Authors: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Norwegian playwright, novelist, and poet

Author Works


Mellem slagene, pr., pb. 1857 (Between the Battles, 1948)

Halte Hulda, pr., pb. 1858 (verse play)

Kong Sverre, pr., pb. 1861 (verse play)

Sigurd Slembe, pb. 1862 (verse play; English translation, 1888)

Maria Stuarti Skotland, pb. 1864 (Mary, Queen of Scots, 1912)

De nygifte, pr., pb. 1865 (The Newlyweds, 1885)

Sigurd Jorsalfar, pb. 1872

En fallit, pr., pb. 1875 (The Bankrupt, 1914)

Redaktøren, pr., pb. 1875 (The Editor, 1914)

Kongen, pb. 1877 (The King, 1914)

Det ny system, pr. 1878 (The New System, 1913)

Leonarda, pr., pb. 1879 (English translation, 1911)

En handske, pr., pb. 1883 (A Gauntlet, 1886)

Over œvne, første stykke, pb. 1883 (Pastor Sang, 1893; also known as Beyond Our Power, 1913)

Geografi og kjœrlighed, pr., pb. 1885 (Geography and Love, 1914)

Over œvne, annet stykke, pr., pb. 1895 (Beyond Our Might, 1914)

Paul Lange og Tora Parsberg, pb. 1898 (Paul Lange and Tora Parsberg, 1899)

Laboremus, pr., pb. 1901 (English translation, 1901)

På Storhove, pr., pb. 1902

Daglannet, pb. 1904

Når den ny vin blomstrer, pr., pb. 1909 (When the New Wine Blooms, 1911)

Samlede vaerker, pb. 1910-1911 (12 volumes)

Long Fiction:

Synnøve solbakken, 1857 (Trust and Trial, 1858)

Arne, 1859 (English translation, 1861)

En glad Gut, 1860 (A Happy Boy, 1869)

Fiskerjenten, 1868 (The Fisher Maiden, 1869)

Magnhild, 1877 (English translation, 1883)

Støv, 1882 (Dust, 1882)

Det flager i byen og på havnen, 1884 (The Heritage of the Kurts, 1892)

På Guds veje, 1889 (In God’s Way, 1890)

Mors hœnder, 1892 (Mother’s Hands, 1897)

Absalons hår, 1894 (Absalom’s Hair, 1898)

Mary, 1906 (English translation, 1909)


Digte og sange, 1870 (Poems and Songs, 1915)

Arnljot Celline, 1870 (English translation, 1917)


Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (BYOORN-sawn), one of the most prolific writers Norway has produced, was a playwright, a novelist, a poet, a journalist, and a critic. His works of fiction were widely read and widely translated, and his revolutionary drama paved the way for the triumph of the Norwegian stage under his talented friend and compatriot Henrik Ibsen. Yet for all these accomplishments, Bjørnson was not essentially the artistic literary man. His vocation was Norway. All of his work, of which literary activity was only a part, was single-mindedly undertaken in the interests of national unity and dedicated to the attainment of Norwegian cultural and political independence. Bjørnson’s early tales and novels were written to present to the urban reading public of greater Christiania (now Oslo) a sympathetic portrayal of the Bonde, Norway’s sturdyyeoman-agricultural class. The early plays, heroic dramas based on the legends of Norway’s Viking greatness, were attempts to stimulate national pride. His more mature dramatic efforts, the social drama he left for Ibsen to develop, were written to provide a repertory of native Norwegian plays for a newly formed national theater. His poems were songs in celebration of the beauties of Norway, hymns of national devotion. The poem “Ja vi elsker dette landet” (yes we love this land) became the Norwegian national anthem.{$I[AN]9810000304}{$I[A]Bj{oslash}rnson, Bj{oslash}rnstjerne[Bjornson, Bjornstjerne]}{$I[geo]NORWAY;Bj{oslash}rnson, Bj{oslash}rnstjerne[Bjornson, Bjornstjerne]}{$I[tim]1832;Bj{oslash}rnson, Bj{oslash}rnstjerne[Bjornson, Bjornstjerne]}

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

(© The Nobel Foundation)

The land he loved was one he knew well. He was born in the small northeastern parish of Kvikne, where his father was pastor, but after his father was transferred, he grew up in Nesset in Romsdal, a district noted for the beauty of its mountains and fjords. In his twelfth year, he was sent to school at Molde, the seaport and capital of Romsdal. At this time, Norway, though it had been free from the control of Denmark for thirty years, was united with Sweden and under allegiance to the Swedish king, a political union resented by the more nationally conscious of the Norwegians. At Molde, Bjørnson read the sagas of Norway’s heroic age, studied the works of the patriot-poet Henric Wergeland (1808-1845), and became determined to do his part to end the alliance and to create a wholly free Norway.

Bjørnson came to Christiania in 1850 to attend the University of Norway, but his interest in poetry and the stage was stronger than his interest in scholarship. He became a journalist and struck his first blow in the cause for cultural independence with a series of articles insisting that incumbent Danish actors on the Christiania stage be replaced by native Norwegians, which eventually happened.

Bjørnson next wrote a play, Between the Battles, and gained enough stature in drama circles to be selected as the director of the theater at Bergen, where, for two years (1857-1859), he was successful in putting his nationalistic concepts into action. There a second play of his was produced; during this period, three works of fiction, The Fisher Maiden, Arne, and A Happy Boy, were published as well.

In 1860, he received a government stipend to travel to Rome. This was the first of six extended trips that he took (he visited the United States on a lecture tour in 1880-1881), and with each foreign visit his nationalistic ideas were tempered and became broadened, though never shaken. The literary result of this maturing development was that he left off writing heroic plays and took up social dramas. Nine years after The Newlyweds, which was produced in 1865, came productions of The Editor and A Bankrupt, which were followed by The King in 1877. All these works were controversial, but they were all accepted, and with them the theater of Ibsen was launched.

Bjørnson’s travels also precipitated a change in his career. He continued to write novels, poems, and stage works, and he created his finest play, Beyond Our Might, as late as 1895. Increasingly, however, he became involved in public life. Tall, with a mane of blond hair and a tremendous voice, the archetypal Viking warrior, he became the living symbol of his nationalist creed and was in demand everywhere as an orator.

In 1903, his achievements as a writer were honored when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. His greatest award, however, an award for the achievements of his entire life, came two years later when Norway became a completely independent nation for the first time in five centuries.

BibliographyBeyer, Harald. “The Young Bjørnson.” In A History of Norwegian Literature, edited and translated by Einar Haugen. New York: New York University Press for the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1956. Examines the author’s early tales and dramas.Boyesen, Hjalmar Hjorth. Essays on Scandinavian Literature. 1911. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1972. Examines the works of Björnson, Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, Hans Christian Andersen, Georg Brandes, and Esaias Tegnér.Gustafson, Alrik. “The Scandinavian Countries.” In A History of Modern Drama, edited by Barrett H. Clark and George Freedley. New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1947. A complete survey of Bjørnson’s plays.Larson, Harold. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson: A Study in Norwegian Nationalism. New York: King’s Crown Press, 1944. The standard comprehensive study.McFarlane, James Walter. “Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson.” In Ibsen and the Temper of Norwegian Literature. Reprint. New York: Octagon Books, 1979. Examines the major themes in his works.Naess, Harald S., ed. A History of Norwegian Literature. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press in cooperation with the American-Scandinavian Foundation, 1993. This overview of Norwegian literature touches on Bjørnson and provides a context for understanding this author and his works. Bibliography and index.Noreng, Harald. “Bjørnson Research: A Survey.” Scandinavica 4 (May, 1965). A detailed listing of sources. Also discusses Bjørnson’s undiminished importance.Norwegian-American Historical Association, ed. Land of the Free: Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s American Letters, 1880-1881, by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Northfield, Minn.: Editor, 1978. The introduction to this collection of letters and speeches written by Bjørnson during his trip to the United States presents pertinent biographical information. An epilogue discusses the effect the trip had on Bjørnson’s subsequent writings. Bibliography.Payne, William Morton. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, 1832-1910. Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1910. Includes a list of works.Roftem, Øystein. “The Multifamous Bjørnson.” Scandinavica 24 (May, 1985). Review of the jubilee edition of the complete works.Sehmsdorf, Henning K. “The Self in Isolation: A New Reading of Bjørnson’s Arne.” Scandinavian Studies 45, no. 4 (1973): 310-323. An examination of one of Bjørnson’s novels that sheds light on themes in his dramatic works.
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