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PAGE 2

Bjornsterne Bjornson
by [?]

“Here in the parsonage of Naesset–one of the loveliest places in Norway, where the land lies broadly spreading where two fjords meet, with the green braeside above it, with waterfalls and farmhouses on the opposite shore, with billowy meadows and cattle away towards the foot of the valley, and, far overhead, along the line of the fjord, mountains shooting promontory after promontory out into the lake, a big farmhouse at the extremity of each–here in the parsonage of Naesset, where I would stand at the close of the day and gaze at the sunlight playing over mountain and fjord, until I wept, as though I had done something wrong; and where I, descending on my snow-shoes into some valley, would pause as though bewitched by a loveliness, by a longing, which I had not the power to explain, but which was so great that above the highest ecstasy of joy I would feel the deepest apprehension and distress–here in the parsonage of Naesset were awakened my earliest sensations.”

The passage is obviously important. And Björnson shows how much importance he attaches to the experience by introducing it, or something like it, time after time into his stories. Readers of In God’s Way–the latest of the novels under discussion–will remember its opening chapter well.

It was good fortune indeed that a boy of such gifts should pass his early boyhood in such surroundings. Nor did the luck end here. While the young Björnson accumulated these impressions, the peasant-romance, or idyll of country life, was taking its place and growing into favor as one of the most beautiful forms of modern prose-fiction. Immermann wrote Der Oberhof in 1839. Weill and Auerbach took up the running in 1841 and 1843. George Sand followed, and Fritz Reuter. Björnson began to write in 1856. Synnövé Solbakken and Arne came in on the high flood of this movement. “These two stories,” writes Mr. Gosse, “seem to me to be almost perfect; they have an enchanting lyrical quality, without bitterness or passion, which I look for elsewhere in vain in the prose literature of the second half of the century.” To my mind, without any doubt, they and A Happy Boy are the best work Björnson has ever done in fiction, or is ever likely to do. For they are simple, direct, congruous; all of one piece as a flower is of a piece with its root. And never since has Björnson written a tale altogether of one piece.

His later Manner.

For here the luck ended. All over Europe there began to spread influences that may have been good for some artists, but were (we may say) peculiarly injurious to so naïf and, at the same time, so personal a writer as Björnson. I think another age will find much the same cause to mourn over Daudet when it compares his later novels with the promise of Lettres de Mon Moulin and Le Petit Chose. Naturalism demands nothing more severely than an impersonal treatment of its themes. Of three very personal and romantic writers, our own Stevenson escaped the pit into which both Björnson and Daudet stumbled. You may say the temptation came later to him. But the temptation to follow an European fashion does, as a rule, befall a Briton last of all men, for reasons of which we need not feel proud: and the date of Mr. Hardy’s stumbling is fairly recent, after all. Björnson, at any rate, began very soon to be troubled. Between 1864 and 1874, from his thirty-second to his forty-second year, his invention seemed, to some extent, paralyzed. The Fisher Maiden, the one story written during that time, starts as beautifully as Arne; but it grows complicated and introspective: the psychological experiences of the stage-struck heroine are not in the same key as the opening chapters. Passing over nine years, we find Magnhild much more vague and involved–