The New International Encyclopædia/Björnson, Björnstjerne

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BJÖRNSON, byẽrn'son, Björnstjerne (1832—). A Norwegian poet, dramatist, and novelist. He was born at Kvikne, December 8, 1832, the son of a Lutheran pastor. His childhood was passed in Kvikne, Romsdal, and Molde, in noble scenery rich in legendary association. He left the University of Christiania for journalism, having already, as a student, written sketches and reviews of plays, and in 1858 published his first drama, Between the Battles, and his first novel, Synnöve Solbakken, translated by Mary Howitt as Trust and Trial (1858). He was made director of the theatre in Bergen, and from 1860 to 1863 traveled on a Government stipend, chiefly in Italy. He has since resided in Norway, with frequent visits to Paris, Rome, and Munich. In the winter of 1880-81 he lectured in the United States. Björnson is the greatest distinctively Norwegian writer, so intensely national that the Danish critic Brandes says that “the mention of his name in a gathering of his countrymen is like running up the national flag.” He is the chief novelist, probably the chief poet, and, with Ibsen, the chief dramatist of his country's history. For more than twenty years he has been a leader of the Republican Party in Norway, and has engaged actively in social and religious controversies. The change in the flag of Norway on January 1, 1901, with all that it symbolizes for independent national entity, is due to Björnson more than to any other man. The poet and the seer has proved himself also a practical politician. As was natural, this has changed the character of his literary work, which was at first purely artistic, but in the stress of controversy has tended to become didactic. The first period is distinctively lyric. His plays of this time are sagas; his narrative epics idyllic, and imbedded in them are gems of song, many widely popular and one ‘national.’ These were collected in Poems and Songs (1870), and in that year appeared his only epic, Aruljol Gelline, founded on an episode in the Heimskringla. Since then Björnson has written little verse. He had already distinguished himself in peasant novels and tales, e.g. Arne (1858), A Happy Boy (1860), and The Fisher Maiden (1868), primitive pastorals, genuine yet modern. The dramas of these years are based on the native sagas, the best of them, Sigurd Slembe and Sigurd Jorsalfar (1872), on the Heimskringla. Mary Stuart in Scotland (1864) is an isolated exception, as is the problem play The Newly Wedded Pair (1866). This latter style is characteristic of the whole drama of the second period beginning with The Editor (1874), and counting A Bankruptcy (1875), The King (1877), Leonarda (1879), The New System (1879), A Glove (1883), Beyond Our Strength (1883), and Geography and Love (1885). Of these, The King is the most radical, and thought by its author the most important. The novels show the same evolution from The Bridal March (1873) through Magnhild (1877), Captain Mansana (1879), and Dust (1882), to the true problem novels The Heritage of the Kurts (Det Flager) (1884) and In God's Way (1889), the former dealing with redemption from heredity through education, the latter with bigotry and literal thought. This brought on Björnson the imprecations of the orthodox, though its aim was to exalt and purify religion. It is Björnson's latest notable work. There are translations of Björnson's novels by Anderson, and of Sigurd Slembe by Payne (Boston). Consult: Brandes, Moderne Geister (Frankfort, 1897); Anderson, “Biographical Sketch,” in Synnöve Solbakken, translated by Anderson (Boston, 1882); Gosse, “An Essay on the Writings of Björnson,” in Björnson, Novels (London, 1895); Boyesen, Essays on Scandinavian Literature (New York, 1895).