Norwegian Literature - Encyclopedia

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NORWEGIAN LITERATURE Early Norse literature is inextricably bound up with Icelandic literature. Iceland was colonized from Norway in the 9th century, and the colonists were drawn chiefly from the upper and cultured classes. They took with them their poetry and literary traditions. Old Norse literature is therefore dealt with under Iceland (q.v.). (See also Edda, Saga, Runes.) The modern literature of Norway bears something of the same relation to that of Denmark that American literature bears to English. In each case the development and separation ofa dependency have produced a desire on the part of persons speaking the mother-tongue for a literature that shall express the local emotions and conditions of the new nation. Two notable events led to the foundation of a separate Norwegian literature: the one was the creation of the university of Christiania in 1811, and the other was the separation of Norway from Denmark in 1814. Before this time Norwegian writers had been content, as a rule, to publish their works at Copenhagen. The first name on the annals of Danish literature, Peder Clausen, is that of a Norwegian; and if all Norse writers were removed from that roll, the list would be poorer by some of its most illustrious names, by Holberg, Tullin, Wessel, Treschow, Steffens and Hauch.

The first book printed in Norway was an almanac, brought out in Christiania in 1643 by a wandering printer named Tyge Nielsen, who brought his types from Copenhagen. But the first press set up definitely in Norway was that of Valentin Kuhn, brought over from Germany in 1650 by the theologian Christian Stephensen Bang (1580-1678) to help in the circulation of his numerous tracts. Bang's Christianiae Stads Beskrifuelse (1651), is the first book published in Norway. Christen Jensen (d. 1653) was a priest who collected a small glossary or glosebog of the local dialects, published in 1656. Gerhard Milzow (1629-1688), the author of a Presbyterologia Norwegica (1679), was also a Norse priest. The earliest Norwegian writer of any original merit was Dorthe Engelbrechtsdatter (1634-1716), afterwards the wife of the pastor Ambrosius Hardenbech. She is the author of several volumes of religious poetry which have enjoyed great popularity. The hymn-writer Johan Brunsmann (1637-1707), though a Norseman by birth, belongs by education and temper entirely to Denmark. Not so Petter Dass (1647-1708) (q.v.), the most original writer whom Norway produced and retained at home during the period of annexation. Another priest, Jonas Ramus (1649-1718), wrote Norriges Kongers Historie (History of the Norse Kings) in 1719, and Norriges Beskrivelse (1735). The celebrated missionary to Greenland, Hans Egede (1686-1758), wrote several works on his experiences in that country. Peder Hersleb (1689-1757) was the compiler of some popular treatises of Lutheran theology. Frederik Nannestad, bishop of Trondhjem (1693-1774), started a weekly gazette in 1760. The missionary Knud Leem (1697-1774) published a number of works on the Lapps of Finmark, one at least of which, his Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper (1767), still possesses considerable interest. The famous Erik Pontoppidan (1698-1764) cannot be regarded as a Norwegian, for he did not leave Denmark until he was made bishop of Bergen, at the age of forty-nine. On the other hand the far more famous Baron Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754), belongs to Denmark by everything but birth, having left Norway in childhood.

A few Norsemen of the beginning of the 18th century distinguished themselves chiefly in science. Of these Johan Ernst Gunnerus (1718-1773), bishop of Trondhjem, was the first man who gave close attention to the Norwegian flora. He founded the Norwegian Royal Society of Sciences in 1760, with Gerhard Schoning (1722-1780) the historian and Hans Strom (1726-1797) the zoologist. Peder Christofer Stenersen (1723-1776), a writer of occasional verses, merely led the way for Christian Braumann Tullin (1728-1765), a lyrical poet of exquisite genius, who is claimed by Denmark but who must be mentioned here, because his poetry was not only mainly composed in Christiania, but breathes a local spirit. Danish literature between the great names of Evald and Baggesen presents us with hardly a single figure which is not that of a Norseman. The director of the Danish national theatre in 1771 was a Norwegian, Niels Krog Bredal (1733-1778), who was the first to write lyrical dramas in Danish. A Norwegian, Johan Nordahl Brun (1745-1816), was the principal tragedian of the time, in the French taste. It was a Norwegian, J. H. Wessel (1742-1785), who laughed this taste out of fashion. In 1772 the Norwegian poets were so strong in Copenhagen that they formed a Norske Selskab (Norwegian Society), which exercised a tyranny over contemporary letters which was only shaken when Baggesen appeared. Among the leading writers of this period are Claus Frimann (1746-1829), Peter Harboe Frimann (1752-1839), Claus Fasting (1746-1791), Johan Wibe (1748-1782), Edvard Storm (1749-1794), C. H. Pram (1756-1821), Jonas Rein (1760-1821), Jens Zetlitz (1761-1821), and Lyder Christian Sagen (1771-1850), all of whom, though Norwegians by birth, find their place in the annals of Danish literature. To these poets must be added the philosophers Niels Treschow (1751-1833) and Henrik Steffens (1773-1845), and in later times the poet Johannes Carsten Hauch (1790-1872).

The first form which Norwegian literature took as an independent thing was what was called "Syttendemai-Poesi," or poetry of the 17th of May, that being the day on which The "Trefoil." Norway obtained her independence and proclaimed her king. Three poets, called the "Trefoil," came forward as the inaugurators of Norwegian thought in 1814. Of these Conrad Nicolai Schwach (1793-1860) was the least remarkable. Henrik Anker Bjerregaard (1792-1842), born in the same hamlet of Ringsaker as Schwach, had a much brighter and more varied talent. His Miscellaneous Poems, collected at Christiania in 1829, contain some charming studies from nature, and admirable patriotic songs. He brought out a tragedy of Magnus Barfods Sonner (Magnus Barefoot's Sons) and a lyrical drama, Fjeldeventyret (The Adventure in the Mountains), (1828). He became judge of the supreme court of the diocese of Christiania. The third member of the Trefoil, Mauritz Kristoffer Hansen (1794-1842), was a schoolmaster. His novels, of which Ottar de Bretagne (1819) was the earliest, were much esteemed in their day, and after his death were collected and edited (8 vols., 1855-1858), with a memoir by Schwach. Hansen's Poems, printed at Christiania in 1816, were among the earliest publications of a liberated Norway, but were preceded by a volume of Smaadigte (Short Poems) by all three poets, edited by Schwach in 1815, as a semi-political manifesto. These writers, of no great genius in themselves, did much by their industry and patriotism to form a basis for Norwegian literature.

The creator of Norwegian literature, however, was the poet Henrik Arnold Wergeland (1808-1845) (q.v.), a man of great genius and enthusiasm, who contrived within the limits of a life as short as Byron's to concentrate the labours IWerge- of a dozen ordinary men of letters. He held views in Welhaven. most respects similar to those pronounced by Rousseau and Shelley. His obscurity and extravagance stood in the way of his teaching, and his only disciples in poetry were Sylvester Sivertson (1809-1847), a journalist of talent whose verses were collected in 1848, and Christian Monsen (1815-1852).

A far more wholesome and constructive influence was that of Johann Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven (1807-1873) (q.v.), who was first brought to the surface by the conservative reaction in 1830 against the extravagance of the radical party. A savage attack on Henrik Wergeland's Poetry, published in 1832, caused a great sensation, and produced an angry pamphlet in reply from the father, Nikolai Wergeland. The controversy became the main topic of the day, and in 1834 Welhaven pushed it into a wider arena by the publication of his beautiful cycle of satirical sonnets called Norges Dcemring (The Dawn of Norway), in which he preached a full conservative gospel. He was assisted in his controversy with Wergeland by Henrik Hermann Foss (179 1853), author of Tidsnornerne (The Norns of the Age) (1835) and other verses.

Andreas Munch (1811-1884) took no part in the feud between Wergeland and Welhaven, but addicted himself to the study of Danish models independently of either. He published a series of poems and dramas, one of which latter, Kong Sverres Ungdom (1837), attracted some notice. His popularity commenced with the appearance of his Poems Old and New in 1848. His highest level as a poet was reached by his epic called Kongedatterens Brudefart (The Bridal Journey of the King's Daughter) (1861). Two of his historical dramas have enjoyed a popularity greatly in excess of their merit; these are Solomon de Caus (1854) and Lord William Russell (1857).

A group of minor poetical writers may now be considered. Magnus Brostrup Landstad (1802-1880) was born on Maaso, an island in the vicinity of the North Cape, and, therefore, in higher lati- Minor tudes than any other man of letters. He was a hymn-writer of merit, and he was the first to collect, in 1853, the Norske Folkeviser or Norwegian folk-songs. Landstad was ordered by the government to prepare an official national hymn-book, which was brought out in 1861. Peter Andreas Jensen (1812-1867) published volumes of lyrical poetry in 1838, 1849, 1855 and 1861, and two dramas. He was also the author of a novel, En Erindring (A Souvenir), in 1857. Aasmund Olafsen Vinje (1818-1870) was a peasant of remarkable talent, who was the principal leader of the movement known as the "maalstra v," an effort to distinguish Norwegian from Danish literature by the adoption of a peasant dialect, or rather a new language arbitrarily formed on a collation of the various dialects. Vinje wrote a volume of lyrics, which he published in 1864, and a narrative poem, Storegut (Big Lad) (1866), entirely in this fictitious language, and he even went so far as to issue in it a newspaper, Dolen (The Dalesman), which appeared from 1858 to Vinje's death in 1870. In these efforts he was supported by Ivar Aasen and by Kristoffer Janson (b. 1841) the philologist, the author of an historical tragedy, Jon Arason (1867); several novels: Fraa Bygdom (1865); Torgrim (1872); Fra Dansketidi (1875); Han og Ho (1878); and Austanfyre Sol og Vestanfyre Maane (East of the Sun and West of the Moon) (1879); besides a powerful but morbid drama in the ordinary language of Norway, En Kvindeskjebne (A Woman's Fate) (1879). In 1882 he left Norway for America as a Unitarian minister, and from this exile he sent home in 1885 what is perhaps the best of his books, The Saga of the Prairie. Superior to all the preceding in the quality of his lyrical writing was the bishop of Christiansand, Jorgen Moe (1813-1882). He is, however, better known by his labours in comparative mythology, in conjunction with P. C. Asbjornsen (see Asbjornsen And MoE).

The names of the Norwegians Ibsen (q.v.) and Bjornson (q.v.), in the two fields of the drama and the novel, stand out prominently in the European literature of the later 19th century; and Modern novelists two writers of novels who owe much to their example are n Jonas Lie, and Alexander Kielland (1849-1906). and drama- Nicolai Ramm bstgaard (1812-1872) to some extent pre ceded Bjornson in his graceful romance En Fjeldbygd (A tists, Mountain Parish), in 1852. Frithjof Foss (1830-1899) who wrote under the pseudonym of Israel Dehn, attracted notice by seven separate stories published between 1862 and 1864. Jacobine Camilla Collett (1813-1895), sister of the poet Wergeland, wrote Amtmandens Dottre (The Governor's Daughters) (1855), an excellent novel, and the first in Norwegian literature which attempted the truthful description of ordinary life. She was a pioneer in the movement for the emancipation of women in Norway. Anne Magdalene Thoresen (1819-1903), a Dane by birth, wrote a series of novels of peasant life in the manner of Bjornson, of whom she was no unworthy pupil. One of her best novels is Signes Historie (1864). She also wrote some lyrical poetry and successful dramas. The principal historian of Norway is History, Peter Andreas Munch (1810-1863), whose multifarious writings include a grammar of Old Norse (1847); a col- etc. lection of Norwegian laws until the year 1387 (1846-1849) a study of Runic inscriptions (1848); a history and description of Norway during the middle ages (1849); and a history of the Norwegian people in 8 vols. (1852-1863); Jakob Aal1 (1773-1844) was associated with Munch in this work. Christian Berg (1 7751852) was another worker in the same field. Jakob Rudolf Keyser (1803-1864) printed and annotated the most important documents dealing with the medieval history of Norway. Carl Richard Unger (b. 1817) took part in the same work and edited Morkinskinna in 1867. His edition of the elder Edda (1867) forms a landmark in the study of Scandinavian antiquities. Oluf Rygh (1833-1899) contributed to the archaeological part of history. The modern language of Norway found an admirable grammarian in Jakob Olaus Lake (1829-1881). A careful historian and ethnographer was Ludvig Kristensen Daa (1809-1877). Ludvig Daae (b. 1834) has written the history of Christiania, and has traced the chronicles of Norway during the Danish possession. Bernt Moe (1814-1850) was a careful biographer of the heroes of Eidsvold. Eilert Lund Sundt (1817-1875) published some very curious and valuable works on the condition of the poorer classes in Norway. Professor J. A. Friis (b. 1821) published the folk-lore of the Lapps in a series of valuable volumes. The German orientalist, Christian Lassen (1800-1876) was a Norwegian by birth. Lorentz Dietrichson (b. 1834) wrote voluminously both on Swedish and Norwegian, chiefly on Norwegian art and literature. In jurisprudence the principal Norwegian authorities are Anton Martin Schweigaard (1808-1870) and Frederik Stang (1808-1884). Peter Carl Lasson (1798-1873) and Ulrik Anton Motzfelt (1807-1865) were the lights of an earlier generation. In medical science, the great writer of the beginning of the 19th century was Michael Skjelderup (1769-1852), who was succeeded by Frederik Hoist (1791-1871). Daniel Cornelius Danielsen (b. 1815) was a prominent dermatologist; but probably the most eminent of modern physiologists in Norway is Carl Wilhelm Boeck (1808-1875). The elder brother of the last-mentioned, Christian Peter Bianco Boeck (1798-1877), also demands recognition as a medical writer. Christopher Hansteen (1784-1873) was professor of mathematics at the university for nearly sixty years. Michael Sars (1805-1869) obtained a European reputation through his investigations in invertebrate zoology. He was assisted by his son Georg Ossian Sars (b. 1837). Baltazar Matthias Keilhau (1797-1858) and Theodor Kjerulf (1825-1888) have been the leading Norwegian geologists. Mathias Numsen Blytt (1789-1862) represents botany. His Norges Flora, part of which was published in 1861, was left incomplete at his death. Niels Henrik Abel (1802-1829) (q.v.) was a mathematician of extraordinary promise; Ole Jakob Broch (1818-1889) must be mentioned in the same connexion. Among theological writers may be mentioned Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824), author of the sect which bears his name; Svend Borchman Hersleb (1784-1836); Stener Johannes Stenersen (1789-1835); Wilhelm Andreas Wexels (1797-1866); a writer of extraordinary popularity; and Carl Paul Caspari (1814-1892), a German of Jewish birth, who adopted Christianity and became professor of theology in the university of Christiania.

The political crisis of 1884-1885, which produced so remarkable an * effect upon the material and social life of Norway, was not without its influence upon literature. There had Ibsen and Bjornson, a race of entirely prosaic writers, of no great talent, much exercised with "problems." The movement which began in 1885 brought back the fine masters of a previous imaginative age, silenced the problem-setters, and encouraged a whole generation of new men, realists of a healthier sort. In 1885 the field was still held by the three main names of modern Norse literature - Ibsen, Bjornson and Lie. Henrik Ibsen proceeded deliberately with his labours, and his name at the same time grew in reputation and influence. The advance of Bjdrnstjerne Bjornson was not so regular, because it was disturbed by political issues. Moreover, his early peasant tales once more, after having suffered great neglect, grew to be a force, and Bjdrnson's example has done much to revive an interest in the art of verse in Norway. Jonas Lie, the most popular novelist of Norway, continued to publish his pure, fresh and eminently characteristic stories. His style, colloquial almost to a fault, has neither the charm of Bjornson nor the art of some of the latest generation. Ibsen, Bjornson and Lie continued, however, to be the three representative authors of their country. Kristian Elster (1841-1881) showed great talent in his pessimistic novels Tora Trondal (1879) and Dangerous People (1881). Kristian Gloersen (b. 1838) had many affinities with Elster. Arne Garborg (1851) was brought up under sternly pietistic influences in a remote country parish, the child of peasant parents, in the south-west corner of Norway, and the gloom of these early surroundings has tinged all his writings. The early novels of Garborg were written in the peasant dialect, and for that reason, perhaps, attracted little attention. It was not until 1890 that he addressed the public in ordinary language, in his extraordinary novel, Tired Men, which produced a deep sensation. Subsequently Gargorg returned, with violence, to the cultivation of the peasant language, and took a foremost part in the maalstrcev. A novelist of considerable crude force was Amalie Skram (1847-1905), wife of the Danish novelist, Erik Skram. Her novels are destitute of literary beauty, but excellent in their local colour, dealing with life in Bergen and the west coast. But the most extravagant product of the prosaic period was Hans Jaeger (b. 1854), a sailor by profession, who left the sea, obtained some instruction and embarked on literature. Jager accepted the naturalistic formulas wholesale, and outdid Zola himself in the harshness of his pictures of life. Several of Ja ger's books, and in particular his novel Morbid Love (1893), were immediately suppressed, and can with great difficulty be referred to. Knud Hamsun (b. 1860) has been noted for his egotism, and for the bitterness of his attacks upon his fellowwriters and the great names of literature. Hamsun is seen at his best in the powerful romance called Hunger (1888). A writer of a much more pleasing, and in its quiet way of a much more original order, is Hans Aanrud (b. 1863). His humour, applied to the observation of the Ostland peasants - Aanrud himself comes from the Gulbrandsdal - is exquisite; he is by far the most amusing of recent Norwegian writers, a race whose fault it is to take life too seriously. His story, How Our Lord made Hay at Asmund Bergemellum's (1887), is a little masterpiece. Peter Egge (b. 1869), a young novelist and playwright from Trondhjem, came to the front with careful studies of types of Norwegian temperament. In his Jacob and Christopher (1900) Egge also proved himself a successful writer of comedy. Gunnar Heiberg (b. 1857), although older than most of the young generation, has but lately come into prominence. His poetical drama, The Balcony, made a sensation in 1894, but ten years earlier his comedy of Aunt Ulrica should have awakened anticipation. His strongest work is Love's Tragedy (1904). Two young writers of great promise were removed in the very heyday of success, Gabriel Finne (1866-1899) and Sigbjdrn Obstfelder (1866-190o). The last mentioned, in The Red Drops and The Cross, published in 1897, gave promise of something new in Norwegian literature. Obstf elder, who died in a hospital in Copenhagen in August 'goo left an important book in MS., A Priest's Diary (1901).

Verse was banished from Norwegian literature, during the years that immediately preceded 1885. The credit of restoring it belongs to Sigurd Bddtker, who wrote an extremely naturalistic piece called Love, in the manner of Heine. The earliest real poet of the new generation is, however, Niels Collett Vogt (b. 1864), who published a little volume of Poems in 1887. Arne Dybfest (1868-1892), a young anarchist who committed suicide, was a decadent egotist of the most pronounced type, but a poet of unquestionable talent, and the writer of a remarkably The new movement, followed to the great generation of the 'sixties, led by melodious prose. In 1891 was printed in a magazine Vilhelm Krag's (b. 1871) very remarkable poem called Fandango, and shortly afterwards a collection of his lyrics. Vogt and V. Krag continued to be the leading lyrical writers of the period, and although they have many imitators, they cannot be said to have found any rivals. Vilhelm Krag turned to prose fiction, and his novels Isaac Seehuusen (1900) and Isaac Kapergast (1901) are excellent studies of Westland life. More distinguished as a novelist, however, is his brother, Thomas P. Krag (b. 1868), who published a series of romantic novels, of which Ada Wilde (1897) is the most powerful. His short stories are full of delicate charm. Hans E. Kinck (b. 1865) is an accomplished writer of short stories from peasant life, written in dialect. Bernt Lie (b. 1868) is the author of popular works of fiction, mainly for the young. Sven Nilssen (b. 1864) is the author of a very successful novel, The Barque Franciska (1901). With him may be mentioned the popular dramatist and memoir-writer, John Paulsen (b. 1851), author of The Widow's Son. Johan Bojer (b. 1872) has written satirical romances, of which the most powerful is The Power of Faith (1903). Jakob Hilditch (b. 1864) has written many stories and sketches of a purely national kind, and is the anonymous author of a most diverting parody of banal provincial journalism, Tranviksposten (1900-1901).

The leading critics are Carl Naerup (b. 1864) and Hjalmar Christensen (b. 1869), each of whom has published collections of essays dealing with the aspects of recent Norwegian literature. The death of the leading bibliographer and lexicographer of Norway, Jens Braage Halvorsen (1845-1900), inflicted a blow upon the literary history of his country; his Dictionary of Norwegian Authors (1885-1900) - left for completion by Halfdan Koht - is one of the most elaborate works of its kind ever undertaken. Among recent historians of Norway much activity has been shown by Ernst Sars (b. 1835) and Yngvar Nielsen (b. 1843). The great historian of northern jurisprudence was L. M. B. Aubert (1838-1896), and in this connexion T. H. Aschehoug (b. 1822) must also be mentioned. The leading philosopher of Norway in those years was the Hegelian Marcus Jakob Monrad (b. 1816), whose Aesthetics of 1889 is his masterpiece.

The close of 1899 and the beginning of 1900 were occupied by a discussion, in which every Norwegian author took part, The as to the adoption of the landsmaal, or composite dialect of the peasants, in place of the rigsmaal or con- Dano-Norwegian. Political prejudice greatly embittered the controversy, but the proposition that the landsmaal, which dates from the exertions of Ivar Aasen (q.v.) in 1850, should oust the language in which all the classics of Norway are written, was opposed by almost every philologist and writer in the country, particularly by Bjornson and Sophus Bugge (b. 1833). On the other side, Arne Garborg's was almost the only name which carried any literary weight. The maul has no doubt enriched the literary tongue of the country with many valuable words and turns of expression, but there the advantage of it ends, and it is difficult to feel the slightest sympathy with a movement in favour of suppressing the language in which every one has hitherto expressed himself, in order to adopt an artificial dialect which exists mainly on paper, and which is not the natural speech of any one body of persons throughout the whole of Norway.


La Norvege litteraire, by Paul Botten-Hansen (1824-1869), is an admirable piece of bibliography, but comes down no farther than 1866. Jens Braage Halvorsen (1845-1900) left his admirable and exhaustive Norsk Forfatter-Lexikon,1814-1880(Norwegian Dictionary of Authors) incomplete; but the work was continued by Halfdan Koht. See also Henrik Jaeger, Illustreret norsk literaturhistorie (Christiania, 1892-1896); to which an appendix Siste Tidsru y n 1890-1904 was added by Carl N ae rup in 1905; Ph. Schweitzer, Geschichte der skandinavischen Literatur (Leipzig, 1889); F. W. Horn, History of the Literature of the Scandinavian North (Eng. trans., Chicago, 1884); Edmund Gosse, Northern Studies (2nd ed., 1882). (E. G.)

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