William Faulkner's direct influence on Norwegian literature or on any particular Norwegian writer is hardly noticeable. For numerous writers young and old there can be little doubt that their reading of The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying or Absalom, Absalom! must have been decisive experiences in their lives and careers, and some of our younger writers admit it almost inadvertently by intertexual play on Faulkner texts or by lightly disguised references to characters from his books. Ole Robert Sunde and Pål Gerhard Olsen are two contemporary novelists who draw on Faulkner in this sense. The simple fact that numerous Faulkner texts have been translated into Norwegian for the first time in the 1990s may be one reason for this, although Norwegian readers always have had easy access to Faulkner's books in English paperbacks.
I shall give a survey of translations of Faulkner into Norwegian, and comment briefly on his reputation and influence, followed by an attempt to discuss the relationship between Faulkner's literature and world and those of the great Norwegian novelist from the interwar period, Olav Duun.1 It is difficult to establish factual connections between these writers, and Faulkner's influence on Duun may indeed have been slight. In mysterious and surprisingly consistent ways books may still relate to one another, thematically as well as formally. In the case of Duun and Faulkner what they have in common more than anything else seems to me to be the sense of place, the creation of a fictional or imaginary kingdom, and a widesweeping and generous acceptance of human folly and human frailty.
Faulkner's reputation in Norway may be said
to rest upon a legend of the difficult but otherwise great story-teller
from the South, a legend that has been even more tenacious because so few
people have been capable of correcting it by reading the books themselves.
But it also, inevitably, rest on the reception of the first translations
of his books, on influences from abroad and on the relatively wide reading
of English-language paperbacks.
To my knowledge, we have only one piece of
evidence to show that Olav Duun read Faulkner. In a letter to a book reviewer
he recommends strongly that she read As I Lay Dying.5
He is clearly impressed by the book, and he has read it very early.
Knowing that Faulkner's early books were thus available (in American or
British editions) in Norway very quickly, it is tempting to speculate that
Duun read more books by Faulkner, like The Sound and the Fury and
Light in August; perhaps even Sanctuary. Authors seem to
have been more impressed by Faulkner's books than the reading public in
general, and an established and very professional novelist like Duun would
certainly find things to admire in Faulkner's narrative structures and
rhetorical force that he had never dared to even attempt himself. Duun
himself remained a fairly traditional teller of stories in the best tradition
of historical novels, and even in the contemporary books from the 1930s,
he experimented little. Yet Faulkner is certainly also a great storyteller,
even in the experimental modernistic novels such as As I Lay Dying
and The Sound and the Fury, and even more so in Light in August
and Absalom, Absalom!. In a general sense, what Duun and Faulkner
share, is first and foremost their sense of place. Both writers are totally
and deeply immersed in the land and the culture they write from and about,
yet able to see it at a distance and fictionalise it with wry humour and
generous understanding of its shortcomings. Both prove that it takes a
great deal of history to produce a little literature, and they both create
imaginary areas within which almost all their characters live, and all
the events of their stories take place.
Olav Duun's fiction is firmly rooted in a certain
place and time, yet his writing surpasses all geographical or sociological
borders, and creates a fictional region in which man's injustice to man
is the key question, and in which the metaphoric or figurative representation
of landscape, transforms hamlets and villages, islands and inlets, into
places of the mind. Duun's places belong in his recollections of a past,
in time and place, and they were created in anguish and agony, not in order
to trace the well-worn paths of childhood or describe socio-economic or
historical changes, but in order to penetrate to the hidden and forbidden
recesses of the human heart, in order to understand better, and, by implication,
to help in the uplifting of people's hearts.
Seasoned readers of Faulkner will notice that
the remote road crossings, hills and hamlets of Faulkner's novels placed
in the countryside of Yoknapatawpha bear many resemblances to the descriptions
of Duun's world given above. Backwoods people in Faulkner's novels have
the same dreams and aspirations as do Duun's fishermen and poor farmers.
They share a sense of honour which they cling to, because without it they
would not be able to face their neighbour or themselves. They accept their
low status and poverty, and they hardly ever really question the order
of things. But they react when their position, even the lowest one, is
threatened, and they often act violently and with dramatic results. Duun's
people do not share a legacy of a glorious past and the burden of a lost
cause. Nor do they face problems of race. But they live in accordance with
an ethics transferred to them from historical time, and live by very strict
norms for decency and fairness among men, and in this sense they are very
similar to the ordinary people of Yoknapatawpha County.
|Place in fiction is the named, identified, concrete, exact and exacting, and therefore credible, gathering spot of all that has been felt, is about to be experienced, in the novel's progress. Location pertains to feeling; feeling profoundly pertains to place; place in history partakes of feeling, as feeling about history partakes of place.8|
| Olav Duun was asked, "What is it that is so
great about Namdalen?" and he answered, "That you come from there." He
wrote about it from a distance of some 400 miles, but the reality of it
may either be considered as being very close, or light-years away. This
seeming paradox indicates the problematics of a remembered and created world,
transformed and changed through literature, as opposed to as exact a rendering
of the real world as possible. Duun's answer also seems to say something
about the necessity of having left, of being away from, of distance and
perspective, perhaps to the point of being exiled from, the world used
as raw material, as basis, for the fictional world. Not all fictional worlds
are based on the landscapes of childhood and formative years, but the most
convincing ones, which may also be the most literary ones, seem to share
Some measure of love may be responsible for drawing so many writers to a region and a landscape they know; their places become places of the heart. This love may come late, and it may be a hard-won one, if not simply inherited and taken for granted as a part of a literary tradition. The sense of belonging, of having a past that explains you and that perhaps even made and moulded you, is strong in writers as diverse as Olav Duun, Thomas Hardy, and William Faulkner, all of whom created fictional regions and located their stories within the borders of their mythical kingdoms. Duun's and Faulkner's landscapes develop and change through their use and re-use in different books, from being background, setting, or simply landscape, to becoming places. Places, that is, in the sense that they are given added significance because narrators and characters think about them, contemplate their meaning, try to come to grips with their possible significance in their lives and in the lives of men and women before them. As mentioned, over a period of ten years and ten novels, the places in Duun's novels gain this added significance through reiterated use: they become lasting, abiding, and they take on a meaning larger than themselves and larger than the lives of their inhabitants. The landscapes in narrative become places in fiction, places in one's mind, because they include the experiences of those who lived there, whose lives may linger on in new generations. An author may give eternal life to people as well as places by narrativizing both--for instance in novels such as Juvikfolke and Menneske og maktene; Light in August and The Hamlet.
Duun's and Faulkner's characters get never-ending lessons in hardship, endurance, God-fearing, and humility. Respect, amounting to awe, for the sacred places of childhood that now become places in fiction informs their narratives. These places include small houses, with scattered patches of farmland, with bogs and moors and forests, with inlets and beaches, grey as the weather and the dreary days of autumn and winter, wide-open and hospitable under a blue sky during the long days of summer. More often in Duun than in Faulkner, the quiet days of limitless beauty give way to violent raging storms in the open ocean right outside his world, and human beings often become playthings in the hands of the forces of nature. These forces are often personified, and even though man is not exposed to these forces as in the days of old, they may be stronger and tougher in Duun's world than anywhere else in Norwegian literature. Duun's sense of place is very much a wonderful awareness of nature in its constant change and motion, and nature is at the same time always used to describe, by implication, people and actions.
In Duun's major work, the historical novel in six volumes, Juvikfolke (the people from Juvika, or the Juvikings), published volume by volume over the six year period between 1917 and 1923 and almost bringing him the Nobel Prize for 1925, man's place in relation to nature changes, as man builds better places to protect himself and to take care of his own. The forces remain the same however, and can always be put to good use in the final test of a man and his worth. Otherwise, man's place among fellow men, in the community he lives in, and sometimes even in the larger pattern of things, become more important when the basic needs are taken care of. In a sense, man's nature become the battle ground, and in the second half of the six-book series, Odin's growth to maturity and responsibility, with the inheritance of the Juvik tradition as support or burden, is an example.
Even if we use all possible contextualisations, including historical, sociological, economic, familial factors, we cannot explain the works of genius. What brought Medmenneske out of Namdalen may be almost as futile a question as to ask how The Sound and the Fury could possibly come out of Mississippi? How could Namdalen produce Duun, so that he, on the basis of Namdalen could produce literature of lasting importance? Perhaps a quote from William Faulkner, where he, inadvertently or deliberately, answers this question, may be of some help: The quotation is really about Eula Varner, in The Hamlet: She comes from Frenchman's Bend
|"--a little lost village, nameless, without grace, forsaken, yet which wombed once by chance and accident one blind seed of the spendthrift Olympian ejaculation and did not even know it".|
|One great writer in a world language, another great writer in a minority language even in his own small country. And yet: similarities abound, and they all seem to have their basis in the uses and functions of an imaginary or fictional region of their worlds, within the borders of which they could investigate the old verities of the human heart and create literature of lasting value. I have reduced my comments on the well-documented world of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County and have chosen to emphasise what I suspect is the unknown world of Olav Duun's fictional version of a region, Namdalen. And even if I have not pursued the similarities far enough to enable me to say anything about influence and little enough about similarities, I am convinced that an extensive comparison of these two authors and their uses of "imaginary worlds" would add to our understanding of their accomplishment, and, perhaps, enhance our understanding of how literature constitutes its meaning.|
|1. I have drawn on my discussion
of "The Sense of Place in the Fiction of Olav Duun", a lecture at a conference
in Chicago, printed in the seminar report Places Within, Places Beyond
(Oslo, 1996), and on my survey article on "The Reception and Reputation
of William Faulkner in Norway" from Notes on Mississippi Writers
2. To understand why Faulkner was translated so early in Norway, a note on a series of books and its editor is required. Sigurd Hoel, one of Norway's leading novelists in the 1930s and 40s, edited a series of books called the "Yellow Series", and published by Gyldendal. In this series new and experimental books were made accessible to Norwegian readers. The very scope and aim of the series explain why Faulkner, among many others, could be discovered so early and translated so quickly in a country far away from the United States at a time when the contact between the two countries was much looser than today. Hoel kept himself well-informed of the developments in the books world, and he also knew many of the important writers personally. It may thus well be that Richard Hughes, who in a sense introduced Faulkner to an English audience, was the one who made Hoel aware of Faulkner in the first place. American writers to be included in the "Yellow Series" were, among others, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, John Dos Passos, Richard Wright, and Elizabeth Maddox Roberts.
3. The only earlier non-English essay I know of is the one by Maurice Coindreau in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise in June, 1931.
4. Information about the Norwegian translations of Faulkner's books (up to and including The Unvanquished) can be found in James B. Meriwether's The Literary Career of William Faulkner (Authorized Re-issue: Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1971), pp. 143-44.
5. The letter is printed in Otto Hageberg, Olav Duun. Biografiske og litteraturhistoriske streiflys; Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1995, p. 85.
6. Faulkner's own phrase, in interview with Jean Stein. See Lion in the Garden, edited by Meriwether and Millgate; New York: Random House, 1968, p. 255.
7. Richard Gray, The Life of William Faulkner, Oxford, UK: Blackwell, 1994. The phrase is section heading for part III of the book.
8. Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story: Selected Essays and Reviews. (New York Random House, 1978) 122.
Copywright (C) 1999 Hans H. Skei