Critical Evaluation

Much of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s writing is characterized by a Whitmanesque expansiveness and a generosity of spirit as notable for its elemental energy as for its moral fearlessness. Bjørnson was concerned with the issues underlying the fundamental connection between love and power. In The Fisher Maiden, he provides fascinating insights into some of the key elements involved in the genesis of the Scandinavian feminist movement. This movement flourished because of the social criticism and remarkable insights of such contemporaries as Camilla Collett, Alexander Kielland, Jonas Lie, Henrik Ibsen, and Bjørnson himself.

The Fisher Maiden is more than a novella and something less than a complete novel. It describes in both idyllic and Darwinistic terms the experiences of a young heroine, Petra, who is compelled to move from the country to the city, where her ambitions are realized in the theater. Petra is a woman of considerable genius, and she becomes entangled in a series of capricious affairs involving a succession of lovers who are utterly enchanted by her reveries. However, Petra is not truly in love with any of her suitors, and any relationship beyond the fanciful and the theatrical can serve only as a prop for her romantic genius and her artistic nature. Thus Bjørnson presents an elemental crisis that pits career against nuptial fulfillment. In Petra’s case, the nuptial element is subordinated to the dramatic and creative. The result is a nineteenth century portrait that questions a woman’s place at the hearth and the role of marriage as the mainstay of her fulfillment or salvation.

Bjørnson recognized an unbroken connection of his time to the beliefs, courage, and values of the Viking past, which all Norwegians cherished. At the same time, he was concerned with the problems of human estrangement and reconciliation, particularly in the relationship of the sexes. Throughout his literary career, Bjørnson advocated women’s emancipation with oratorical fervor, and much of his work serves as a profound commentary on the degradation of women living in a society dominated by men. In The Fisher Maiden, he...

(The entire section is 884 words.)