The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 8, 2013

December 8, 1832

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (December 8, 1832 to April 26, 1910) was born in a rectory located in in a lonely,  northern part of Norway. Today he is considered one of the great writers of that country, and ranked with Henrik Ibsen, with whom in fact he went to school. Though Bjornson was on the left of the political spectrum at the time, he from the start of his writing career, argued for a singular and valuable Norwegian perspective. In 1903 Bjornson won the Nobel for literature, for his poetry. One quote gives the flavor of his work: 'Do not complain beneath the stars about the lack of bright spots in your life. "

Besides poetry and novels, his plays are significant, for instance Maria Stuart i Skotland, (Mary Stuart in Scotland) (1863).

Over oevne, annet stykke, (Beyond Human Power - II) (1895)  is the second play of that name, wherein
Bjørnson sketches his view of the human condition. A character says:

... [T]he day will come when man must discover that there lies more greatness and poetry in what is natural and possible --however insignificant it may frequently appear, than in the world's whole store of supernaturalism, from the first sun-myth down to the latest sermon preached about it. 

and later in the drama, comes this speech:

Is there anything more gruesome than that force within ourselves which goads us on to what our whole nature resists? And can happiness be possible on this earth until our reason becomes so completely a part of our nature that nothing retains the power of using us in that way? 

Our main excerpt is from a novel of 1889:  På guds veje, (In the Ways of  God). The context is a storm on the Norwegian coast, a storm which is thought to be the actual end of the world. 
Bjornstorn here demonstrates what he means in the quotations above.

Each time the waves at full height stormed the mountain, the spray was dashed up to a monstrous height; from afar it seemed as though the great white sea-monsters of the old legends were trying to land just at that very spot. ...As a rule it was only the very worst westerly storms that could dash the spray so high; but now it had reached the top though the air was so calm. ...
It was not the storm alone that had frightened.... a short time ago a lay preacher had prophesied that the end of the world was at hand ; all the signs of the Bible had come to pass, and the prophecies of Jeremiah and Daniel were clearly to be understood. It made such a sensation that the papers took up the matter and announced that the same thing had been foretold so very often before, and those prophecies of Jeremiah and Daniel were always suited to the occasion. But when the hurricane came, and was fiercer and more terrible than any that could be remembered; when ships loosed from their moorings were driven up against the wharf, crushed themselves and crushing others, and especially when night came on and shrouded everything in darkness and no lantern even could keep alight,. . . the crashing fall of the waves was heard but not seen, shouts of command, screamings and great lamentations; and in the streets such terror, roofs were lifted right off, houses shook, windows rattled, stones hurled about, and the distant screams of those trying to escape only added to the fright, . . . then, indeed, were many who remembered the words of the preacher; God help and save us, surely the last day has come and the stars are about to fall. The children especially were frightened to death. The parents had not time to stay with them , though the last day of the world had come, still there was a doubt as to whether it really were the last day, and from sheer force of habit it was thought wiser to look well after all worldly goods, so they saved what they could, and put up bolts and bars, and ran to look to the fires, and were busy everywhere. But to the children they gave prayer-books and psalm-books, and told them to read what was written about earthquakes and other plagues, and about the day of judgment; hurriedly they found the places for them, and then ran and left them. As if the children could read then!

Some there were who went to bed and pulled the bedclothes over their heads; some took their dog or cat with them—it was company for them, and they would die together. But it happened sometimes that neither dog nor cat chose to die under the bedclothes, so then there was a fight....
The night passed away, and the stars still shone clear until day dawned once more, and the sun was as bright as ever; the storm died away and with it all remains of fear.

But once one has been influenced by anything so terrifying there will ever after be, as it were, a dread of the actual terror. Not only by night in evil dreams, but by day when one fancies one's self safest, it lurks in our imagination, ready to seize hold of us at the smallest provocation, and devouring us with cunning eyes and bated breath drives us sometimes to madness....

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson shows us a typical  Western confusion over supernaturalism and religion. But it is worth asking if there is some particularly Norwegian introspective examination of emotions -- Edvard Munch would have to weigh here with Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson in a discussion of this question.

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