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By Bjornson, Bjornsjerne
Translated not named
New York: P.F. Collier and Son, 1917
97 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
August 2013

Notes from the introduction:

Bjornsjerne Bjornson was born in Norway in 1832. In 1860 at the age of 28 he wrote this novel of the young boy Eyvind. Bjornoson spent some years away from writing and working in political activism as a socialist in the years from his 35-40 birthdays. He also wrote on mystical religions and especially the 1899 book “Beyond our Powers.”

In 1903 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and died in 1910.

Bob Corbett’s comments:

This novel doesn’t read fully like an adult novel in our day. Written over 150 years ago, the language and some of the episodes show that it is clearly an adult novel. I think children would neither have read it nor been much attracted to it nor really understood it.

One the other hand, the modern reader will find it so tame, utopian and “cute,” that it would never be taken seriously. Nonetheless, I found it charming and satisfying. Alas, I sort of knew where it was headed, just not exactly how it would get there.

Eywind is the poor boy and even lives at the bottom of the mountain. His father is a very hard worker, but uneducated, yet we later discover, isn’t a bad businessman in the end.

Eywind meets Marit when he is just a very young boy and she even younger. She is from a family much richer than Eywind’s, and they live “up” the hill in a very large home with a large farm. He becomes fascinated with her and she with him. When Eywind begins school, he sits next to her and their friendship deepens.

He grows to be a good kid, loving school and at home is very close to his mother, but his father is away often at work, fishing or running his mill.

Eywind befriends the schoolmaster Baard. There is a sad story in the life of Baard. He and his brother, Anders, grew up very close, but when their father dies there is a sort of feud between the two over their father’s gold watch. It virtually destroys his brother’s life and causes great grief to Baard. In many ways this story echoes the nature of the sad relationship between Eywind himself and his good friend Marit. Eywind loves her very much and she him, but when they are teens he becomes terribly jealous of her popularity and responds in much the same way Baard and his brother did – virtually no honesty in their disagreement and neither being able to talk to the other about it. It doesn’t end up as tragically as Baard’s story, but it does seem to indicate a manner of being in Norway’s culture of the time. At the same time Baard’s story is a sort of moral warning to the reader that such stubbornness and lack of trust and love are not very useful and desirable strategies for life. The novel is, after all, a moral tale.

At age 16 Eywind is to be confirmed as is Marit. The students must pass a rigorous exam to be allowed to advance in this manner and the competition is extreme. Baard, wishing to protect Eywind from his own pride, leads him to believe he has passed his exam, but only by a bit. Eywind is deeply disappointed and down on himself. But, when the confirmation itself comes it turns out that he is the number one student in the class, and Marit is the number one female student.

Eywind goes on to agricultural college and learns a great deal, especially about the interrelationship between theory in practice in agricultural. Again, this is a moral message to the people of Norway which Bjornson is preaching.

Since Eywind has always been in love with Marit and she with him, the novel takes a more serious turn toward the romantic during Eywind’s college years. It turns out that Marit lives with her grandfather who is very unhappy with underclass men, since his daughter married such a man and he deserted her, then she died and he has been raising Marit alone. He is getting older and less able and desperately wants to marry her to a middle or upper class man so they can inherit the farm and live a decent life. He is deeply suspicious of Eywind and tries everything to keep them apart.

Ah, but love and hard work win out, of course. There could not have been any surprises in store for the reader of this work. Eywind stands out in school, becomes the local agricultural agent for the government and beloved and trusted by all the young farmers.

Eventually grandfather realizes he can’t beat true love, and he even begins to see that Eywind isn’t such a bad fellow after all, and all’s well that ends well.

Again, this is a dated novel embodying notions of the role of fiction which we don’t generally embrace in our time. But the novel is well constructed and written and seemingly was a much needed moral message to Norway at the time it was written.

Bob Corbett


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