Bjornstjerne Bjornson

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Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography; Critical essay
Length: 9,690 words

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About this Person
Born: December 08, 1832 in Kvikne, Norway
Died: April 26, 1910 in Paris, France
Nationality: Norwegian
Occupation: Writer
Other Names: Bjornson, Bjornsterne Martinius; Bjoernson, Bjoernstjerne; Bjornson, Bjornsterne; Bjoernson, Bjoernstjerne Martinius; Bjornson, Bjornstjerne Martinius

A man of inestimable influence on Norwegian culture in the second half of the nineteenth century, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was a poet, dramatist, essayist, literary critic, journalist, editor, theater director, orator, and activist. In these and other roles he concerned himself with social and cultural issues involving politics, literature, language, religion, pedagogy, and national identity. He was both a Norwegian patriot and a cosmopolite, and for his literary works and his social engagement he was celebrated both within Norway and beyond its borders. Both his contemporaries and subsequent commentators have observed that few writers in any time or any country can match Bjørnson's many and wide-ranging contributions to the intellectual and social fabric of his nation. The Danish critic Georg Brandes said that to utter Bjørnson's name was tantamount to hoisting the Norwegian flag.

Bjørnstjerne Martinius Bjørnson was born on 8 December 1832 at Bjørgan vicarage in Kvikne, a small mountain district in eastern Norway. He was the first child of Peder Bjørnson, a pastor, and Inger Elise Bjørnson, née Nordraak, the daughter of a merchant from Kragerø. His parents named him Bjørnstjern (Bear Star), but in early adulthood he began adding an e to the end of the name.

Bjørnson's principal friends during his childhood were the animals on his father's farm--particularly the colt Blakken (a name commonly given to a dun-colored horse), whom Bjørnson memorializes in his autobiographical story "Blakken" (1868; translated, 1882). As Bjørnson notes in the story, Kvikne had a rough reputation. The previous pastor had fled, and another predecessor had found it necessary to have his pistols with him at all times. Winters were harsh, and Bjørnson recalled hesitating to open the front door for fear his fingers might freeze to the iron latch.

When Bjørnson was six, the family moved to Romsdal in western Norway, where his father became the pastor of Nesset parish. As an adult, Bjørnson described his upbringing in Romsdal in idyllic terms. Nature lay at his doorstep, and the climate was milder than in Kvikne. In "Blakken" he portays the Nesset parsonage as "en av de skjønneste gårder i landet, som den ligger der bredbarmet mellom to møtende fjorder, med grønt fjell over seg, fossefall og gårder på den motsatte strand, bølgende marker og liv inne i dalbunnen, og utover langs fjorden fjell med nes i nes skytende ut i sjøen og en stor gård ute på hvert" (one of the finest gards in the country, lying broadbreasted between two arms of the fjord, with green mountains above and cataracts and gards on the opposite shore, with undulating fields and eager life in the heart of the valley, and out along the fjord mountains, from which naze after naze, with a large gard on each, project out into the water). Bjørnson grew into a strong boy with an outgoing, though at times stormy, temperament, which bore features of both of his parents' personalities. His father was strict, once taking the nine-year-old Bjørnson to see an execution as a warning not to stray from the path of virtue. Though not nearly as stern as his father, Bjørnson shared with him a lifelong obsession with justice, while his perennial optimism was likely influenced by his loving and congenial mother. Bjørnson found many metaphors for his own personality in the natural surroundings of Romsdal, describing himself later in life as a boat on a fjord during a storm, or as a fjord itself.

From 1843 to 1849 Bjørnson attended school in the little fishing town of Molde. There he became acquainted with the writings of the Norwegian patriot Henrik Wergeland, on whom he later modeled his own social activism and nationalist sentiments. In Molde he also first proclaimed his intention to become a writer. In early 1850 he moved to Christiania (now Oslo) to prepare for admission to the university there. He lived with his uncle, Georg Nordraak, a gilder and decorative painter, who introduced him to the theater in addition to nurturing his budding republican sentiments. Bjørnson entered the university in 1852 but was far more interested in writing than in his studies, and he never received a degree. In 1854 he began to write for the paper Krydseren. His other journalistic work at this time included working as a correspondent for Christiania-Posten, for which he reported on the Lagting (upper house) of the Norwegian parliament, and, beginning in 1856, as an anonymous drama critic for Morgenbladet.

Bjørnson's criticism was influenced by the writings of the Danish Hegelian philosopher Johan Ludvig Heiberg, the French critic Jules Janin, the German journalist and literary historian Heinrich Julian Schmidt, and the eighteenth-century German dramatist Gotthold Ephraim Lessing . The Christiania Theater was at that time dominated by Danish actors and the Danish director Carl Peter Borgaard. Although French and Danish pieces made up most of the repertoire, even the few Norwegian plays produced at the theater were performed almost exclusively by Danish actors and in Danish pronunciation. As a critic Bjørnson turned his attention to promoting young Norwegian acting talent. The most promising Norwegians at the Christiania Theater were the young actresses Laura Svendsen (who later became Laura Gundersen) and Lucie Johannesen (later Wolf), both of whom were natives of Bergen. But, as Bjørnson complained in Krydseren (1 March 1854), Borgaard repeatedly cast Svendsen and Johannesen in insignificant parts while giving even youthful female roles to the theater's main tragedienne, the aging Danish actress Augusta Schrumpf. Not wishing to be accused of hotheaded nationalism, however, Bjørnson claimed that it was a mere coincidence that Schrumpf was Danish and Svendsen and Johannesen were Norwegian; he insisted that his foremost goal was the integrity of the acting at the theater. Nevertheless, although he claimed that he would have supported the young actresses even if they had been Danish, clearly he regarded the middle-aged Dane, Schrumpf, as a symbol of the past and the young Norwegian actresses as symbols of Norway's bright future.

While Bjørnson wanted to promote Norwegian acting and Norwegian drama, he was not a hotheaded nationalist. He frequently disparaged the stereotypical portrayals of Norwegian peasants and historical figures in Norwegian drama. A historical play titled Valborg that he himself had written in this style had been accepted for production by the Christiania Theater, but Bjørnson had withdrawn it before it was performed. In a review of the anonymously written Fiskerhjemmet (The Fisherman's Home) he complained that Norwegian dramatists had sought to imbue their peasant characters with the ruggedness and steely wills allegedly possessed by the Vikings, with the result that their characters appeared as stereotypical braggarts or scoundrels. Bjørnson's skepticism with regard to the nationalists' agenda is also evident in his comments in Krydseren (16 September 1854) regarding the Christiania Norske Dramatiske Skole (Christiania Norwegian Dramatic School), which was founded in 1852 as a theater in which Norwegian acting and the Norwegian language would be promoted: "Heller ikke er det Lokkemad nok, at det norske Theater aabnes; thi Folk har ikke og bør ikke have Interesse for Andet end hvad der er godt, selv om det er 10 Gange nationalt; ja det bør allermindst vænnes til at taale det Slette der, hvor det Nationale bydes, fordi dette er et Begreb, som skal staa rent og tillokkende i Folkets Bevidsthed, slet ikke være behæftet med nogen Biforestilling om Kjede eller Skamfuldhed" (Nor is it sufficient bait that the Norwegian Theater has been opened, for the people do not have and should not have an interest for anything other than that which is good, even if it is ten times national; yes, they should accustom themselves least of all to tolerating inferiority where the national is offered, because the national should be pure and attractive in the people's consciousness, instead of burdened with any accompanying feeling of boredom or shamefulness).

Some intellectuals in Christiania, most notably the Hegelian philosopher Marcus Jacob Monrad, believed that only the Christiania Norwegian Dramatic School, which was renamed the Christiania Norske Theater (Christiania Norwegian Theater) in 1854, could eventually throw off the yoke of Danish cultural tutelage and become Norway's national theater. Bjørnson, however, continued to work to transform the Christiania Theater from a Danish show house into a Norwegian cultural institution. His disgust at Borgaard's treatment of the Norwegian actors surged again when, in May 1856, Borgaard hired the Dane Ferdinand Schmidt. Formerly a brush maker, Schmidt had little acting experience. Though he and his wife had been promised acting positions at the Christiania Theater, according to the official account they were only visiting. Bjørnson was outraged both at the subterfuge and at Borgaard's practice of hiring even the most untalented Danes rather than cultivating Norwegian talent. In protest, he and his followers attempted to disrupt Schmidt's debut at the theater on 6 May by whistling in the audience. Although this protest was not particularly successful, a second demonstration on 8 May was significantly larger and more effective.

Defending the protests in his essay "Pibernes Program" (The Whistlers' Program) in Morgenbladet (8 May 1856), Bjørnson portrayed himself as a successor to the Norwegian poet and patriot Wergeland. He described a national theater as "Nationalitetens Forpostvagt mod Utlandet" (nationality's outpost guard against foreign countries) and the capital city as the place where the break between the native and the foreign occurs. He explained that this break was not meant as a rejection of the growing calls in the 1850s for closer political ties among the Scandinavian countries, but rather was a necessary precondition to Pan-Scandinavian union: "I en Tid, hvori man prædiker Sammensmeltning, maa man vel mindes, at først naar hvert enkelt Land er blevet et udviklet Statsindivid, kan en sund, til Fællesarbeide skikket, Formæling tænkes paa. Ikke saameget i vort mindre Folkeantal, ikke saameget i alt dette udvortes, som man stadig ser fremholdt, men netop i, at vi endnu ikke fuldstændig er bleven Nation, ligger den rette Grund til, at den skandinaviske Tanke møder mindre Velvilje hos os" (In a time when one preaches union, one must be reminded that only when each individual nation has become a developed national entity can a healthy wedding take place which is suited for collaboration. The actual reason for why the Scandinavian idea is greeted with less acceptance among Norwegians lies not so much in our smaller population, not so much in all such superficial matters [although one constantly sees this maintained], but precisely in the fact that we still have not fully become a nation). Reflecting on the protests, the author Jonas Lie observed to Reidar Marum, "Hermed begyndte den Bjørnsonske épopée" (With this the Bjørnsonian epopee began). Bjørnson himself regarded the protests as the beginning of his social and political activism as a writer, as he later indicated in his essay "Hvorledes jeg blev Dikter" (How I Became a Writer) in Ny Illustreret Tidende (2 February 1882). A few weeks after the 1856 whistle concerts took place, Bjørnson participated in meetings of Scandinavian students in Uppsala, Kalmar, and Stockholm. In the following decades he became one of the best-known proponents of Pan-Scandinavianism and Pan-Germanism.

The most significant event in Bjørnson's early career was the publication on 10 August 1857 of his bondefortelling (peasant tale) Synnøve Solbakken (Sunny Hill; translated as Trust and Trial, 1858). Synnøve lives a quiet and pious life with her parents on the sunny side of the valley, while Torbjørn, whose family home is on the sunless side, is stubborn, easily provoked, attends dances, and engages in frequent fistfights. Despite their different temperaments, the two fall in love. By the end of the story Torbjørn has come under the positive influence of Synnøve; when he recovers from a lifethreatening knife wound suffered in a fight, her parents accept him as their daughter's fiancé. Bjørnson's portrayals of the Norwegian countryside and the people who inhabit it possess a simple, if somewhat romanticized, beauty. In the second chapter, for example, Torbjørn and his father are on their way to church, and Bjørnson observes of Torbjørn:

Litt eldre må han gjete til fjells; men når han den vakre, duggfulle søndagsmorgen sitter på stenen med kreaturerne nedenfor seg og hører kirkeklokkene over deres bjeller, da blir han tungsindig. Ti der klinger i dem noe lyst, lett, lokkende dernedefra, tanke om kjenninger ved kirken, glede, når man er der, enda større når man har vært der, god mat hjemme, far, mor, søskende, lek på volden den glade søndagskveld, og det lille hjerte gjør opstand i brystet. Men det ender dog alltid med at det var kirkeklokkene som lød; han husker seg om og finner til sist en halv salmestubb han kan; den synger han med foldede hænder og et langt øye ned i dalen, sier så en liten bønn ovenpå, springer opp, er glad og støter i luren, så det skraller i fjellene.
(When he is older he will have to herd the goats in the mountains. But when he then on a beautiful, dew-filled Sunday morning sits on a rock with the animals below him and hears the church bells ringing above the tinkling of their bells, he will grow melancholy. For in the church bells ringing down below there is something bright, cheerful, and coaxing, the thought of acquaintances at church, the joy one feels when one is there, which is greater still after one has been there, good food at home, father, mother, siblings, games in the meadow on happy Sunday afternoons, and his little heart thumps in his chest. But in the end it is always the church bells that he heard. He thinks a bit and at last remembers just a snatch of a psalm. He sings it with folded hands and a longing look down into the valley, and then says a little prayer, jumps up happily, and blows his alpine horn so it peals in the mountains.)
In the preface to his 1918 edition of Synnøve Solbakken for American college students George T. Flom observes that modern Dano-Norwegian--known in the nineteenth century as riksmål (official language) and today as bokmål (book language)--virtually began with Synnøve Solbakken, while Clemens Petersen, a prominent Danish critic and close friend of Bjørnson's, declared that Norwegian literature itself began with the story. The Swedish poet Verner von Heidenstam's memorial ode to Bjørnson begins with the words, "Gråt, Synnøve, gråt!" (Weep, Synnøve, weep!). Bjørnson's famous portrayal of Synnøve as a beautiful girl with a red ribbon in her blond hair has been interpreted by several artists. The story remains the best-known of Bjørnson's works and has long been a staple of the Norwegian literature school curriculum.

Bjørnson's career as a dramatist began when Borgaard produced his Mellem Slagene (Between the Battles) at the Christiania Theater in October 1857. The one-act play portrays Sverre Sigurdsson before his ascent to the throne in 1184. Sverre, who disguises himself in the play as Øystein, wishes to be king not for the power it brings but out of an unselfish desire to shape Norway. Recalling the achievements of past Norwegian kings in uniting Norway and bringing law and Christianity to it, Sverre observes that the present king, Magnus, has done neither good nor ill for the country. He prays that he, as king, will be able to influence Norway more positively: "Den være konge som har noe han vil være konge for" (May he be king who has something he wants to be king for). As Harald Noreng observes in his seminal 1954 study of Bjørnson's dramatic works, in this piece Bjørnson introduces the themes of self-assertion and service to society that run through his plays and yield insights into his view of himself as a leader in Norwegian society.

Bjørnson completed his play Halte-Hulda (published 1858, produced 1865, Lame Hulda) in 1857 while visiting his parents in Søgne, where his father had been pastor since June 1853. The work is set in the thirteenth century. Hulda, whose father was killed by the Aslak clan and whose mother died of grief soon afterward, has been raised by the Aslak clan to atone for their deed. Although lame, she has grown into a beautiful woman and has been married against her will to Gudleik Hustadvik. The chieftain, Eyolf Finsson, murders Gudleik, and he and Hulda become lovers. Eyolf then murders Hulda's former father-in-law, Aslak. When Hulda learns that Eyolf intends to leave her to marry Svanhilde, an attendant to the queen, she tells Gudleik's brothers, who wish to avenge Gudleik's and Aslak's deaths, where to find him that evening. They surround and set fire to the chamber where Eyolf and Hulda are conversing. They call to Hulda to come out, but she decides to stay and burn to death with Eyolf.

In November 1857 Bjørnson accepted the position of director of the Norwegian Theater in Bergen, which had been founded in 1850 by the violinist Ole Bull. Bjørnson's predecessor, Henrik Ibsen, had been at the Bergen theater since 1851 and was leaving to become artistic director at the Christiania Norwegian Theater. In Bergen, Bjørnson became known for his attempts to improve the repertoire. He produced works by William Shakespeare , Ludvig Holberg, Adam Oehlenschläger, Andreas Munch, and Johan Herman Wessel. In addition, he presented Ibsen's Hærmændene paa Helgeland (1858; translated as The Vikings at Helgeland, 1890) and his own Mellem Slagene. Nevertheless, Bjørnson found it difficult to make the theater artistically and commercially successful. Bergen had a population of just twenty-five thousand, and the resources Bjørnson had at his command were meager. His insights into character and plot motivation were praised, though some theatergoers and critics alleged that the actors did not play their characters but played Bjørnson playing the characters. Some even insisted that the actors had begun to pronounce their lines in Bjørnson's Romsdal accent.

In Bergen, Bjørnson became acquainted with Karoline Reimers, also known by her stepfather's surname as Karoline Jahn. Reimers had some acting experience and had signed on as back-up help at the theater in Bergen, though she met Bjørnson not at the theater but at a social gathering. On 16 May 1858 he proposed to her in Trondheim, where the Bergen troupe was on tour. One day later, he delivered his first Constitution Day speech.

That summer Reimers and a friend accompanied Bjørnson to Eikesdal in Romsdal, where the women spent their days reading, picking berries, and fishing, while Bjørnson worked on his novel Arne (1859; translated as Arne; or, Peasant Life in Norway: A Norwegian Tale, 1860). The title character is born out of wedlock, though his mother, Margit, later marries his father, Nils, a tailor, after Nils suffers severe injuries in a fight with Baard Bøen. Nils is often drunk, and he abuses Margit physically and verbally. When he threatens during one such episode to choke her, Arne grabs an axe and rushes toward him. Before Arne can reach him, Nils falls on top of Margit, dead from a heart attack. Arne wishes to leave the countryside, but Margit implores him to stay, lest she be completely alone. She hides letters to him from his friend Christian, who left to become a sailor. Arne grows to view himself as a coward who long ago should have intervened to stop his father from abusing his mother and should now have the courage to leave home as Christian had. He worries about what others think of him and shuns social interactions. His fondness for Eli Bøen, the daughter of the man who crippled his father, grows when Baard Bøen hires him as a carpenter. Despite its many dark passages, the story ends happily with the marriage of Arne and Eli.

Bjørnson and Reimers were married on 11 September 1858 in Søgne. The following year Bjørnson accepted an offer to become coeditor of Aftenbladet, the successor to Krydseren, in Christiania. In October 1859 he published his poem "Ja, vi elsker dette Landet" (Yes, We Love This Land) in Aftenbladet; five years later, it was named Norway's national song. Though "Ja, vi elsker dette Landet" is by far Bjørnson's best-known poem, many of the verses that appear in his peasant tales also proved popular and were set to music by prominent composers. On 15 November 1859 Karoline gave birth to a son, Bjørn, after which she lay ill for several months with puerperal fever. The Bjørnsons went on to have five more children, one of whom died shortly after birth.

In 1859 Bjørnson and Ibsen cofounded Det Norske Selskabt (The Norwegian Society). Bull played Norwegian folk music at the first meeting of the society on 22 November. Among the stories Bjørnson wrote during this time is "En glad Gut" (1860; translated as A Happy Boy, 1882), a cheerful account of a boy who grows up to attend an agricultural school and marry his beloved, Marit.

Amid debates over whether the office of viceroy of Norway should be abolished, Bjørnson resigned as coeditor of Aftenbladet. The viceroy was appointed by the Swedish king, and Bjørnson was among those who believed that the position should be eliminated. He spent three years in Europe after receiving a travel stipend from the Storting (Parliament). His principal literary works during his travels were dramas. Both Kong Sverre (1861, King Sverre) and Sigurd Slembe (1862, Sigurd the Bad; translated as Sigurd Slembe: A Dramatic Trilogy, 1888) take place in the twelfth century. The former play depicts Sverre, the hero of Mellem Slagene, after his ascent to the throne; the latter, one of Bjørnson's best dramatic works, portrays the pretender Sigurd as a complex man--noble yet despotic, self-assured yet self-doubting, unsatisfied and always longing for achievement: "Jeg trer aldri inn i en liten kirke uten å tenke meg en stor, aldri i en av tre uten å lenges til hine av marmor. . . . Således står jeg heller aldri i en liten handling uten å tenke meg en stor, i mange tusens overvær, i lysning av et kveld" (I never enter a small church without picturing a large one, never a wooden one without longing for those of marble. . . . So I never do a small deed, without thinking of great ones, done in the sight of thousands, in the glow of song). The trilogy follows Sigurd from the time he learns that he is the son of Magnus Barefoot and leaves to become a crusader, through his adventures in Scotland, to his return to Norway, where he murders his half brother, Harald Gille, for the crown. His attempt to secure the throne ends in failure, and at the end he awaits capture and certain death.

In addition to emphasizing his support of the Danes in their emerging struggle against Germany over Schleswig-Holstein, the letters Bjørnson wrote while touring Europe frequently refer to theaters and performances. Observations in his correspondence concerning the state of the Christiania Theater indicate that he still fervently hoped for the establishment of a Norwegian national theater. After his return to Norway, he continued to be engaged in the future of the Christiania Theater, which was amalgamated with its erstwhile rival, the Christiania Norwegian Theater, in 1863. Also in 1863 Bjørnson became the first person to receive an author's salary from the Norwegian government.

On 1 January 1865, after lengthy negotiations, Bjørnson became artistic director of the Christiania Theater. During his tenure he experienced considerable discord with the theater management, and he also encountered a public that was often at odds with his vision for the theater. Although the troupe was, at last, composed overwhelmingly of Norwegian actors, their lines still tended to be spoken with Danish pronunciation and in what was regarded as a Danish acting style. Instead of producing only musical plays and nationalistic pieces, Bjørnson wanted to show that Norwegian actors were capable of performing dramatic masterpieces.

In addition to producing many of his own and Ibsen's works, Bjørnson staged plays by Shakespeare, Lessing, and Holberg. One of his first productions was Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream (circa 1595), translated by Oehlenschläger and with the music of Felix Mendelssohn. Although critics were displeased with the acting and the sets, it was perhaps the most significant production of his tenure. He produced his own De Nygifte (1865; translated as as The Newly-Married Couple, 1868) and Maria Stuart i Skotland (published 1864, produced 1867, Mary, Queen of Scots). De Nygifte had the distinction of being the first Norwegian play to be produced simultaneously in Christiania, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. Laura, who is newly married to Axel, finds it difficult to see herself as a wife first and a daughter second. Against her and her parents' wishes, Axel moves away with her. Over the following year Laura grows ever colder toward Axel for separating her from her parents, even though he does everything he can to make her feel comfortable--including decorating their home with furnishings identical to those in her parents' home. Laura's friend Mathilde secretly writes a book in which Laura and Axel's unhappy relationship is mirrored. Laura and Axel do not realize until the end of the play who wrote the book, but it leads them to reflect on their marriage. Meanwhile, Mathilde persuades Laura's parents to visit, and they are reconciled with Axel on seeing how hard he has worked to make Laura feel at home even while away from them. Seeing how fond they now are of Axel, Laura realizes that she has been unfair and proclaims her love for him.

Maria Stuart i Skotland depicts Mary as she struggles in her roles as woman and queen in her interactions with her husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Darnley, whose love she does not return; with her secretary, David Rizzio; and with James Hepburn, fourth Earl of Bothwell. She exclaims in a soliloquy, "Å, hvorfor kom jeg til dette land! Ingen venn, ikke en beskytter, alle forrædere mot meg, og jeg er blott en kvinne!" (Oh, why did I come to this country! No friend, not one protecter, every traitor against me, and I am just a woman!).

In 1866 Bjørnson became editor of Norsk Folkeblad. He resigned from the Christiania Theater at the end of the 1866-1867 season. Despite the strife he had experienced as director, he is generally credited with transforming the Christiania Theater into an acclaimed Norwegian cultural institution whose repertoire included the classics of both the Norwegian and the European dramatic canons.

In the autumn of 1867 Bjørnson and his family visited Copenhagen. Shortly before he departed, a Danish publisher asked him to contribute a poem about April to a calendar in which each month of the year would be accompanied by poetry about that month. As Bjørnson scholars have often pointed out, the poem Bjørnson wrote for the calendar aptly describes his own temperament (many have noted the coincidence that Bjørnson died in April). The poem begins emphatically with the line "Jeg velger meg April!" (I choose April!) and proceeds to portray the month as one of dynamic change in which the old falls and the new sprouts; a month of storms and showers, of melting snow and the promise of the summer yet to come. It is a tumultuous month; but peace is not the best thing, the speaker says. It is better that people have desires and goals that force them to act.

The main character in Bjørnson's novel Fiskerjenten (1868; translated as The Fisher-Maiden: A Norwegian Tale, 1869), on which he worked in Copenhagen, also bears features of his personality--first and foremost, his passion and drive. Indeed, in response to questions as to the identity of the actress on whom he modeled the fisher-maiden, Bjørnson insisted that she was based on no one but himself. The title character is a poor girl who disgraces herself and her mother by deceiving three suitors, each of whom believes she has promised him her hand. Aided by a man who, unbeknownst to her, is her father, she flees from her small town to Bergen. There she grows enamored of the theater, and at the end of the novel she realizes her dream of becoming an actress. Bjørnson devotes several passages in the second half of Fiskerjenten to overturning church associations of the theater with immorality. In many of his subsequent literary works and speeches he expressed exasperation with the failures of organized religion and--influenced in the 1870s by the theology of N. F. S. Grundtvig--advocated an open and affirming Christianity that would be true to Christ's teachings of brotherly love.

In the summer of 1869 Bjørnson traveled to northern Norway, where he gave many lectures. His growing engagement in the controversial political issues of the day earned him both acclaim and derision. Though Ibsen denied that he had modeled the character of Stensgaard in De unges Forbund (1869; translated as The League of Youth, 1919) on Bjørnson, Bjørnson was deeply insulted by the portrayal. But despite being frequently branded a demagogue and a populist, Bjørnson continued to devote himself to social activism. In this respect he differed greatly from Ibsen, who, reflecting on his miserable experiences at the theaters in Bergen and Christiania, had written in a letter to Bjørnson in 1867 that theater directing is like an abortion that takes the life of the writer's unborn literary works. Bjørnson, by contrast, viewed being a writer as a public role that should go hand in hand with other public roles such as directing and engaging in politics.

In 1870 Bjørnson was elected chairman of the Studentersamfundet (Students' Association) and became the director of a small group of actors who had broken from the Christiania Theater and were performing at the Møllergaten Theater in the same city. The latter venture lasted about a year and a half. Perhaps his most enduring public achievement of 1870 was his organization of a children's parade for the Constitution Day celebration on 17 May. Processions of flag-waving Norwegian children are still a feature of Constitution Day celebrations; Bjørnson came to be known as "barnetogets far" (the father of the children's parade). Also in 1870 his Digte og Sange (translated as Poems and Songs, 1915) and his saga-inspired epic poem, Arnljot Gelline, were published.

In 1871 Bjørnson went on a lecture tour of Sweden. In many of his speeches and writings of 1871 and 1872 he advocated closer ties between the Scandinavian countries and Germany, though his Pan-Germanic viewpoint was at odds with the sentiments of many Scandinavians--particularly since Germany's defeat of Denmark in the 1864 war over Schleswig-Holstein. While vacationing with his family in Florence in the summer of 1873 he wrote a drama, Kong Eystein (King Eystein), that he intended as the first installment of a two-part drama of which Sigurd Jorsalfar (1872, Sigurd the Crusader) would form the second part. But he never made Kong Eystein public, and it did not appear in print until 1932. Kong Eystein is nevertheless significant in that it represents the last of Bjørnson's literary works dealing with historical themes. Sigurd Jorsalfar became a popular piece on the stage, where it was accompanied by music composed by Edvard Grieg.

In Redaktøren (1874; translated as The Editor, 1914), also written in Florence, Bjørnson turned to contemporary social drama. The title character is an unscrupulous journalist whose scathing columns contribute to the ill health of a politician, Halvdan Rejn, and tarnish the reputation of his brother, Harald, who aspires to carry on Halvdan's work. Harald's engagement is threatened when his fiancée's parents, who are friends of the editor, seek to distance themselves from Harald; in the end, however, they see that the editor has acted with evil intentions. Halvdan dies toward the end of the play of a massive hemorrhage while reading one of the editor's columns. In condemning the editor's actions Bjørnson condemns a culture in which only hard-hearted men who have purged themselves of all feeling can survive the media's attacks. He also criticizes individuals such as the fiancée's parents, who are more concerned with what people think of Harald than with his actual character.

Although Redaktøren deals with contemporary issues, it is not commonly regarded as the breakthrough to the drama of social realism in the Nordic countries; that distinction is held by Bjørnson's En Fallit (published 1874, produced 1875; translated as The Bankrupt, 1914). The businessman Henning Tjælde finds himself bankrupt but ultimately manages to repay his creditors, in large part because of the hard work of his family members and his loyal clerk, whose betrothal to Tjælde's daughter Valborg ends the play on a happy note.

In 1875 Bjørnson bought the farm Aulestad in Østre Gausdal, where he wrote Kongen (published 1877, produced 1902; translated as The King, 1914). Many of the characters in the play voice republican sentiments; one of them, Flink, says that monarchy is "en assuransekasse, rett og slett! En del prester, embetsmenn, adel, godseiere, grosserere, militære har aksjer i den" (nothing more or less than an insurance business in which a whole crew of priests, officials, noblemen, landed proprietors, merchants and military men hold shares). Even the king expresses support for democratic government, describing monarchy as having become "så stor en løgn at det tvinger selv de rettskafneste til å nærme seg det i løgn" (so all-pervading a lie that it infects even the most upright of men). Among these upright men the king includes Christians, who, he suggests, should take far more interest in attempting to prevent the abuse of power that is inherent to monarchical systems of government. When his desire for change is thwarted, the king commits suicide.

The novel Magnhild: En Fortælling (Magnhild: A Tale; translated as Magnhild, 1882), written during Bjørnson's stay in Italy but not published until 1877, was as controversial as Kongen, though for different reasons. The sole survivor of a landslide that killed the rest of her family, Magnhild is raised by the local pastor as a ward of the parish. She is coerced into marrying Skarlie, a saddler who is much older than she, and soon comes to despise him. Her talent for music, first displayed when she lived with the pastor's family, is reawakened when she rents a room in her and Skarlie's home to a composer, Tande. Tande is having an affair with a married lodger across the road, but he breaks it off when he falls in love with Magnhild. Magnhild realizes that she loves Tande, too; but instead of pursuing the illicit relationship she temporarily leaves home, and Tande departs for Germany. Several years pass; Magnhild grows ever more dejected and neglectful of her appearance. Finally, at the end of the novel she gains the courage to leave Skarlie and travel with a friend to America. Bjørnson's view that marriage must be based on love, not duty, was considered radical.

Bjørnson's condemnation of social hypocrisy appears in a different context in Det ny system (1879; translated as The New System, 1913). The director-general of railroads institutes a "new system" that is challenged by a young engineer, who claims that it is costing the country millions of kroner. In the ensuing debate, others begin to doubt the efficacy of the system, and the director-general himself privately expresses reservations. He holds onto his belief in the system because of his chief clerk's faith in it--but then finds out that the clerk is also dubious but has clung to his faith in the system because of the director-general's apparent confidence. Bjørnson thus criticizes the keeping up of appearances and praises those who, like the young engineer, have the courage to live a life guided by truth.

In the play Leonarda (1879; translated, 1912) Bjørnson attacks social mores regarding women's conduct and reputations. Leonarda has a bad reputation because of her friendship with General Rosen, who is viewed by the community as morally dissolute. Leonarda's neice, Aagot, whom she has raised, falls in love with Hagbart, who shares the common view of Leonarda. In a conversation with the bishop, Leonarda argues that she is merely exercising Christian compassion toward Rosen; the assertion is not enough to sway the bishop to accept her conduct. Hagbart eventually decides that Leonarda does not deserve her ill repute and finds that he is more in love with her than with her niece. Leonarda is drawn to Hagbart, too, but to avoid hurting Aagot she leaves on a journey with Rosen--who, it is revealed, is her former husband. The bishop and other characters come to the realization that they have done Leonarda a grave injustice.

Kaptejn Mansana: En Fortælling fra Italien (Captain Mansana: A Tale from Italy; translated as Captain Mansana, 1882), was also published in 1879. Early in the novel the title character attends a memorial service for his father. Reflecting on his father's life, he realizes that the pursuit of honor and glory--or, as he puts it, conspiracy and revenge--condemns the pursuer to a life of emptiness and restlessness and forces his women and children to make do on their own. But he is incapable of applying this lesson to his own life. His ego leads him to want to possess the princess Theresa Leaney, and he becomes engaged to her. But he fears that marrying someone of her high station will transform him into little more than a manager of her property and a servant of her whims, and he breaks off the engagement to pursue Amanda Brindini, a young woman who is far beneath his class. The pursuit fails, and he returns to Theresa. She recognizes that he has suffered from a mental illness and marries him. Like Mansana, the male characters in Bjørnson's works often live in a world of dreams and ideals and come perilously close to losing their foothold in reality. They must either learn to recognize these fantasies and prevent themselves from acting on them or be led back to the path of virtue and restraint by a strong female such as Theresa Leaney.

In 1880 Bjørnson traveled to America, where he gave lectures in New England and the Midwest. He returned to Norway in 1881. His campaigning for the Venstre (Left) Party proved indispensable to its success in the election of 1882. Nevertheless, he was viewed by many in the party as a liability and ridiculed for what they regarded as his unbridled self-promotion and egotism.

After celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the publication of Synnøve Solbakken in August 1882, in the fall Bjørnson departed Christiania for Paris; he lived there for the next five years. He continued to protest against orthodoxy, intolerance, and outdated social conventions in works such as the story "Støv" (1882, Dust), in which a couple neglect their sons' education and allow a servant to teach them romanticized notions of death and the afterlife. When the boys get lost in the forest during a storm and subsequently fall ill, the parents realize their error; the mother dies soon after the boys recover. Bjørnson's narrator describes the prejudices and romanticized notions that one instills in one's children as dust that prevents them from seeing clearly. In the play Over ævne (Beyond Our Strength; translated as Pastor Sang, 1893), the first part of which was published in 1883 and produced in 1886, Bjørnson rejects belief in the miraculous.

En hanske (1883; translated as A Gauntlet, 1890), a play that Bjørnson wrote to mark the occasion of his silver wedding anniversary in September 1883, examines the double standard. Svava refuses to marry her fiancé, Alf, when she discovers that he has had an affair with a married woman. Intellectuals such as Brandes and August Strindberg sneered at the moralism of En hanske and suggested that the middle-aged Bjørnson was forgetting his own amorous past. The ensuing debate between the so-called moralists and immoralists over sexual mores came to be known as the Hanskestriden (Gauntlet Feud). Not everyone counted Bjørnson among the moralists: to many social conservatives the questions explored in En hanske and in Ibsen's Et Dukkehjem (1879; translated as A Doll's House, 1889) and Gengangere (1881; translated as Ghosts, 1888) constituted an attack on the institution of marriage.

Bjørnson continued to protest against social conventions regarding gender roles and marriage in the novel Det flagger i byen og på havnen (1884, Flags are Flying in Town and by the Harbor; translated as The Heritage of the Kurts, 1892). Tomasine Rendalen struggles to raise her son, Tomas, to avoid the dissolute ways of his father and the father's family. Tomas becomes an upstanding man and joins his mother in founding a school for girls. Bjørnson inserts many references to pedagogical theory into the work. At the end of the novel a young woman who has been seduced and jilted by a man confronts him with their child on the day he is to wed another woman. Far more lighthearted is the play Geografi og kærlighed (1885, Geography and Love; translated as Love and Geography, 1914), which, though not one of Bjørnson's stronger works, was for a long time one of his most popular plays on the stage.

While vacationing in Norway in the summer of 1886, Bjørnson proclaimed himself a socialist. Bjørnson's socialism was not revolutionary in nature but emphasized tolerance and love of one's fellow human beings. This emphasis comes to the fore in his novel På Guds veje (1889; translated as In God's Way, 1890), which depicts the rivalry between a freethinking doctor, Edvard Kallem, and his childhood friend, pastor Ole Tuft, who marries Edvard's sister, Josephine. While Josephine, unlike her brother, views herself as a Christian, she takes issue with what she views as her husband's too literal presentation of Scripture in his sermons and to their son. When Ole and Josephine wrongly suspect Kallem's wife, Ragni, of having an affair with her friend Karl Meek, they cut off contact with the Kallems and even decline to visit Ragni when she is dying of tuberculosis. Only when Ole and Josephine's son grows gravely ill and is successfully operated on by Kallem is contact reestablished. After his son's recovery, Tuft gives a sermon in which he states:

aldri mer skal ordene bli det øverste for meg, ikke heller tegnene; det skal livets evige åpenbaring være. Aldri mer skal jeg fryse fast i en lære, men la livsvarmen løse min vilje. Aldri skal jeg dømme mennesker efter dogmer ut av forrige tiders rettferd, når den ikke holder kjærlighetens mål i vår tid. Aldri for Gud! Og det, fordi jeg tror på ham, livets gud, hans uavlatelige åpenbarelse i livet.
(never again shall either words or signs be for me the most important; but, contrariwise, the everlasting revelation of life. Never again will I let myself be immured in any doctrine; but will let my will be set free by the warmth of life. Never again will I judge mankind by the codes of an old-world justice, if the justice of our day cannot use the language of love. Before God never! And this because I believe in Him, the God of life, and His incessant revelation in life.)
On learning that Ragni was not guilty of an affair and had not, until shortly before her death, even known that she was suspected of having had one, Josephine is plagued with guilt for having misjudged her. She views herself as Ragni's murderess, but she is forgiven by Edvard. In the final lines of the novel Bjørnson issues a plea for tolerance and understanding. Ole is pondering God's ways as he, Josephine, and Edvard walk slowly homeward together. Edvard says that he still does not share Ole's faith, to which Ole replies, in typical Bjørnsonian fashion: "Nei, nei, nei, nei . . . der bra folk går, der er Guds veie!" (No, no, no, no . . . there where good people walk, those are God's ways!).

Bjørnson's socialist ideals manifest themselves strongly in the second part of Over ævne (1895; translated as Beyond Our Power, 1913), in which he contrasts "true" or "pure" Christianity with the institutionalized religion that the leaders of industry manipulate in their exploitation of their workers. Opposing the practices of his fellow capitalists, the character Anker says: "Den ansvarsløshet, den ryggesløshet hvormed rikfolk ødsler vekk millioner, som var den ingen annen til i landet enn de selv og de som hjelper dem med å more seg--den er likså anarkisme, et opprør mot Guds og menneskets lov" (This irresponsibility, this dissoluteness with which the wealthy squander millions as if there were no one else in the country except for themselves and those who enable them to amuse themselves--this, too, is anarchy, a revolt against the law of God and the human being).

The tragedy Paul Lange og Tora Parsberg (published 1898, produced 1901; translated as Paul Lange and Tora Parsberg, 1899) was written in reaction to the suicide of the politician Ole Richter in Stockholm on 15 June 1888, for which many blamed Bjørnson. Bjørnson had withdrawn his support of Prime Minister Johan Sverdrup, with whom he differed on church matters, and he believed that his longtime friend Richter would collaborate with him in defeating Sverdrup. For Richter the stress grew too great to bear, especially after Sverdrup accused him of misusing his authority and Bjørnson betrayed Richter's confidence by publishing a private letter from him. In Bjørnson's play minister of state Paul Lange is planning on resigning his post when he is called on by the king's chamberlain to give a speech in opposition to a proposed vote of no confidence in the government. The chamberlain notes that Lange has maintained that the current head of government, while not perfect, is still the best man available to bring the country forward. As an added incentive, the chamberlain offers Lange the post of ambassador to Britain. Lange accepts, and he and Tora Parsberg decide that they will marry and travel to London together. But Lange's support of the government results in a political maelstrom, and he is denounced as dishonest and unethical. Unable to bear the opprobrium, he commits suicide. Tora laments in the final lines of the play: "Å, hvorfor skal det være så at de gode så ofte blir martyrer? Kommer vi aldri så langt at de blir førere?" (Oh, why must it be that good men are so often martyrs? Shall we never see the day when they become our leaders?).

Laboremus (1901; translated, 1901), its sister play På Storhove (1902, At Storhove), and Daglannet (published 1904, performed 1905) address family conflict and rivalry rather than politics. The best of the three is Daglannet, in which a father opposes his engineer son's plan to build a factory near a waterfall on the family farm. The father tells the son that he will never inherit the farm or be allowed to buy it. The son's plans to develop the land are blocked by political developments, and father and son are reconciled at the end of the play.

Bjørnson won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1903. In the speech he gave on his receipt of the prize on 10 December he stressed his belief that the mission of the writer must be rooted in moral values.

Bjørnson's last play, Når den ny vin blomstrer (1909; translated as When the New Wine Blooms, 1911), explores modern marriage. In a conversation with their uncle, Pastor Hall, Helene and Marna reject biblical teachings on marriage--particularly the notion that a wife must be subservient to her husband. Hall is in love with Helene and proposes to her; she accepts, leading to discussions by various characters about the advanages and disadvantages of a younger woman marrying an older man. Marna returns to the family home when her marriage breaks down after only five months, and Helene and Marna's parents also experience a breakdown of their marriage when the father, Arvik, leaves for Australia. His wife feels remorse for doting on their children and neglecting his needs. Even before reaching the harbor, Arvik realizes that he cannot turn his back on his wife and family. The play ends with the parents' reconciliation.

To the end, Bjørnson's life and writings demonstrated his belief that the mission of the writer in society must be rooted in moral values. In a conversation with the Swedish writer Ellen Key , Bjørnson emphasized that although his political activism resulted in fewer completed literary works and less income, "Jeg vil dikte et nytt og bedre Norge" (I want to write a new and better Norway)--an utterance that supplies the title of one of Per Amdam's biographies of Bjørnson. In the last decade of his life, Bjørnson's endeavors to write not only a better Norway but also a better world were particularly palpable in his commitment to pacifism, self-government, and human rights. He spoke out in support of Alfred Dreyfus in the Dreyfus Affair in France in 1898, criticized the German discrimination of Danes in Schleswig, denounced the Hungarians' oppression of the Slovaks in 1904, and, as earlier in his life, supported Norway's steps toward independence from Sweden. The union was dissolved in 1905. Bjørnson died in Paris of complications from a stroke on 26 April 1910. On his deathbed he wrote, "De gode gjerninger redder verden" (Good deeds save the world).

In a tribute written in 1882 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of Synnøve Solbakken Ibsen had proclaimed of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson that "Hans liv var hans beste diktning" (His life was his finest work). It is true that the ideas and passions that Bjørnson embodied in his life, more than his writings, have been of lasting influence on Norwegian society. Whereas Ibsen's dramas have endured, Bjørnson's plays and other writings, apart from the national song and school readings of works such as Synnøve Solbakken, largely have not. While many of his works are overly sermonizing, to Bjørnson speaking out--whether in a literary work, as a theater director, at a political rally, or in the pages of a newspaper--constituted the sole manner in which one could effect change in a world rife with injustice and narrow-mindedness.




  • Synnøve Solbakken (Christiania: Johan Dahl, 1857); translated by Mary Howitt as Trust and Trial (London: Hurst & Blackett, 1858).
  • Mellem Slagene: Drama i 1 Akt (Christiania: Dybwad, 1858).
  • Halte-Hulda: Drama i tre Akter (Bergen: H. J. Geelmuydens, 1858).
  • Arne (Bergen: H. J. Geelmuydens, 1859); translated anonymously as Arne; or, Peasant Life in Norway: A Norwegian Tale (Bergen, 1860).
  • Småstykker (Bergen: Giertsen, 1860)--includes "Min første Fortælling," Mellem Slagene, Ei faarleg Friiing, "Faderen," Ørneredet, and "En glad Gut".
  • Kong Sverre (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1861).
  • Sigurd Slembe (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1862); translated by William Morton Payne as Sigurd Slembe: A Dramatic Trilogy (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1888).
  • Maria Stuart i Skotland (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1864).
  • De Nygifte (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1865); translated by Theodore Soelfeldt as The Newly-Married Couple (London: T. H. Lacy, 1868).
  • Fiskerjenten (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1868); translated by M. E. Niles from the author's German version as The Fisher-Maiden: A Norwegian Tale (New York: Leypoldt & Holt, 1869).
  • En glad Gut (Copenhagen: I Commission hos Gad, 1868); translated by Sivert Hjerleid and Elizabeth Hjerleid as Ovind: A Story of Country Life in Norway (London: Simpkin, 1869).
  • Digte og Sange (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1870); translated by Arthur Hubbell Palmer as Poems and Songs (New York: American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1915).
  • Arnljot Gelline (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1870).
  • Sigurd Jorsalfar (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1872).
  • Brude-Slaatten (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1873).
  • Redaktøren: Skuespil i fire Handlinger (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1874).
  • En Fallit: Skuespil i fire Handlinger (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1874).
  • Kongen (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1877).
  • Magnhild: En Fortælling (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1877).
  • Det ny system: Skuespil i fem handlinger (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1879).
  • Leonarda: Skuespil i fire handlinger (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1879).
  • Kaptejn Mansana: En Fortælling fra Italien (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1879).
  • Af mine Foredrag om Republiken (Kristiania: I Kommisjon for Norge / Selskabet for Folkeskrifters Udbredelse, 1880).
  • Over ævne: Første stykke (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1883); translated by W. Wilson as Pastor Sang (London: Longmans, Green, 1893).
  • En hanske: Skuespil (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1883); translated by H. L. Brækstad as A Gauntlet (London & New York: Harper, 1890).
  • Det flager i byen og på havnen (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1884); translated by Cecil Fairfax as The Heritage of the Kurts (London: Heinemann, 1892).
  • Geografi og kærlighed (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1885).
  • På Guds veje (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1889); translated by Elizabeth Carmichael as In God's Way (London: Heinemann, 1890).
  • Over ævne: Andet Stykke (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1895).
  • Paul Lange og Tora Parsberg (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1898); translated by Brækstad as Paul Lange and Tora Parsberg (London & New York: Harper, 1899).
  • Laboremus (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1901); translated anonymously as Laboremus (London: Chapman & Hall, 1901).
  • På Storhove (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1902).
  • Daglannet (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1904).
  • Mary (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1906).
  • Når den ny vin blomstrer (Christiania: Gyldendal, 1909); translated by Lee M. Hollander as When the New Wine Blooms (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1911).
  • Kongebrødrene (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1932)--comprises Kong Eystein and Sigurd Jorsalfar.

Editions and Collections

  • Samlede værker: Folkeudgave, 11 volumes, edited by Carl Nærup (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1900-1902).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons fortællinger: Jubileumsudgave, 2 volumes (Christiania: Gyldendal, 1907).
  • Samlede værker: Mindeutgave, 5 volumes (Christiania: Gyldendal, 1910-1911).
  • Artikler og taler, 2 volumes, edited by Christen Collin and H. Eitrem (Christiania: Gyldendal, 1912, 1913).
  • Bjørnson's Synnøve Solbakken, edited by George T. Flom (Minneapolis: Free Church Book Concern, 1918).
  • Samlede Digter-Verker: Standardutgave, 9 volumes, edited by Francis Bull (Christiania: Gyldendal, 1919-1920).
  • Samlede Digte, edited by Bull (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1926).
  • Digte og sange, edited by Bull (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1957).
  • Selvstændighetens Æresfølelse: Artikler og taler i utvalg 1879-1905, edited by Knut Johansen (Bergen: Eide, 1974).
  • De gode gjerninger redder verden: Tanker og idéer, råd og dåd (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1982).
  • Jeg velger meg April! 95 dikt, edited by Rolf Jacobsen (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1982).
  • Bondefortellinger; Dikt i utvalg; Skuespill (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1989).
  • Verker i samling, 3 volumes, edited by Edvard Beyer (Stabbekk: Den Norske Bokklubben, 1993).
  • Fortellinger i utvalg (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1996).

Editions in English

  • Arne: A Sketch of Norwegian Country Life, translated by Augusta Plesner and Susan Rugeley-Powers (London & New York: Strahan, 1866).
  • Love in Wedlock, translated by W. and C. Wilkinson (Lowestoft, U.K., 1869).
  • Love and Life in Norway, translated by Plesner and Augusta Bethell (London: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1870).
  • The Happy Boy, translated by Helen R. Gade (Boston: Sever, Francis, 1870).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's Works, 7 volumes, translated by Rasmus B. Anderson (New York: Doubleday, Page, 1882)--comprises volume 1, Synnove Solbakken; volume 2, The Bridal March; Captain Mansana; volume 3, Arms; Early Tales; Sketches; volume 4, A Happy Boy; Later Sketches; volume 5, The Fisher Maiden; and volume 6, Magnhild; Dunt.
  • The Novels of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 13 volumes, edited by Edmund Gosse (New York: Macmillan, 1895-1909)--comprises volume 1, Synnövé Solbakken, translated by Julie Sutter (1895); volume 2, Arne, translated by William Low (1895); volume 3, A Happy Boy, translated by Mrs. W. Archer (1896); volume 4, The Fisher Lass (1896); volume 5, The Bridal March & One Day (1896); volume 6, Magnhild & Dust (1897); volume 7, Captain Mansana & Mother's Hands (1897); volume 8, Absalom's Hair & A Painful Memory (1898); volumes 9 and 10, In God's Way, translated by Elizabeth Carmichael (1908); volumes 11 and 12, The Heritage of the Kurts, translated by Cecil Fairfax (1908); and volume 13, Mary, translated by Mary Morison (1909).
  • Three Comedies, translated by R. Farquharson Sharp (London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1912)--comprises The Newly-Married Couple, Leonarda, and A Gauntlet.
  • Plays, translated by Edwin Björkman (New York: Scribners, 1913)--comprises The Gauntlet, Beyond Our Power, and The New System.
  • Plays: Second Series, translated by Björkman (New York: Scribners, 1914; London: Duckworth, 1914)--comprises Love and Geography, Beyond Human Might, and Laboremus.
  • Three Dramas, translated by Sharp (London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1914)--comprises The Editor, The Bankrupt, and The King.


  • Mellem Slagene, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 27 October 1857.
  • Kong Sverre, Christiania, Christiania Norwegian Theater, 9 October 1861.
  • Sigurd Slembe, Trondheim, Trondheim Theater, 30 September 1863.
  • Sigurds første Flugt, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 27 August 1865.
  • Halte-Hulda, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 4 November 1865.
  • De Nygifte, Copenhagen, Det Kongelige Theater, 23 November 1865.
  • Maria Stuart i Skotland, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 29 March 1867.
  • Sigurd Jorsalfar, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 10 April 1872.
  • En Fallit, Stockholm, Nya Teater, 19 January 1875; Christiania, Christiania Theater, 29 January 1875.
  • Redaktøren, Stockholm, Nya Teater, 17 February 1875.
  • Det ny system, Berlin, Residenztheater, 19 December 1878.
  • Leonarda, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 22 April 1879.
  • En hanske, Hamburg, Stadttheater, 11 October 1883.
  • Geografi og kærlighed, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 21 October 1885.
  • Over ævne: Første stykke, Stockholm, Nya Teater, 3 January 1886.
  • Over ævne: Andet Stykke, Christiania, Christiania Theater, 23 December 1895.
  • Paul Lange og Tora Parsberg, Copenhagen, Dagmar Theater, 28 April 1901.
  • Laboremus, Christiania, National Theater, 29 April 1901.
  • Kongen, Christiania, National Theater, 11 September 1902.
  • På Storhove, Christiania, National Theater, 4 November 1902.
  • Daglannet, Christiania, National Theater, 31 August 1905.
  • Når den ny vin blomstrer, Christiania, National Theater, 29 September 1909.


  • Victor Hugo, Århundredenes legende (Oslo, 1911).


  • Aulestad breve til Bergliot Ibsen, second edition (Christiania & Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1911).
  • Gro-tid: Brev fra årene 1857-1870, 2 volumes, edited by Halvdan Koht (Christiania: Gyldendal, Nordisk, 1912).
  • Brytningsår: Brev fra årene 1871-1878, 2 volumes, edited by Koht (Christiania: Gyldendal, Nordisk, 1921).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons breve til Alexander L. Kielland, edited by Francis Bull (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1930).
  • Kamp-liv: Brev fra årene 1879-1884, 2 volumes, edited by Koht (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1932).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons brevveksling med danske, 1875-1910, 3 volumes, edited by Bull, Øyvind Anker, and Torben Nielsen (Copenhagen: Gyldendal Boghandel / Oslo: Gyldendal, 1953).
  • Din venn far, edited by Dagny Bjørnson Sautreau, foreword by Bull (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1956).
  • Breve til Karoline 1858-1907, edited by Sautreau, introduction by Bull (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1957).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons brevveksling med svenske 1858-1909, 3 volumes, edited by Anker, Bull, and Örjan Lindberger (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1960-1961).
  • Land of the Free: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's America Letters, 1880-1881, edited and translated by Eva Lund Haugen and Einar Haugen (Northfield, Minn.: Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1978).
  • "Og nu vil jeg tale ut," "Men nu vil jeg også tale ud": Brevvekslingen mellom Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson og Amalie Skram 1878-1904, edited by Anker and Edvard Beyer (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1982).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson und Maximilian Harden: Briefwechsel, edited by Aldo Keel (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1984).
  • Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons Briefwechsel mit Deutschen, 2 volumes, edited by Keel (Basel: Helbing & Lichtenhahn, 1986, 1987).
  • God morgen, Rosalinde! Brev til Rosalinde Thomsen (Oslo: Cappelen, 1990).


Most of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson's manuscripts and other papers are in the Bjørnsonsamling (Bjørnson Archives) at the Nasjonalbiblioteket (National Library) in Oslo.




  • Arthur Thuesen, Bjørnson-bibliografi, Småskrifter for bokvenner 76, 78, 79, 82, 85 (Oslo: Damm, 1948-1957).


  • Christen Collin, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: Hans barndom og ungdom, 2 volumes (Christiania: Aschehoug, 1907).
  • Gerhard Gran, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Copenhagen: Schønbergske, 1916).
  • Francis Bull, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Christiania: Aschehoug, 1923).
  • Christian Gierløff, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1932).
  • Per Amdam, Den unge Bjørnson: Diktningen og barndomslandet (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1960).
  • Amdam, Bjørnson og kristendommen 1832-1875: Selverkjennelse, selvhedelse (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969).
  • Amdam, Bjørnson og kristenarven, 1875-1910: Selvhedelse, selverkjennelse (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1977).
  • Amdam and Aldo Keel, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 2 volumes (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1993, 1999).


  • Per Amdam, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson--han som ville dikte et nytt og bedre Norge (Oslo: Cappelen, 1979).
  • Øyvind Anker, Boken om Karoline: Karolines Bjørnson og Bjørnsons Karoline (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1982).
  • Fredrik Engelstad, Kjærlighetens irrganger: Sinn og samfunn i Bjørnsons og Ibsens diktning (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1992).
  • Astrid Finsland, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson og fredssaken inntil 1900 (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1948).
  • Einar Haugen, The Vocabulary of Bjørnson's Literary Works: A Word Index and Word Count of a Norwegian Author (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1978).
  • Bjørn Hemmer, Ibsen og Bjørnson: Essays og analyser (Oslo: Aschehoug, 1978).
  • Aldo Keel, Bjørnson in Deutschland: Ein Materialienband (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1985).
  • Harold Larson, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: A Study in Norwegian Nationalism (New York: King's Crown Press, 1944).
  • Helge Lervik, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons politiske agitasjon 1880-1884 (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1969).
  • Herluf Møller, Fem år: Studier i Bjørnsons ungdomsdiktning (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1968).
  • Harald Noreng, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnsons dramatiske diktning (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1954).
  • Øystein Sørensen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson og nationalismen (Oslo: Cappelen, 1997).
  • Olaf Øyslebø, Bjørnsons "bondefortellinger": Kulturhistorie eller allmennmenneskelig diktning? (Oslo: Gyldendal, 1982).


Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200014033