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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Arne Garborg (1851–1924)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
ARNE GARBORG was one of the most potent forces in the new school of Norwegian literature. The contemporary of Alexander Kielland, who is more widely known abroad, he is however the representative of a vastly different phase. Kielland’s works, except for their setting, are the result of general European culture; whereas Garborg has laid the foundations of a literature essentially Norse.  1
  The new literature of young Norway is a true exponent of its social conditions. The ferment of its strivings and its discontent permeates the whole people. Much of Garborg’s work is the chronicle of this social unrest, particularly among the peasant classes, where he himself by birth belongs. In the reaction against the sentimental idealism of the older school, he is the pioneer who has blazed the paths. Where Björnson gives rose-colored pictures of what peasant life might be, Garborg with heavy strokes of terrible meaning draws the outline of what it is. His daring and directness of speech aroused a storm of opposition, and he has also been made to suffer in a material way for the courage of his opinions, in that the position which he had held in the government service since 1879 was taken from him as a consequence of his books.  2
  Arne Garborg was born at Jæderen, in the southwestern part of Norway, January 1851. The circumstances of his life were humble, and all of his surroundings were meager in the extreme. His father, a village schoolmaster, was a man of nervous, fanatical temperament, with whom religion was a mania. In the obscure little village where he lived, Garborg’s boyhood was outwardly uneventful but inwardly filled with conflict. Brought up in an atmosphere of pietism, the natural reaction led him into a kind of romantic atheistic unbelief. In the turmoil of his mind, the battles were fought again and again, until at length he reached the middle ground of modern thought. His education was extremely desultory; but from the age of nine, when from the only models within his reach he wrote hymns and sermons, he showed a strong tendency for literature. He passed the required examinations for a school-teacher in 1870, and alternately taught and studied, until in 1875 he entered the University of Christiania. His life as a student was by no means smooth, but he persisted, in spite of poverty and indeed sometimes actual want.  3
  He had previously, in Risör, published a Teacher’s Journal (1871), a small paper dealing principally though not exclusively with school affairs; and a year later, in Tvedestrand, he established the Tvedestrand Post. This experience as county editor and printer had qualified him for newspaper work, and in 1877 he became connected with the Aftenbladet of Christiania. The same year he founded the Fedraheimen, “a weekly paper for the Norse people.” This was really the beginning of his literary career, although besides his early enterprises in journalism he had as a student contributed occasional articles to the newspapers, and had already published his first book, a critical essay on Ibsen’s ‘Emperor and Galilean.’  4
  The attempt made by Ivar Aasen to establish in Norway a national language through a normalization of the peasant dialects, found in Garborg one of its warmest supporters. Discarding Danish as a literary medium, he advocated the use of the strong Norse, and the Fedraheimen appeared as the organ of the new movement. Garborg wrote a book upon the subject in the year after the establishment of his journal, and ever since, by precept and practice, he has been the chief propagandist of the new speech.  5
  His first novel, ‘En Fritenkjar’ (A Freethinker), appeared anonymously in the Fedraheimen in 1878. The subject of the story was one of the vital questions of the day, the conflict between iron-bound dogmatism and rational thought; a theme now threadbare with much handling, but then startlingly new. The author’s early training and his own environment of intolerant theology supplied material for the story. The hero of the tale, the man who dared to think for himself, was looked upon as a criminal, to be ranked with house-breakers and thieves. The ostracism which he brought upon himself was but the just punishment for his crimes. The Freethinker, treated as a moral leper, is driven from his home and goes abroad to expiate his sin of unorthodoxy. In later years he returns to his native land, to find most of his acquaintances dead. Of his family only one still lives, and that is his son, who has become a clergyman!  6
  Garborg’s second romance, ‘Bondestudentar’ (Peasant Students) (1883), deals with a problem no less real. In Norway, although there is no rank of nobility, class distinctions are nevertheless strongly marked; and in this novel his pen is directed against the evils which result from the inordinate striving of the lower orders for a position to which they are unfitted both by nature and circumstances. This book, again, is to a degree autobiographical; for Garborg, as has been said, is himself peasant, and he has fought the fight and suffered the anguish of the new culture attained with incalculable sacrifice. ‘Peasant Students’ is undoubtedly his greatest work. Nowhere else has he indicated more clearly his seriousness of purpose, or worked out his theme with more effectiveness. The hero, Daniel Braut, is the representative of the ideal student, a son of the people who shall strive for “poetry and the soul” and introduce the elements of culture among his class. Manual labor is his aversion; and at last, forced by the weakness of his nature and the necessity of his poverty, he goes over to the ranks of philistinism, marries a woman of property, and studies theology. Both books are stories of high ideals and humiliating compromises. The author’s pessimism is in the ascendant, and in the end the lower nature conquers.  7
  In ‘Mannfolk’ (1886) he takes up a different theme, the relation of the sexes, a question which he treats with startling frankness. Garborg is a realist in so far that he prefers to depict life as it is, well knowing that fiction cannot approach truth in point of interest. He bears true testimony of what he sees and knows, but his realism is very far removed from the naturalism of the French school.  8
  Following ‘Peasant Students’ appeared in 1884 ‘Forteljinger og Sogar’ (Narratives and Tales), a volume of stories dealing sometimes with subjects generally proscribed. Of his other works the most important are the narrative ‘Hjaa ho Mor’ (With Mama), ‘Kolbotnbrev og andre Skildringar’ (Kolbotn Letters and Other Sketches: 1890), the novels ‘Trætte Mænd’ (Weary Souls: 1891), ‘Fred’ (Peace: 1893), and the drama ‘Uforsonlige’ (The Irreconcilables: 1888). His ‘Collected Works’ appeared in 1909.  9
  After being deprived of his government position upon the publication of ‘Mannfolk,’ Arne Garborg retired with his wife and child into the solitude of the mountains, where for two years he lived and wrote in his sæter hut; but at last, overcome by the loneliness of this isolated life, he left Norway and settled in Germany.  10
 
 
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