Garborg, Arne

(1851-1924)
   A Norwegian novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, and essayist, Garborg was the oldest son, and thus the allodial heir, in a farm family in the Jæren district of southwestern Norway. He grew up with an extreme form ofrural religious pietism that long soured him on both religion and rural life. After leaving home in order to become a teacher, he learned, at the age of 18, that his father had committed suicide. This gave him deep and lasting feelings of guilt, for he feared that his own rejection of his ancestral farm had contributed to the depression that led to his father's death. After a period of teaching, Garborg went to Oslo in order to qualify for admission to the university; he reached this goal in 1875 with superior marks. Around the same time he abandoned all traces of the conservative religiosity with which he had been raised, becoming increasingly radical in his thinking and writing. One aspect of that radicalism was his choice of literary medium; for most of his writing he choose the dialect-based Landsmaal (later known as nynorsk) rather than the Danish-colored standard Riksmaal (later known as bokmal).
   Garborg's first significant literary effort was the short novel Ein Fritenkjar (1878; A Freethinker), which details the prejudice that meets a sincere individual who wants to build his personal worldview on reason rather than dogma. But Garborg's definitive literary breakthrough came with Bondestudentar (1883; Peasant Students), a detailed depiction of life in Norway during the author's youth. The protagonist of Bondestudentar is a gifted young man from Garborg's home district of Jæren named Daniel Braut, and the book chronicles his path from childhood until, as a student of theology, he for pecuniary reasons commits to marry an upper-class woman he does not love. The cultural-historical value of the book is considerable, as it offers vivid portraits of some of the most significant inhabitants of Norway's public sphere in the 1860s and 1870s, among them the writer Aasmund Olafsson Vinje, the Hegelian professor of philosophy Marcus Jacob Monrad, and the radical student leader Olaus Fjørtoft, and it offers thumbnail sketches of some of the central issues of the day.
   In the middle of the 1880s Garborg associated with some of the most radical writers of the time, the Christiania bohemians, who wanted to do away with traditional morality by allowing free love to take the place of bourgeois marriage, and even to replace society's whole conception of justice. Garborg's naturalistic novel Mannfolk (1886; Menfolk), in which he continues his exploration of some of the characters in Bondestudentar, constitutes an investigation of the various male-female relations that are possible in Norway in the 1880s. Covering a time period of roughly one year, it offers a number of case studies in love and eroticism that, on the whole, supports the pessimistic cultural diagnosis ofthe bohemians.
   Mannfolk was not banned by the authorities, as several books by Garborg's bohemian friends had been, but Garborg was punished by being fired from his government job. Married to Hulda Bergersen in 1887, he needed money badly and quickly, and assisted by Hulda wrote Hjaa ho Mor (1890; Living with Mama), which is partly based on Hulda's life. It tells the story of the development of its protagonist, Fanny Holmsen, from when she is a young girl until she consents to marry a man more than twice her age, whom she does not love. She does love another character in Hjaa ho Mor, a man named Gabriel Gram, who was one of the men in Mannfolk; however, he is too emotionally divided to accept Fanny's love by proposing marriage to her.
   The Garborg family (a son was born to them at this time) spent this difficult time in a small and drafty mountain cabin at Kolbotn in Norway's southeast interior. There Garborg wrote the play Uforsonlige (1888; The Uncompromising), an attack on the liberal government's lack of support for the arts. Kolbotnbrev (1890; Letters from Kolbotn) is another small volume, originally published piecemeal in the newspaper Fedraheimen (The Home of the Fathers), in which Garborg offers both beautiful nature descriptions and ironic comments on his domestic life.
   Garborg's greatest success was Trætte Mænd (1891; tr. Weary Men, 1999), a diary novel in the style of the decadent writing of the 1890s. Its narrator-protagonist is the same Gabriel Gram who appears in both Mannfolk and Hjaa ho Mor. Trætte Mænd presents his relationship with Fanny Holmsen from his point of view, and Garborg is at pains to show why Gram has developed his defects of personality. But Garborg also offers an interesting representation of the role that religion had come to play in the 1890s and ironically shows that Gram seeks the comfort of the church as consolation after he has lost Fanny.
   Religion is also a major theme in Garborg's next several books. Fred (1892; tr. Peace, 1929), anovel set in his home district of Jæren, tells the story of the mental illness, religious delusions, and death of Enok Haave, who is Garborg's own father in fictional form. The play Læraren (1896; The Teacher) as well as the two slender novels Den burtkomne Faderen (1899; tr. The Lost Father, 1920) and Heimkomin Son (1908; The Returned Son) all have members of the Haave family as protagonists and debate what constitutes true and ethical Christianity. These themes were also discussed in expository form in Jesus Messias (1906) and Den burtkomne Messias (1907; The Lost Messiah), in which Garborg presents alternatives to fundamentalist Christianity.
   Garborg was also a gifted poet. The life-affirming poetic cyle Haugtussa (1895; The Mountain Maid) has as its setting Jæren before the advent of pietism. It is centered around Veslemøy, a young woman gifted with second sight who overcomes evil and adversity because of her goodness and her capacity for love. She is Garborg's chief exponent of his own values.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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