Aasmund Olavsson Vinje (English)
Aasmund Olavsson Vinje, journalist, poet and essayist, was a pioneer in turning the Norwegian Nynorsk into a living everyday language, with the newspaper Dølen, and he lay the foundations for a Norwegian Nynorsk essay tradition. Many of Vinje’s poems have been set to music, a number of them by Edvard Grieg, and several are among the most beloved songs of all time in Norway.
Aasmund Olavsson Vinje was born on 6 April 1818 in the mountain village of Vinje in the county of Telemark and died on 30 July 1870 in Gran in the fertile lowlands of Hadeland. He grew up in what is today Vinje municipality, on a cotter’s farm called Plassen, attended the teacher seminary in Kvitseid to become an itinerant teacher (completed in 1836) and in Asker to qualify to teach at a permanent school (completed 1843). Later he studied at «Heltbergs studentfabrikk», a private school in the capital that qualified him to matriculate, and then successfully completed his degree in law (graduated in 1856). The following year he received his authorisation as a barrister admitted to practice before the appellate court.
Vinje worked as an itinerant teacher in the area where he grew up (1836–41) and from 1844-48 he taught at an urban school in the town of Mandal. In Kristiania (today’s Oslo) he worked as a clerk of law for solicitor J.C. Lous (1857–59) and as a copy clerk at the Ministry of Justice (1865–68). From 1846 he wrote for newspapers. He was permanent Kristiania-correspondent for Drammens Tidende (1851–59), and in 1858 he started his own weekly newspaper, Dølen, which was written in Norwegian Nynorsk. In this article we use this latter term to refer to the written language that Ivar Aasen created, even though its official name up until 1929 was Landsmål. Dølen was published in a total of 292 editions, spread over eight years (1858–70).
Vinje wrote the travel account Ferdaminni fraa Sumaren 1860 (1861) (A remembrance of a journey in the summer 1860, not translated), and he composed several poems that have later been set to music. Many of the poems appeared in the anthology Diktsamling (1864). He also published the epic poetic cycle Storegut (Big Boy 1866, new edition 1868). In addition he was author of the English travel book A Norseman’s Views of Britain and the British (1863), and he collected prose texts and poems in the publication Blandkorn (1867).
«Vinjestoga», which is the simple cabin on the peasant farm where Vinje grew up, has been open to the public since 1912. From 1984 to 2008 there was an image of Vinje on the Norwegian 50-kroner bank note, which was also the first bank note to be printed using the Norwegian Nynorsk name of the country, Noreg. The rock festival Vinjerock at Eidsbugarden in the Jotunheimen mountains, which started in 2006, is named after Vinje. In 2018 the 200th anniversary of Vinje’s birth was celebrated with a series of events all over the country. The same year the first director of the planned Vinje Centre for Literature and Journalism commenced his work.
Norwegian Nynorsk in use
In 1858 Vinje started to use Ivar Aasen’s Norwegian Nynorsk, as one of the first to do so after Aasen himself. Vinje was a pioneer in the way he used Norwegian Nynorsk as a journalist, regardless of the topic he was writing about, and he helped to create a living everyday language. He lay the foundations for a Norwegian Nynorsk essay tradition, and he was important for his role in developing a Norwegian Nynorsk prose style. As a poet he composed poetry that to this day is sung for Norwegians from the cradle to the grave, from «Blåmann» to «Ved Rundarne»..
By the time Vinje established the newspaper Dølen, Aasen had published roughly 360 pages of texts in Norwegian Nynorsk, and Vinje was the first to publish more in Norwegian Nynorsk than in Danish in a public context. In total Vinje made public the equivalent in normal pages of between 4500 and 5000 pages in Norwegian Nynorsk, while he produced something like 1500 pages in Dano-Norwegian for the newspaper Drammens Tidende. Aasen for his part issued more texts in Danish than in Norwegian Nynorsk.
From early on in his career as a journalist Vinje became a popular speaker who spoke at cattle shows, markets and Constitution Day celebrations, and he is probably the first person to use Norwegian Nynorsk to make the traditional public address on that day (17 May 1859 at Eidsvoll). He felt perfectly at home no matter whom he was talking to – everyone from farm workers, milkmaids and cotters to lords of the manor, members of the Norwegian parliament and philosophers – and from everybody he met, whether he was wandering in the countryside or mingling in intellectual circles, he garnered knowledge to add to his storehouse of wisdom.
Vinje was a knowledgeable journalist. He wrote easily and freely, and produced animated accounts of the different forms of culture in the field of tension between popular local markets and bourgeois theatre performances. The high and the low in society stood side by side in his journalism, and his style was ironic and characterised by an ambivalence, with humour balanced by gravity. This meant that many felt that Vinje was cynical and given to mocking, but at the same time he was admired and respected as a very engaging and readable journalist, as someone who managed to capture the political mood of the times and identify key contemporary issues
Before he started writing in Norwegian Nynorsk, Vinje had a long career behind him as a writer of Dano-Norwegian. He wrote for newspapers like Morgenbladet and the workers’ newspaper Folkets Røst, and he published the satirical-polemical weekly Manden (later known as Andhrimner) together with Henrik Ibsen and Paul Botten-Hansen. From 1851 he was permanent Kristiania-correspondent for Drammens Tidende, and there his contributions usually appeared in print twice a week (occasionally three times). Today a total of 582 Vinje texts from Drammens Tidende are known, of the somewhere over 700 that were published.
When Vinje started the weekly paper Dølen in 1858, he finally had his own newspaper in which he could let himself loose over several pages and write his own variety of Aasen’s Norwegian Nynorsk – a version that became known as «Dølemaalet». Ivar Aasen and Hans Ross contributed texts, and at times Aasen provided assistance with proof-reading and Ross with editorial work. Others who featured in the columns of Dølen were Henrik Krohn, Kristofer Janson and Werner Wernerskiold, and the paper also contained translated material from newspapers like The Times in London, Le Monde in Paris and Aftonbladet in Stockholm.
In both Drammens Tidende and Dølen, Vinje discussed political events and cultural phenomena, from both home and abroad. The newspaper wrote about everything from armed conflicts and major international incidents across the world to the domestic language debate and lack of food in Norway. Vinje was well acquainted with both the rural way of life and the workings of the civil service, and he spiced his articles with comparisons both from the animal kingdom, amusing stories and well-informed references to philosophers.
Much of what Vinje wrote led to reactions among his contemporaries. In a review of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s peasant tale Arne (1859), Vinje pretended that he thought the tale was meant to be parody of life in a farming community and idyllic novels, which could not have been further from the truth and from Bjørnson’s intentions. Nor was Vinje afraid to challenge authority, and in the series «Vaar Politik» (Our Politics) he criticised the national government, which led to him losing his job as a copy clerk at the Ministry of Justice in 1868. Dølen appeared in a total of eight annual volumes up until 1870, three of which are complete.
In the history of the press in Norway, Vinje is held up as a journalistic pioneer. A modern feature of his method was to visit people where they were, the way a reporting journalist would do today, but the dialogues he presented in the columns afterwards were conventionalised. In the 1980s Vinje’s talent as an essayist came into focus, and a point was also made of his carnivalism. This carnivalistic aspect of the jesting Vinje was in stark contrast to the early impressions of Vinje as a writer characterised by extreme gravity with close links to antiquity.
Vinje was versatile, and historically he has been interpreted and understood in a variety of ways, depending on the selection of his texts that has been presented. The image of Vinje has varied in accordance with the attempts to adapt him to suit different ideologies, and among others the editors of school readers have abridged his texts to make them fit better with their own national narrative. Norwegian Nynorsk supporters have emphasised his tales of peasant life and Vinje as the popular public speaker, while Norwegian Bokmål enthusiasts have highlighted Vinje the tourist.
Vinje’s poems explore central themes of lyricism, such as love, life and death, and they fetch their motifs from the oral tradition and nature. Often they deal with lost love, like the poem «Den dag kjem aldri», or with reflections that have their origin in impressions made by nature or the landscape, like «Drivdalen» and «Ved Rundarne». His poetry is marked by vivid descriptions of the moods of nature and often express grief at loss and adversity, but always with a fundamental belief in the goodness of life.
In the epic poetic cycle Storegut (first published in 1866, in a new edition in 1868) Vinje tells the tale of the strong, but gentle Storegut, based on a legend from his native county of Telemark about the bloodletter Olav Edland and his eldest son, Olav, who was called Storegut (Big Boy). He was a great hulk of a man who perished in the mountains while he was herding cattle, and whom many believed had been murdered. The poems in Storegut are written in the words of his father, Olav, who survived his son, and who tells both his own and his son’s life stories.
Vinje composed poems based on folk tunes he knew from the region where he grew up, for example in Storegut, but he also used classical verse forms from European literature, among others the ottava rima (in «Ved Rundarne») and the hexameter (in «Vaaren»). He wrote a number of commemorative poems and poems for special occasions (festivities, cattle shows, anniversaries and 17 May celebrations), and in addition lampoons aimed at contemporary adversaries.
The poems often first appeared in print in Dølen or elsewhere, before later being published in book form, as was the case with Diktsamling (1864), an anthology of 125 poems (37 of which were in Danish and the rest in Norwegian Nynorsk). In Dølen the poems could open the new edition, or they were part of the main article, such as the poem «Blaamann». The poem about the goats Blåmann and Lykle originally appeared in a piece about a new law that made it legal to kill goats that entered private orchards, something Vinje strongly opposed.
Many of the poems have been set to music, and several are now among the most beloved songs of all time in Norway, such as «Blaamann», with a melody by Anne Haavie, and «Ved Rundarne», with a melody composed by Edvard Grieg. Grieg wrote music to as many as 15 of Vinje’s poems, but that was after Vinje’s death. The poems in Storegut can be sung to a number of melodies, which is also the case for many of his other poems.
In 1861 Vinje published the travel account Ferdaminni fraa Sumaren 1860, divided into two volumes. Written in essay form after a journey across Norway, the book describes the trip and is regarded as a key work in Norwegian literary history. With an eye for what is special about the geology, agriculture, farming life and mentality in Norway, Vinje takes his reader on his journey from Kristiania to Trondheim in the summer of 1860. He is travelling there to witness the crowning of King Carl XV, which is due to take place in the city, but it is his encounter with people and the landscape along the way that is of the greatest interest to Vinje, rather than the actual coronation.
His trip during the summer of 1860 goes by train to Eidsvoll, via Odalen and Sweden, before he travels up the Østerdalen valley and crosses the Dovre mountains. The return journey southwards takes him down the valleys of Romsdalen and Gudbrandsdalen. During the trip Vinje is a sociologist who observes how the farmers live and work, and a humourist who is amused by the personalities he meets and his culinary experiences. He criticises laziness and ignorance, but gains pleasure from hospitality and model farmers. Between these essay sections there are several lyrical elements, in the form of poems related to impressions and memories from his tour of southern Norway.
It is in Ferdaminni fraa Sumaren 1860 that Vinje writes about the ambivalence that has later been used to characterise the man himself. Later this ambivalence has been understood as a form of irony, an ability to see two sides of the matter or a tendency to change one’s mind – and all this is characteristic of Vinje. But when he writes about ambivalence, Vinje presents it as the ability to observe the comical in something serious. To quote his own words, it is being able to «see at a glance both sides of the weave of life, so that it is easier for us to sort of cry with one eye and laugh with the other».
Vinje was at his happiest with a staff in his hand and a rucksack on his back, a situation he describes in both prose and poetry. Every summer from 1863 he travelled to either the Jotunheimen massif or the Rondane range to hike in the mountains. As company on his travels he had with him friends like Ernst Sars and Hagbard Berner, and in 1868 Vinje had the Eidsbugarden cabin built at Bygdin in Jotunheimen, as a joint venture along with three others.
Vinje also went on a trip to Great Britain from summer 1862 to 1863, financed with the help of a number of grants. First he visited the World Exhibition in London, before travelling on to Edinburgh, where he spent most of his stay. The result of the journey was the book A Norseman’s Views of Britain and the British (1863), written as a series of 16 letters to Johan Sebastian Welhaven. Vinje started on a translation of the book, but it first appeared in Norwegian as Bretland og Britarne in 1873, with Halfdan Halvorsen as translator of the final third.
Vinje was a trailblazer in making Norwegian Nynorsk a practical everyday language, among other things by publishing the first newspaper in the language. Ferdaminni fraa Sumaren 1860 and several of his poems are key points of reference in the history of Norwegian literature. He was a style reformer who brought both gravity and levity to the Norwegian literary world.
English translation Howard Medland.
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Sist oppdatert: 08.02.2019