Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Narrative Expectations and Domestic Space in the Telemark Ballads

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Narrative Expectations and Domestic Space in the Telemark Ballads

Article excerpt

EVER since William Motherwell first attempted to define the "traditionary" ballad, scholars have regarded convention and patterning as essential features of classical ballad style (1827: xi-xii and xxii-xxiv). Motherwell even recognized (following Robert Jamieson) that such stylistic traits evidenced strong links between British and Scandinavian balladry, an acknowledgment of kinship upheld by many later scholars. The issues of pattern and "narrative expectations" go hand in hand, for the ballads' typified actions, characters, diction, motifs, and settings give them a conceptual as well as a poetic uniformity that extends to a large degree across the genre. They lead the thoughts of makers, singers, and listeners in certain directions, such that one can anticipate character relationships and motives as well as narrative outcomes. They establish an order by which the ballad imagination is, to some extent, bound. Yet an astonishing features of the ballad as art is that it remains electric and engaging despite this apparent literary shortcoming.

In recent years, many analytical approaches to ballads have stressed the signifying potential of patterned elements of tradition, particularly of formulas and commonplaces (Toelken 1967, and 1995; Holzapfel 1980; and Andersen 1984), or conventionalized character roles and relationships (Buchan 1982, 1986, and 1988). Much less attention has been paid to the typified ballad landscapes, even though they too are an indispensable part of what is "characteristic" about the genre. This paper looks at the scenography of a particular sub-genre--the supernatural ballads of Norwegian tradition--and seeks to understand the significance of space within that corpus. Specifically, it examines a character's behavior in relation to his or her surroundings to show how certain qualities associated with space help to generate narrative tension or define conditions that are thematically germane to the narrative.

Although a general appreciation of the overall fictional landscape and of the interrelation of spaces is essential to the project, the emphasis for the present is on interior settings: the domestic world and its influence on character motivation, behavior, and interaction. The role of natural space in the Telemark supernatural corpus was taken up in an earlier paper (Moreira 1996). To make the readings contextually concrete, the analysis moves beyond a purely genre-based or "immanent" (Foley) approach, and considers the generically defined world of the ballads in relation to the specific physical and cultural landscape of the region where they were collected.

Many factors justify a situated approach, even though it cuts against the grain of a long established trend in Scandinavian scholarship, which is to view the ballads broadly as a medieval genre. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the title of the major pan-Scandinavian catalog: The Types of the Scandinavian Medieval Ballad (Jonsson et al. 1975; hereafter TSB) The origins of balladry undoubtedly lie in the Middle Ages, but insisting that Norway's ballads are medieval neglects the fact that almost none of the extant Norwegian ballad texts were written down prior to the middle of the nineteenth century. Temporally, almost everything we know about the tradition comes from a very recent period. Some of the readings that follow may apply to the balladry of an earlier age, we have no way of proving it. From a geographical standpoint, but we must also recognize that the Norwegian ballads were collected from a limited territory. A significant percentage came from the region formerly known as Ovre Telemark, in the south center of the country, just south and east of the Hardangarvidda. For practical purposes, it is bounded on the east by the community of Bo, on the south by Fyresdal, to the west by Haukeligrend, and in the north by Rjukan. The names that turn up repeatedly in collections--Seljord, Kviteseid, Dalen, Mo, and Skafsa--encompass a much smaller area. …

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