Norwegian literature

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Norwegian literature,

early flourished as Old Norse literatureOld Norse literature,
the literature of the Northmen, or Norsemen, c.850–c.1350. It survives mainly in Icelandic writings, for little medieval vernacular literature remains from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.

The Norwegians who settled Iceland late in the 9th cent.
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. In 1380, Norway was united with Denmark, and Danish culture began a long dominance in Norway; Norwegian culture sank to its nadir in the 16th cent. as Danish became the written language. The works of Absolon Beyer (1528–75), in Norwegian and Latin, reveal a new humanism. In the 17th cent. few works other than the poems and histories of Petter Dass were free of arid learning, excessive adornment, and latinization. Rationalist and neo-classic concepts of the Enlightenment were popularized by Ludvig HolbergHolberg, Ludvig, Baron
, 1684–1754, Danish dramatist, essayist, poet, and historian, apostle of the Enlightenment in Scandinavia. Born in Norway, he studied theology in Bergen and in Copenhagen. After 1708 he made Denmark his home, residing there between European travels.
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 in the early 18th cent. when a nationalist strain was also apparent.

Norwegian independence from Denmark, gained in 1814, was a vital stimulus to literature. The mutual antagonism of the literary figures Henrik WergelandWergeland, Henrik
, 1808–45, Norwegian writer and patriot. A champion of liberty, democracy, and international cooperation, he worked zealously for popular education and reform. His strong personality and his extreme nationalism involved him in violent controversies.
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 and J. S. WelhavenWelhaven, Johan Sebastian
, 1807–73, Norwegian poet and critic. His charming and reflective poetry, tending toward the classical in style, drew much inspiration from Norwegian landscape, legend, and history.
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 introduced a literary struggle between the national and the cosmopolitan. The folk collections of Jørgen MoeMoe, Jørgen Engebretsen
, 1813–82, Norwegian folklorist and poet, bishop of Kristiansand. He collected and revised sagas and folk songs, and he collaborated with P. C. Asbjørnsen on the collection Norwegian Folk Stories (1841–44, tr. 1859).
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 and P. C. AsbjørnsenAsbjørnsen, Peter Christian
, 1812–85, Norwegian folklorist, writer, and naturalist. Norwegian Folk Stories (4 vol., 1841–44), which he collected with the poet Jørgen Moe, his friend from school days, was acclaimed throughout Europe for its contribution to
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 recreated a cultural tradition, and by 1850 Ivar Aasen had developed the landsmål language to replace bokmål (Dano-Norwegian); it linked peasant dialects and the tongue of the sagas to contemporary literature. National romanticism reigned at mid-century, but the novels of Camilla CollettCollett, Camilla (Wergeland)
, 1813–95, Norwegian feminist novelist, essayist, and literary critic. Her feminist novels include The District Governor's Daughters (1854–55, tr.
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 foreshadowed the great realist movement.

By the 1870s, the realist plays of Henrik IbsenIbsen, Henrik
, 1828–1906, Norwegian dramatist and poet. His early years were lonely and miserable. Distressed by the consequences of his family's financial ruin and on his own at sixteen, he first was apprenticed to an apothecary.
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 and Bjørnstjerne BjørnsonBjørnson, Bjørnstjerne
, 1832–1910, Norwegian writer and political leader, one of the major figures of Norwegian literature. He was an influential journalist, who sought to revive Norwegian as a literary language and championed the rights of the oppressed.
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 had won international recognition. Chief novelists of the realist and naturalist schools were Amalie SkramSkram, Amalie
, 1846–1905, Norwegian writer. In Denmark, where she lived most of her life, Skram wrote Constance Ring (1885, tr. 1988), her first major novel and the first volume in her novel series about marriage (1885–92).
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, Jonas LieLie, Jonas Lauritz Idemil
, 1833–1908, Norwegian novelist, poet, and playwright. His writing deals with family life in diverse settings. The Pilot and His Wife (1874, tr.
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, Alexander KiellandKielland, Alexander Lange
, 1849–1906, Norwegian novelist, short-story writer, and playwright. Two early volumes of short stories—Tales of Two Countries (1879, tr. 1891) and Norse Tales and Sketches (1897)—placed him among the important realists.
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, and Arne GarborgGarborg, Arne
, 1851–1924, Norwegian writer of the naturalistic school. He founded the weekly Fedraheim (1877), in which he urged reforms in many spheres—political, social, religious, agrarian, and linguistic.
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. The neo-romantic movement of the 1890s called forth the imaginative brilliance of Knut HamsunHamsun, Knut
, 1859–1952, Norwegian author, a pioneer in the development of the modern novel. Virtually without formal education, in his youth he led a wandering life, and on his second visit to the United States (1886–88) worked as a streetcar conductor, lecturer,
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, the psychologically oriented novels of Hans Kinck (1865–1926), and the lyric verse of Nils Vogt. Idealism marked the social dramas of Gunnar HeibergHeiberg, Gunnar Edvard Rode
, 1857–1929, Norwegian dramatist. His plays include Aunt Ulrikke (1883), The Balcony (1894, tr. 1922), and King Midas (1890), a satire on Bjørnson.
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.

Many different themes and styles prevailed in the era after World War I. Johan BojerBojer, Johan
, 1872–1959, Norwegian writer. Bojer's novels of contemporary Norwegian life treat social issues from a classical liberal viewpoint. The Power of a Lie (1903, tr. 1908) and The Great Hunger (1916, tr. 1918) illustrate his humanistic philosophy.
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, Peter Egge (1869–1959), Cora SandelSandel, Cora
, pseud. of Sara Fabricius,
1880–1974, Norwegian author. Her outstanding work is the Alberta Trilogy (1926–39, tr. 1965), a set of largely autobiographical novels about the life of a young woman from Norway who goes to Paris and becomes
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, and Olav DuunDuun, Olav
, 1876–1939, Norwegian novelist. He taught in public schools until 1927. His monumental series of six novels, The People of Juvik (1918–23, tr. 1930–35), is a saga of a Norwegian farm family.
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 wrote novels of Norwegian life, and the Nobel laureate Sigrid UndsetUndset, Sigrid
, 1882–1949, Norwegian novelist. Poverty forced Undset to do secretarial work for a time (1898–1908). Her early novels of contemporary life, among them Jenny (1911; tr. 1921, new tr.
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 gained stature for her novels of ethics and religion. Radical credos were expressed in the plays of Hilge Krog (1889–1962) and poems of Arnulf Øverland. Sigurd HoelHoel, Sigurd
, 1890–1960, Norwegian novelist. Hoel's sophisticated novels of urban life include the witty satire Sinners in Summertime (1927, tr. 1930) and the more serious One Day in October (1931, tr. 1932). Meeting at the Milestone (1947, tr.
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 gained acclaim as an outstanding satirist, Herman Wildenvey as a lighthanded lyricist. The hopes and fears of the times were reflected in the verse and drama of Nordahl Grieg (1902–43).

Few significant books were published during World War II. The war experience and postwar anxieties were explored in the experimental work of Kåre Holt and Aksel Sandemose, in the poetry of Claes Gill and Jan-Magnus Bruheimin, and in the novels of Odd Bang-Hansen and Tarjei VesaasVesaas, Tarjei
, 1897–1970, Norwegian author. In novels, short stories, and lyric poetry, Vesaas combines insight into human psychology with a sensitivity to broader social and political concerns; symbol and allegory are central to his technique.
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, who had already established his reputation by the 1930s. Johan Borgen (1902–79) was Norway's leading novelist in the 1960s and 70s. Other leading novelists of the late 20th cent. include Terje Stigen and Axel Jensen; Bjørg Vik is noted for her short stories. Per Petterson is one of the most outstanding novelists of the late 20th and early 21st cents.

Bibliography

See histories by H. Beyer (tr. 1957) and T. Jorgenson (1933, repr. 1970); B. W. Downs, Modern Norwegian Literature (1966).

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