Just stumbled upon this bit of (not uncommon) sentiment about Hallgerður–from the 1922 Literature of the World, by William Lee Richardson, Jesse M. Owen, but expressing a sentiment that can still be found echoed in college papers online today:
It does not surprise us that when Gunnar, her husband, infinitely her superior in every way, is hard beset and seeks her aid, she refuses to lift a finger, but answers in a cold, contemptuous way and calmly sees him die. Very different is that loyal wife of Njal in the same saga. She is offered her freedom, but she elects to be burned to death with her husband. “I was given away to Njal young,” said Bergthora, “and I have promised him this, that we should both share the same fate.”
Referring to Hallgerður’s refusing Gunnar two locks of her hair for his bowstring, of course. Posted mostly because it occurs to me that Hallgerður might have a few sharp words to share about the notion that choosing to quietly burn to death beside your husband makes you a good person (not to mention about the blithe assumption that Gunnar is her superior).
And now I’m thinking that in some alternate history somewhere, Bergþóra does not burn by her husband’s side, but puts all her energy into getting out of her burning house–and into getting her grandson, who chooses to burn with her and Njál, out with her. With bonus points if she goes on to help seek vengeance for her husband and sons’ deaths.
And this is why we need Njála fandom. Because I totally want to read about that Berþóra. 🙂
(ETA: Alternately, maybe Bergþóra tries to get herself and her grandson out, and fails, and only afterwards do men start telling versions of the story in which she chose her death, rather than risked her life …)