Norway Literature Part V

By | December 17, 2021

The celebrated Danish critic Georg Brandes had formulated in 1871 the program of an art that dealt realistically with the problems of modern life, and although both Ibsen and Bjørnson and Jonas Lie were too mature and independent individuals to blindly follow that slogan, yet in their works for the next ten or fifteen years, some traces of Brandes’ influence can be seen here and there. The generation that arose around 1880 began by considering Brandes as their legitimate leader. This is particularly to be said of Alexander Kielland (1849-1906), who purposely wanted to be a trendy poet, but, thanks to his brilliant mastery of style, his sure artistic instinct, his cold irony, his clear humor, he produced works, such as his novels, p. ex. Garmann og Worse, Skipper Worse, which still remain among the most read books in Norway.

The storyteller Kristian Elster (1841-1881), who received full recognition only after his death, set out on quieter paths. But the same action of Kielland is to be considered discreet, elegant and not too revolutionary in comparison with the realist enthusiasts of the years between 1880 and 1890. The radical sincerity and unscrupulous love of truth of these writers is not always accompanied by talent artistic; however, some first-rate veristic works can be mentioned, such as the novels of the great writer Amalie Skram (1847-1905), especially the four-volume series Hellemyrsfolket, in which the implacability of physical and psychic inheritance and the influence of environment are represented with intense force and haunting realism. For Norway 2019, please check

For some time Arne Garborg (1851-1923), the most versatile author of Landsmål and one of the most indefatigable researchers and thinkers that counts Norwegian literature adhered to realism. Alongside the novels Bondestudentar and Fred, the apogee of his production is to be placed in the inspired poetic cycle Haugtussa.

Long before this cycle, in the years 1880-90 so poor in lyricism, the young lyric poet Nils Vogt Collett (born in 1864) made his debut, who is still today the most virile of the living Norwegian poets. Gunnar Heiberg (1857-1929), trained largely before 1880, but also characteristic of the transition to the next period, is the most notable post-Ibsen playwright. Typical representatives of the neo-romantic trends of after 1890 are the lyricist Vilhelm Krag and Sigbjørn Obstfelder (1866-1900), with a dreamy and doubtful spirit. Two masters of style, the intelligent and reactionary Nils Kiær, author of essays and dramas, and the storyteller Tryggve Andersen, can both be regarded, although each in very different ways, as representatives of the transition period.

The two major writers of this period, however, are Hamsun and Kinck. Hans E. Kinck (v.) Is a wise poet and psychologist, difficult to translate, who in the dramatic poem Driftekaren and in his best short stories knows, with brilliant suddenness, to sink his gaze into the primeval abyss of the individual and popular soul. The product of his frequent trips to Italy is a series of dramas and essays on an Italian theme, from the time of the Lombards and the Renaissance; he also treated Italian literature in the form of essays, taking particular interest in Machiavelli and Aretino.

Knut Hamsun (v.), Winner of the Nobel Prize, has also published comedies and a volume of lyrics. Some of his poems belong to the finest of all Norwegian literature, and almost all of his novels contain nature motifs of unforgettable beauty, above all Pan. The typical hero of Hamsun’s novels is a lyrical figure, a wandering spirit, a stranger to current existence, at the same time primitive and refined, who indulges his own impulses, who scoffs at city life, industrialism, bureaucracy and the whole generation of parvenus, and that again raises the call to return to nature, to work in the fields, to authentic original civilization and literally productive work (Segelfoss by, Markens grøde Sprouts of the earth). Hamsun’s charming stylistic virtuosity has found numerous imitators, but none that can be compared to him.

Among the oldest novelists of our century three are to be particularly remembered: Johan Bojer (born in 1872), widely read also abroad for his novels with very well thought out theses, such as Troens magt (The strength of lies) and for the his vivid and frank descriptions of the life of peasants and fishermen, such as Den siste viking (The Last Viking). Olav Duun (born in 1876), in his five-volume novel Juvikingarne and in other novels and short stories, all written in Landsmål with a colorful dialect, reveals a profound psychological sense and an extraordinary narrative talent. The writer Sigrid Undset (born 1882), converted to Catholicism, deserved the Nobel Prize not only for her strictly realistic novels, such as Jenny, but even more for her vast historical tales Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunssøn, in which, turning to the Norwegian late Middle Ages, she created with a realistic spirit of observation, with psychological acumen, poetic imagination and historical erudition, an admirably lively artistic unity.

Alongside these three notable artists, there is a series of storytellers and novelists, who for the most part represent a kind of local art: from the far north to the southernmost part of Norway, almost every valley in the country has its author. Particularly noteworthy are Gabriel Scott and Peter Egge, author of Hansine Solstad, the short story writer Hans Aanrud, the writers Barbra Ring, Nini Roll Anker, Regine Normann, also Johan Falkberget, Hjalmar Christensen, and, writing in Landsmål, K. Uppdal, Jens Tvedt, V. Vislie. In addition to Johan Ellefsen and J. Thrap Meyer, who died prematurely, at the forefront belong the Sigurd Christiansen and Sigurd Hoel, as well as Kristian Elster junior and Ronald Fangen.

A new lyrical flowering began around 1910 with Olaf Bull (1883-1933) and Herman Wildenvey, and alongside them with Arnulf Øverland, G. Reiss-Andersen, Nordahl Grieg, Ingeborg Refling Hagen, and the poets in Landsmål Henrik Rytter, Tore Ørjasæter and the late Olav Aukrust. Some of these have also proved themselves in the play; only one, Helge Krog, was exclusively a dramatic author (and critic).

The names mentioned above are of course a choice. There are numerous other authors, some of whom possess a real talent, even without having conquered a first-rate place among the most famous writers of contemporary Norway. Over the course of a generation as many as three Norwegians (Bjørnson, Hamsun and Mrs Undset) have received the Nobel Prize in Literature, and it can be safely stated that Norway has played an extraordinarily large part in world literature since Ibsen. The flourishing of Norwegian literature has so far shown no signs of weariness, although the political influence of the writers is no longer as great now as in the days of Wergeland and Bisrnson.

Norway Literature Part V