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Norwegian Literature  

Although same-sex relations have existed in Norwegian culture since at least the Middle Ages and some contemporary Norwegian writers are openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they do not necessarily create gay characters or raise gay issues in each one of their works.

With their references to "unmanly" or effeminate men who play the female role in sexual relations with other men, the Old Norse sagas document the practice of same-sex love in the Middle Ages. There are other hints of same-sex love in early Norwegian literature, but only during the last part of the nineteenth century do references to homosexuality become frequent and explicit.

Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson

One of Norway's most prominent authors of the late nineteenth century, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1832-1910), who won the Nobel Prize in 1906, writes about same-sex feelings in the essay "Sin and Illness" ("Synd og Sygdom") in 1891, and about romantic friendship in the short story Ivar Bye (1894). He was a lifelong friend of the Danish critic Clemens Petersen, who was forced to flee to the United States in 1869 because of a homosexual affair. Bjørnson also openly supported the pioneering sexologist and reformer Magnus Hirschfeld in his fight to repeal the German laws that criminalized homosexuality.

Gay motifs become more explicit in Norwegian fiction at the beginning of the twentieth century, although they are mostly associated with minor characters. The fates of these characters, who are typically male rather than female, are often tragic; they frequently commit suicide or die by accident or disease.

The 1930s and 1940s

In 1932 two distinguished Norwegian writers published novels with important gay male characters: The Widow (Enken) by Nini Roll Anker (1873-1942) and This Summer (I sommer) by Gunnar Larsen (1900-1958). The homosexuality of the protagonist is significant in each novel, but the conflicts created by their gayness are left unresolved in both works. Also published in 1932 was the poet Åsmund Sveen's first collection of poems, The Face (Andletet). Many of Sveen's poems are , but his reputation as a poet has been overshadowed by the fact that he was a member of the Norwegian Nazi Party during World War II.

In the 1940s several collections of Whitman-inspired poems were published, notably by Per Arneberg (1901-1981), who also translated Whitman's "Song of Myself" into Norwegian. Other poets in whose works gay-related motifs can be identified are Tor Jonsson (1916-1951) and Gunvor Hofmo (1921-1995).

Contemporary Writers

None, or at least very few, of the Norwegian authors in the first half of the twentieth century who dealt with homosexuality are known for certain to be homosexual. The first major writer to declare himself a bisexual was Jens Bjørneboe (1920-1976). Several of his poems, plays, and novels touch upon homosexuality; two of the latter are Powderhouse (Kruttårnet [1969]) and The Sharks (Haiene [1974]).

The first outspoken post-Stonewall Norwegian lesbian novel is What Comes Naturally (Opp alle jordens homofile [1973]), penned by Gerd Brantenberg (b. 1941), and the first uncloseted gay male novel, written by Gudmund Vindland (b. 1949) is Wild Shot (Villskudd [1979]).

Other contemporary Norwegian gay writers worth mentioning are Odd Klippenvåg (b. 1951), Tor Fretheim (b. 1946), and Per Knutsen (b. 1951), the latter two of whom write books primarily for children and adolescents. Contemporary lesbian authors include Anne Holt (b. 1958) and Pernille Rygg (b. 1963), who write mostly crime novels. Many of these writers have been translated into other languages.

In the literary world of Norway, however, terms such as "gay writer" are rarely used, and these writers do not necessarily create gay characters or raise gay issues in each one of their works.

Jan Olav Gatland


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Nobel prize winning author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote about both same sex feelings and romantic friendship.
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social sciences >> Overview:   Norway

Like most Scandinavian countries, Norway respects glbtq rights, and Norwegians are broadly tolerant of homosexuals.

social sciences >> Hirschfeld, Magnus

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Brantenberg, Gerd et al. På sporet av den tapte lyst. Kjærlighet mellom kvinner som litterært motiv. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1986.

Gatland, Jan Olav. Mellom linjene. Homofile tema i norsk litteratur. Oslo: Aschehoug, 1990.

_____. Skeive skrifter. Bibliografi over homofile tema i norsk litteratur. Oslo: Biblioteksentralen, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Gatland, Jan Olav  
    Entry Title: Norwegian Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated March 1, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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