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Bjornsterne Bjornson
by [?]

“Here he is visibly affected by French models, and by the methods of the naturalists, but he is trying to combine them with his own simpler traditions of rustic realism…. The author felt himself greatly moved by fermenting ideas and ambitions which he had not completely mastered…. There is a kind of uncomfortable discrepancy between the scene and the style, a breath of Paris and the boulevards blowing through the pine-trees of a puritanical Norwegian village…. But the book is a most interesting link between the early peasant-stories and the great novels of his latest period.”

Well, of these same “great novels”–of Flags are Flying and In God’s Way–people must speak as they think. They seem to me the laborious productions of a man forcing himself still further and further from his right and natural bent. In them, says Mr. Gosse, “Björnson returns, in measure, to the poetical elements of his youth. He is now capable again, as for instance in the episode of Ragni’s symbolical walk in the woodlands, In God’s Way, of passages of pure idealism.” Yes, he returns–“in measure.” He is “capable of idyllic passages.” In other words, his nature reasserts itself, and he remains an imperfect convert. “He has striven hard to be a realist, and at times he has seemed to acquiesce altogether in the naturalistic formula, but in truth he has never had anything essential in common with M. Zola.” In other words, he has fallen between two stools. He has tried to expel nature with a pitchfork and still she runs back upon him. He has put his hand to the plough and has looked back: or (if you take my view of “the naturalistic formula”) he has sinned, but has not sinned with his whole heart. For to produce a homogeneous story, either the acquired Zola or the native Björnson must have been cast out utterly.

Value of Early Impressions to a Novelist.

I have quoted an example of the impressions of Björnson’s childhood. I do not think critics have ever quite realized the extent to which writers of fiction–especially those who use a personal style–depend upon the remembered impressions of childhood. Such impressions–no matter how fantastic–are an author’s firsthand stock: and in using them he comes much closer to nature than when he collects any number of scientifically approved data to maintain some view of life which he has derived from books. Compare Flags are Flying with Arne, and you will see my point. The longer book is ten times as realistic in treatment, and about one-tenth as true to life.