‘IN presenting Björnstjerne Björnson’s play “De Nygifte” to English readers in an English dress, the translators wish, firstly, to assure them that, though apparently so slight a work, they will find it to be full of art, and well worthy their careful study; and, secondly, that they themselves have spared no pains to give a faithful representation of their author’s meaning, preferring to err on the side of ruggedness to being unfaithful to a poet’s thoughts. The original, as other of Björnson’s works, is written in prose. With regard to the estimation in which this poet is held by his countrymen, we might call him the Norwegian Tennyson, while Henrik Ibsen would be their Browning.’
Translator’s preface to Love in Wedlock. Translated by W. & C. Wilkinson. 1. ed. London: Lowestoft, 1869.
'The pieces of poetry in the book I have thought it better for the most party to reprint in Norse, but I have generally put a literal translation at the foot; of a few I have given the translation only. To those, who find some of the verses stupid, it must be remarked, that these verses are exactly the kind, that the Norwegian peasants delight in singing.'
Preface to Arne, or, Peasant Life in Norway. a Norwegian Tale. Translated by Thomas Krag. 1st ed. Bergen: H. J. Geelmuyden’s widow, 1861.
Rare first edition of the very first English edition of Bjørnson’s Synnøve Solbakken. Translated by Mary Howitt and entitled Trust and Trial: a Story, this was published in 1858, only a year after the original.
"The story of Arne is simple though pathetic, and its incidents serve very well as the occasions for descriptions of the country life with which the author is familiar. These sketches are remarkably pretty – weddings, dancing-parties, nutting-parties, and the like.
The general tone of this tale is happy and genial, though there are one or two shades of truly Scandinavian gloom … The manners described are simple and almost patriarchal, though the standard of morality seems hardly to stand at the highest level among the country folk in Norway.”
'Our Library Table: Norwegian Country Life', The Month, London: 1866
'It is not exactly a book to put into the hands of little children; and children of a larger growth will do well not to accept all its principles, nor catch the inspiration of its spirit. There are touches of heathenishness about it – heathenishness of tone, and sentiment, and language – which is not to be admired.'
London Quarterly Review, London: April 1867
‘Probably most people, who have ever given Norway a thought, have wondered that the country whose swarming Vikinger made the Northern Sea a Scandinavian lake in the tenth century, should have subsided so irrevocably into a province, with no higher interests than the cod-fishery and the timber-trade.’
The National Review, London: January 1863
'The intellectual feebleness of readers in general prevents their forming a discriminating estimate of the worth of such works; and most of those who are capable of discrimination have had their standard of expectation so loewred by the production of mediocrity, that they languidly acquiesce in the implied assumption that novels are removed from the canons of common-sense criticism.'
George Henry Lewes: ‘Criticism in relation to novels’, The Fortnightly Review, London: 1863
'I had now the honour of being admitted every day to the company of Daae and his friends, and it was clearly explained to me that they formed a compact and still influential body of resistance to the subversive policy of Björnson, Sverdrup and the terrible peasant Jaabsek, whom they regarded with peculiar apprehension.
Hans Christian Andersen had given me a note of introduction to Björnson, and in spite of the objections of my new friends, I found that I could not resist the temptation to use it. Accordingly I went to the house in Munkedamsveien which Bjornson shared with the philosopher G. V. Lyng (1827-1884) whom I had met in Denmark. They occupied a small house in a long suburban lane on the edge of the city.
I had been told that the poet was very formidable, and as I waited in the hall, I heard him growling “Saa! saa! saa!” over the card and note I had sent in. I quaked, but I plunged ; I was ushered into a pretty room with trellised windows, where a large and even burly man (Bjornson was then under forty), who was sitting astride the end of a narrow sofa, rose vehemently to receive me.
His long limbs, his athletic frame, and especially his remarkably forcible face, surrounded by a mane of wavy brown hair, and illuminated by full blue eyes behind flashing spectacles, gave an instant impression of physical vigour. He was truculently cordial, and lifted his ringing tones in civil conversation.
Resuming his singular attitude astride the sofa, he entered affably into a loud torrent of talk, foiling back, shaking his great head, suddenly bringing himself up into a sitting posture to shout out, with a palm pressed upon either knee, some question or statement. His full and finely modulated voice, with his clear enunciation, greatly aided his not a little terrified visitor in appreciating his remarks, but he spoke at great speed, and it strained the attention of a foreigner to follow his somewhat florid volubility.
He expressed himself highly pleased with the reception his romances had received in England, but seemed surprised that his dramas were not known. He recommended to me a new viking-play, called Sigurd Jorsalfar, which he had just sent to press, and which had been refused “though with the loveliest music by Grieg ever heard out of a dream” by the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, a repulse which Bjbrnson flatly attributed to the malignity of the manager, Molbech.
He promised to send me to London a copy of Sigurd Jorsalfar as soon as it was published, and he was so amiable as to keep his word.’
Edmund Gosse, ‘A Visit to the Friends of Ibsen’, The Modern Language Review, London: 1918
Svova has discovered that Alf, to whom she is engaged, has previously had relations with another woman; she has consequently determined to break off the engagement, and the following is a portion of a conversation she holds with her Uncle Nordan.
NORDAN: Come here and sit down. Or dare you not enter on an investigation?
SVOVA: Yes, I dare! (She comes and sits down.)
NORDAN: You suppose this is a very doubtful question which is being treated by serious men and women all over the world?
SVOVA: This is matter personal to me, and to me it is not doubtful.
NORDAN: You misunderstand me, child. You are to solve your own problem, you and no other that is a matter of course. But suppose the problem you have to solve isn’t quite what you think it; suppose at this very moment it is employing thousands and thousands are not you bound to take account of the general conditions involved, and of all that is being said and thought on the matter ? Is it not unconscientious to judge in the particular case without doing that?
SVOVA: I understand. But I think I have done what you require of me. Ask mother!
NORDAN: O yes, you and your mother have talked and read a good deal about marriage and the position of women how, now that class-privileges have been abolished, it is time that sex-privileges should be abolished too. But this particular question-
SVOVA: What do you think I have overlooked?
NORDAN: Well, have you the right to be as severe against the man as against the woman? Eh?
SVOVA : Yes, of course.
NORDAN: Is it so much a matter of course? Go out and inquire! Out of a hundred you meet ninety will answer no; women, as well as men.
SVOVA: Hm! Now we’re coming to another question.
NORDAN: Perhaps, but it requires knowledge to answer the question.
SVOVA: Do you mean what you say?
NORDAN: That doesn’t matter to you! Besides, I always mean what I say. A woman can marry at sixteen. A man must wait till he is twenty-five or thirty. There’s the distinction !
SVOVA: There is a distinction! For there are many many times more unmarried women than men. And that shows self-restraint. Men find it more convenient to make a law of their want of self-restraint.
NORDAN: Such an answer betrays ignorance. Man is a polygamic beast, like many other beasts, and the theory is enormously supported by the fact that there are more women than men in the world. You never heard that before perhaps!
SVOVA: Indeed I have, Mr. doctor of science !
NORDAN: Don’t laugh at science! What are we to trust if not that?
SVOVA: I only wish men had as much trouble over their children as women! If only they had! I fancy it would change their principles! If only they had!
NORDAN: They have no time for that; they have to “subdue the earth”.
SVOVA: Yes! they assigned the parts themselves!
Anonymous, ‘The Later Plays of Björnson’, Macmillan’s Magazine, London: 1889