Norway Literature – From the Origins to the Modern Age
From the Middle Ages to the 18th century – According to smber, the literature that flourished in Norway from the Viking age, ie from about the 9th to the 14th century, cannot be separated from that of the Norwegian colonies established on the islands of the North Atlantic. In Iceland, indeed, after the great immigration of the Norse rebels to the political absolutism of Harald Fairhair (9th-10th century), the culture soon surpassed that of the motherland, so much so that many scholars have long called ancient Norse (or Ancient Icelandic) literature and language at the same time, from a philological point of view more precisely called Norse today. This literature, in addition to reflecting the culture, history and society of the Nordic world over more than 500 years, constitutes a precious source of information for the knowledge, in the most ancient forms, of legends (starting with the Nibelungs), mythology and ways of life of the Germanic peoples, before conversion to Christianity. It expressed itself through peculiar forms such as the Edda poem and the scaldic poem in poetry, and the saga in prose. Perhaps some Eddic poems were composed in Norway, as Norse were the oldest scalds from Bragi Boddason (9th century) to Thorbiœrn Hornklofi, from Thjódholfr from Hvin to Øyvindr Skáldaspillir. However the Norse culture does not tolerate modern national constituencies, which would rather be nationalistic deformations. The same goes for popular songs or epic-lyric ballads, which are the major epic novelty of the late Middle Ages, that is, starting from the 13th century, and are part of the common Scandinavian tradition.
From an artistic point of view, the religious literature in Latin, both from the Middle Ages and the Reformation, is negligible, even if materially rich in translations and remakes. From the union of 1397 with Denmark until the 19th century. the Norway, also in culture, depended on Copenhagen. There were certainly talented Norwegians, like eg. the priest and popular poet P. Dass, and above all L. Holberg (17th-18th century), a native of Bergen, but still the greatest Nordic writer and scholar of European opening at the beginning of the 18th century. Danish; nor can JH Wessel (18th century) be abstracted from Copenhagen and the literary traditions of Denmark. From the 15th to the 18th century There are therefore Norwegian writers, but no Norwegian literature distinct from Danish.
The 19th century – A Norwegian literature instead begins after 1814, that is, from the dissolution of the union with Denmark. The Norwegians, whose national spirits had found expression, within academic circles, in the Norwegian League founded in Copenhagen in 1772, then collaborated in the creation of a literature that reflected their desire for independence and distinguished itself as much as possible from that of Denmark. In fact, it stands out for its historical and descriptive local and national theme and above all for its social commitment. However, even the most gifted writer of the first half of the 19th century, HA Wergeland, shows in his heterogeneous work the difficulties of the beginnings, immediately highlighted by his antagonist JS Welhaven, trained at the school of the French and H. Heine, and certainly endowed with a greater historical sense. Wergeland had inherited quite a bit from the 18th century. and from the Klopstockian Baroque. The contrast between his cumbersome cosmic poem Skabelsen, Mennesket og Messias (“Creation, Man and the Messiah”, 1830) and the tales of Asbjørnsen and Moe which, put together on the model of the Grimm, are the artistic relief towards the middle of the century could not be greater. A philologist, Aasen, also set out on the path of recovering the national heritage, who in 1848 published the grammar and shortly afterwards the vocabulary of Neo-Norwegian (landsmål), which he reconstructed on the basis of the more conservative dialects of the east coast. That same year the Catiline with whom Ibsen began the series of his historical dramas was released, which will be closed by the Kongsemnerne (“The pretenders to the crown”, 1863). With them Norway paid her debt in the romantic fashion of historical drama.
Of the two differently large that dominated the second 19th century. Norwegian, Ibsen and Bjørnson, the latter first broke away from historical themes with the village tale Synnøve Solbakken (“The farm of the sun”, 1857). In 1866 with the Kierkegaardian Brand and the antikierkegaardian Peer Gynt, Ibsen too turned his back on the historical drama; and with the Samfundets støtter («The columns of society», 1877) he inaugurated his nonconformism in a naturalistic key. But starting with Vildanden (“The wild duck”, 1884), the pugnacious idealist is replaced by the bitter religious symbolist, with a rough, monumental, prophetic sign.
The age of naturalism, in which Norway asserted herself in European theatrical literature, also saw a rich flowering of novels. First of all it should be remembered Amtmandens døttre (“The daughters of the prefect”, 1855) by JC Collett, which introduces the debate on the problems of feminism. But only after 1870 did the novel follow the general European course with the drama. A realist with a romantic background is Lie, while for the naturalistic age we must remember, in addition to Bjørnson and AO Vinje, the first notable writer in landsmål, the writer BA Skram, AL Kielland, A. Garborg, HH Jaeger, writers all ideologically committed and socially.