Domesticated Wilderness in Two Norwegian Children's Classics

By Rees, Ellen | Scandinavian Studies, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Domesticated Wilderness in Two Norwegian Children's Classics


Rees, Ellen, Scandinavian Studies


THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES two literary works that were key in die marketing of Norwegian cultural identity at home and abroad in the early twentieth century, Hans Aanrud's Sidsel Sidserk (1903; Sidsel Longskirt) and Marie Hamsun's Bygdeborn hjemme ogpaa Soteren (1924; Village Children at Home and at the Shieling). Both texts express socially conservative values that die authors link explicidy to a sense of place identity, and both can be read as implicit commentary on Norwegian national identity construction in die face of modernity. The works are written for children and have a clear didactic purpose, which is to illustrate the superiority of a hierarchical agrarian society for the personal development of children. It is not difficult to identity the conservative and even reactionary ideological positions taken by Aanrud and Hamsun. The aim of this analysis is to map out the ways in which the topographies of the novels function in the imaginative construction of Norway as a nation during a period of dramatic domestic and international political change. Using Homi K. Bhabha's notions of national and "counter-" narratives, I demonstrate how these two writers use the same setting, namely the seter or high mountain dairy, to construct visions of a metaphorical home for the children of Norway. Written while Norway was still the lesser party in a political union with Sweden, Aanrud's novel can be read as a counter-narrative that depicts the Norwegian peasant population as only pardy subjugated by Swedish authority and that opens up possibilities for covert nationalist and anti-Swedish sentiment. Hamsun's novel, on the other hand, uses the same tropes two decades later as a reactionary response to increasing modernization and democratization. Aanrud thus uses the seter location performatively while Hamsun employs it pedagogically.

Aanrud's novel appeared just two years before die union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved. It was quickly translated into many languages and printed in several editions. Jarle Bondevik and Olav Solberg comment that "Den vesle jenten fra plassen hoyt oppe i Ha er blitt en representam for Norge, hva enten hun na heter Langsierk, Longskirt eller Langrockchen. Mange er de barn i fremmede land og fjerne verdensdeler som her har fatt sitt forste imitrykk av Norge" (58) [The little girl from up in die meadow has become a representative of Norway, whether she is named Langsxrk, Longskirt, or Langrochen. There are many children in foreign countries and far away parts of the world who received their first impression of Norway here]. The novel is set in the 1870s (Svendsen 33), and tiiough written during a time of dramatic modernization, Aanrud depicts an idealized pre-industrial rural community with almost no reference to the societal changes that were underway in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

Hamsun's novel is the first in a series of five books1 about the bygdeborn [village children], a family of two boys and two girls who live with their parents on a small farm called Langerud, and it too is only loosely historically anchored. The series appears to be set in the 1920s though some aspects of die books reflect die author's childhood in the 1880s. The series was translated into German beginning in 1928 with Julius Sandmeier and Sophie Angermann's Die Langerudkinder.2 The entire Hamsun Family had close ties not only to Germany, but also to the highest circles within die German National Socialist regime starting in 1936 (Kolloen 198). Hamsun went on a five-week speaking tour through Germany in November and December of 1939 where she combined readings of her own and Knut Hamsun's literary texts along with pro-Nazi propaganda: "Naziideologene, som haddc vxrt beskjeftiget med a gi turneen et riktig politisk innhold, hadde all grunn til viere fornoyd med Marie Hamsuns innsats" (Kolloen 203) [The Nazi ideologues, who had been concerned about giving the tour the proper political substance, had every reason to be satisfied with Marie Hamsun's contribution]. …

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