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Norwegian literature (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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The home pages for the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.nordic
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Norwegian literature

 



Subject: 6.5 

Norwegian literature

The earliest Norwegian literature, the Poetic Edda, was composed in Norway but written down on Iceland in the early middle ages by the descendendants of Norwegian settlers of Iceland. A more ornate and technically complicated poetry was composed by court poets, or skalds, mainly in praise of the battle exploits of various chieftains.

From the 16th through the 18th century, Norwegian literature was written in Danish, mostly by priests and civil servants educated in Denmark. The two principal literary figures were Petter Dass in the 17th century and Ludvig, Baron Holberg in the 18th. Dass has given a marvelously vivid picture of life in the north of Norway in his topographical poem, The Trumpet of Nordland (1739; Eng. trans., 1954); Holberg was the first professional author in Dano-Norwegian literature. A highly learned person, he wrote in a variety of genres; his comedies in particular have remained popular.

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Bjørnstjerne
Bjørnson
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

Norways newly won independence from Denmark in 1814 inspired authors to regard themselves as the creators of a national literature and national identity. Henrik Arnold Wergeland, considered by some the Norwegian national poet, enthralled his countrymen with e.g his monumental cosmological poem, Skabelsen, mennesket, og messias (Creation, Man, and Messiah, 1830). The conservative poet and critic Johan Sebastian Cammermeyer Welhaven, however, reproached Wergeland for his refusal to recognize the existence of a shared Dano-Norwegian cultural heritage. But he little effect on either Wergeland or oesther contemporaries, such as Peter Christen Asbørnsen and Jørgen Engebretsen Moe, who were enthusiastically rediscovering Norway's great past. Asbjørnsen and Moe published their celebrated Norske folkeeventyr (Norwegian Folk Tales) in 1842-44. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, a great Norwegian patriot, also used folklore in his novels describing peasant life.

The dramatist Henrik Ibsen is Norway's most famous literary figure; some of his plays are considered to rank with the works of Shakespeare. In the 20th century, three Norwegian novelists have won Nobel Prizes: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in 1903, Knut Hamsun, most famous for Growth of the Soil (1917; English translation 1920), and Sigrid Undset, author of the epic novel Kristin Lavransdåtter (1920-22; English translation 1923-27). Other important writers of this century include the novelist John Bøjer, the poet Olaf Bull, novelist Olav Duun, playwright and novelist Nordahl Grieg, and novelist Tarjei Vesaas. More recent authors of note are short-story writer Terje Stigen, novelist Jens Bjørnboe, poet Stein Mehren, the feminist writer Bjørg Vik, and Jostein Gaarder, whose novel on the history of western philosophy (Sophie's World, 1991) has had tremendous success all over the world.

For electronic versions of some of the works of Nordic literature, see the collection of Project Runeberg:

Biographical and bibliographical data are given also in English for a few of the Nordic authors.



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© Copyright 1994-2001 by Antti Lahelma.
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This page was last updated February the 20th in the year of 1999.

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