandic whip of artistic make is a matter of pride to every Icelandic horseman. When other people are busy at work in the summertime, he is galloping through the village or having clandestine appointments with the provincial looking daughter of the clergyman, reciting pathetically his poetry for her in the stable. Other listeners: an old cow, a cat and the ponies, which get excited by the recitation at the culminating points.

This summer the clergyman’s niece is staying with her uncle, keeping his daughter company. The girls are frequent guests at Arnold’s hut, and these three make excursions in company. The girls are both in love with him. Galloping through the crooked and untidy streets of the village, they catch sight of a young prosperous-looking gentleman walking on the street. He walks down to the pier where the folks are working. Now the scene is repeated from the opening of the story. Salka Valka and the unknown meet on the pier. She is carelessly smoking her pipe. They measure each other’s trousers with their eyes. Having passed each other, they both turn and measure each other from top to toe. Then both follow their own course again without any further intercourse. At the end of the pier she meets Arnold, and his two girl friends, where they are stopping. The two girls look at Salka Valka from horseback, with a mixture of curiosity and contempt. They make grimaces at her as she passes by. When she is a few yards from the triple, she stops, turns, and looks at them. Arnold takes part in the mockery, laughing and sneering at her too.

She has the same feelings as the little ragged stray girl used to have long ago.

The same evening.
Salka Valka alone in her hut. A mixture of torturing passions: jealousy, anger, despair. Above all, her feeling of inferiority. From an old case, she takes out some objects, which she languidly places in front of her. Chagrin tendre. The objects are the old toys given to her by Arnold when they were children. She unbuttons her masculine dress and unfastens from her neck a necklace she has always kept hidden on her bosom – the old necklace with Arnold’s picture. She picks up one of the objects after another and puts them on the fire. Finally the necklace alone is left, but when she is on the point of throwing it the same way, she starts weeping convulsively. The unknown gentleman enters. As she does not remember him from earlier time, he reminds her of a conversation they had, over ten years ago. He is Angantyr.

(Quite a number of secondary incidents are left out here.)

Following winter.
Arnold has almost nothing to feed his horses on. And the clergyman has sent his daughter away to the capital, so he has nobody to read his poetry to. Arnold goes along the seashore collecting seaweed and happens to meet Salka Valka, who teases him.

Every winter the fishermen go with their outfits to an isle far away from the mainland, where they stay for a couple of months and lay up their fish. The last day before leaving, Arnold goes to the shore, where the men are busy getting things in order. He asks one of the foremen for a job. The reply is that every seat is occupied. He goes from one to another and gets the same reply everywhere: “If you had only mentioned it some weeks before.”

Finally he comes to Salka Valka and asks her to give him a job. She asks him sarcastically about his horses and his girls. At last she permits him to take a greenhorn’s place in her boat. The fleet goes out of the small harbor.

The interesting psychology of these males piled up in a small spot far away from civilization, where no law rules except that of the strongest fist. Salka Valka the only woman among them and the subject of all their cupidity. Their jealousy against each other. She knocks every one to the ground who ventures to approach her in an unseemly way.

Every crew has a separate shanty at the seaside. The sea is always rough. It rains or snows constantly. Weeks go without anybody daring to row out. The fishermen’s pastime. The famous Icelandic glima. In “krok” Salka Valka beats everybody except Arnold, whom she publicly humiliates by declaring that she does not want to play games with her greenhorns.

The crew of Salka Valka’s boat has a secret meeting, to which Arnold is invited. He is expected to take part in a conspiracy with the aim to rape her, as it has been proved that there is no single individual able to match her. The riot is planned for the coming night at a fixed hour. Arnold pretends to be eager to join them; gives a handshake to everybody.

This is a night of violent blizzard and hard frost. Salka Valka goes to sleep in her usual place and all the others pretend to do the same. At the appointed hour the seven men arise and in a line they approach Salka Valka’s berth, the strongest ahead of them.

The girl awakes at the first touch, tries instinctively to defend herself, but they overpower her. Then Arnold, who until now has kept aside, knocks two of her assailers in the head. In a moment he is in a desperate fight with the six other men.

Salka Valka retires from the fighting crowd and stands aside, arms akimbo, watching the fight with a stern expression. The shanty trembles, a beam breaks and through a rift in the wall pierces the snow. Two of the men lie on the floor like dead bodies. The rest take to flight.

After the battle Salka Valka goes to Arnold and calmly shakes his hand. Excited and out of control after the fight, he yields to his feelings which he hitherto has been too proud to express and, kneeling in front of her, kisses her hand. For a moment she is quivering with passion. Then suddenly her stepfather’s devoted courtship to her mother comes to her mind. Horrified by this memory, Salka Valka pushes Arnold violently away from her. For the following moments they stand suddenly in front of each other as two enemies, resembling two wild beasts on the point of tearing each other to pieces. Then he assails her in a kind of bestial rapture. For a moment they fight brutally and violently. There is something voluptuous about this fight – during the fight he presses brutal kisses on her lips. She runs out of his arms into the blizzard. He runs senselessly after her. Wild with terror she runs to the shore, where she finds a small boat, jumps into it, rows out, and dissappears in the furious breakers. Night. Blizzard. The sea in fury. (Here the story culminates.)

The morning after the blizzard.
A small freight steamer, covered with ice, in open sea. The captain. The ship’s owner Angantyr, the young fish merchant. He is on a trip around the coast buying fish everywhere. Through his binoculars, the captain catches sight of some dark, moving spot in the horizon. They look at it, conferring about it. Finally the captain gives orders to change the course. On a rock, the top of which is just hidden under the surface at high-water, Salka Valka is seen half in water, clinging to a vertically upstanding oar on the end of which sways a piece of cloth. She has lost consciousness.

She wakes up from her oblivion in a beautiful room in the fish merchant’s house, where she had been once before as a girl.

The end.
Angantyr makes proposal to marry her. Again she has the choice between her old pants and the position of a queen.

The gossip in the village tells that the woman in pants is going to marry the young, rich merchant.

In the night, however, Salka Valka escapes out of the same window she has fled once before. She walks to Arnold’s hut and wakes up Arnold’s old father. She asks about his horses. The old man tells her that they look miserable, because he must economize on the hay. She remarks: “I will bring all the hay they can eat tomorrow.”

She goes into the stable and feeds the horses abundantly from the scanty supply. She caresses them passionately. Then she enters the hut again and makes coffee for the old man. Surprised by all this, he remarks that they all say that she is going to marry the young fish merchant.

She acts as if she did not hear him, and makes herself at home here. She fingers with Arnold’s things as if they were her own. Rejoicing, she reads his puerile poetry, which is written in grotesque handwriting and full of orthographic faults. She tears calmly and resolutely to pieces some photographs of girls she happens to find in his drawers.

Then she catches sight of his beautiful Icelandic whip on the wall. She takes it down, then she turns to the old man and says:

“What I am going to do? I am going to stay in this house until the owner comes and chases me out with this whip.”

She folds out before her the double leather straps of the whip, kissing it with all the voluptuousness and pathos of the primitive.