Johan Bojer Essay - Critical Essays

Bojer, Johan


Johan Bojer 1872-1959

Norwegian novelist, playwright, and short story writer.

Bojer was one of the most prominent Norwegian writers of his time. His works, which gained him an international reading audience, are especially praised for their insight into human nature and sensitive depiction of working class life.

Biographical Information

Bojer was born in Orkdalsoyra, Norway. The illegitimate son of a businessman and a servant, he was raised by foster parents in a Norwegian fishing town. Bojer's experiences and observations growing up in a rugged coastal region of Norway provided the background and subject matter for many of his works. With inheritance money from his biological father, Bojer was able to complete his education, which included instruction at a business school. After graduation, he briefly held a job at an export company while at the same time pursuing a career as a playwright and fiction writer. Soon after the successful production of one of his plays, Bojer devoted himself exclusively to writing. His subsequent literary career spanned more than six decades. Bojer died in 1959.

Major Works

Bojer explored various themes and subjects during his long and prolific career. His first major work, Etfolketog, centered on the corrupting influence of political power on a once-idealistic farmer, who manipulates and ultimately betrays the people of the town who placed him in office. Issues of public morality also figure in Troens magt (The Power of a Lie), wherein Bojer creates an effective psychological profile of a man who fashions a lie into an accepted truth. Bojer expressed a celebratory affirmation of life in such works as Den store hunger (The Great Hunger), Fangen som sang (The Prisoner Who Sang), and Liv (Life). Bojer's interest in what he considered a basic human need for spiritual nourishment was central to a number of his works. In The Great Hunger, for example, the protagonist, Peer Troen, achieves fulfillment as an individual only after he acknowledges the existence of a higher power and the importance of striving for a common good. In the nineteen twenties, when critics consider Bojer to have been at the peak of his literary power, he published Den siste Viking (The Last of the Vikings) and Vor egen stamme (The Emigrants). Together these works portrayed the vanishing way of life of Norway's farmers and fishermen, and the emigration of many of them to the United States.

Principal Works

Etfolketog (novel) 1896

Moder Lea (novel) 1900

En pilgrimsgang [A Pilgrimage] (novel) 1902

Troens magt [The Power of a Lie] (novel) 1903

Vort rige [Treacherous Ground] (novel) 1908

Liv [Life] (novel) 1911

Fangen som sang [The Prisoner Who Sang] (novel) 1913

Den store hunger [The Great Hunger] (novel) 1916

Verdens ansigt [The Face of the World] (novel) 1917

Dyrendal [God and Woman] (novel) 1919

Den siste Viking [The Last of the Vikings] (novel) 1921

Vor egen stamme [The Emigrants] (novel) 1924

Det nye tempel [The New Temple] (novel) 1927

Folk ved sjøen [The Everlasting Struggle] (novel) 1929

Huset og havet [The House and the Sea] (novel) 1933

Dagen og natten [By Day and By Night] (novel) 1935

Kogens karer [The King's Men] (novel) 1938


Robert Morss Lovett (essay date 1919)

SOURCE: "The Great Hunger," in The Dial, Chicago, Vol. 66, March 22, 1919, pp. 299-300.

[In the following essay, Lovett discusses the epic qualities of The Great Hunger.]

The epic motive of man in warfare with nature is the first theme of The Great Hunger, by Johan Bojer, translated from the Norwegian by W. J. Alexander Worster and C. Archer. Peer Troen, the hero, bursts upon us in a typical adventure. The boys were forbidden to touch the big deep-sea line because "the thing about a deep-sea line is that it may bring to the surface fish so big and so fearsome that the like has never been seen before." But as all the men of the village are off at the Lofoten fishery, Peer and his friends have carried the line across the fjord and baited the hooks. Now they are hauling in the catch: on the first hook a big cod, on the second a catfish, on the third a great shadow bearing up through the water, a gleam of white, a row of great white teeth on the underside—a Greenland Shark. "The heavy body big as a grown man was heaved in over the gunwale… There it lay raging, the great black beast of prey with its sharp threatening snout and wicked eyes ablaze… Now and again it would leap high up in the air, only to fall back again, writhing furiously, hissing and spitting and frothing at the mouth, its red eyes glaring from one to another of the terrified captors as if to say 'Come on—just a little nearer.'" Knives and gaffs were buried in the creature's back, one gaff between the eyes while another hung on the flank. Now Peer's knife flashed out and sent a stream of blood from between the shoulders, but the blow cost him his foothold—and in a moment the two bodies were rolling over and over together in the bottom of the boat. Then as the brute's jaws seized Peer's arm, Peter Rönningen dropped his oars and sent his knife straight in between the beast's eyes. The blade pierced through to the brain, and the grip of the teeth relaxed. "C-c-cursed d-d-devil!" stammered Peter, as he scrambled back to his oars.

With this auspicious beginning Peer Troen, bastard, sets out to conquer his world. His path leads him far—to the binding of the cataracts of the Nile by barrage, and the taming of the jungles of Abyssinia by railroads. And at length this Beowulf returns to Norway, marries and has children about him, lives at ease in his great house at Loreng, full of the joy of life as he drives his stallions over the frozen lake, or comes home on ski in "the pale winter evenings, with a violet twilight over woods and fields and lake, over white snow and blue"—home to rest, and wine, and joy. But the old restlessness leads him forth to a new adventure, the harnessing of the waters of the Bresna and its lakes far up in the mountains, a struggle with rock and flood and snow, and the weakness of human wills. His success is his ruin—and once more he meets nature...

(The entire section is 1197 words.)

Lleweilyn Jones (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: "Bojer's Works in America," in Johan Bojer: The Man and His Works by Carl Gad, translated by Elizabeth Jelliffe MacIntire, Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920, pp. 9-25.

[In the following essay, Jones surveys the moral and spiritual themes in Bojer's fiction.]

The series of English translations of Johan Bojer's novels, of which The Power of a Lie is the fourth, was begun by Messrs. Moffat, Yard & Co., with The Great Hunger in 1919. The Face of the World followed in the same year, Treacherous Ground and The Power of a Lie were both published early in 1920, Life announced for later in the year, and now this biography....

(The entire section is 3260 words.)

Carl Gad (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: "Social Criticism" and "Politics and an Author," in Johan Bojer: The Man and His Works, translated by Elizabeth Jelliffe MacIntire, Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920, pp. 43-64, 65-88.

[In the following excerpt, Gad explores Bojer's disdain for political corruption as represented in his works.]


The first of Johan Bojer's books that assumes a likeness of lasting worth is the novel Et Folketog (1 896). This book is a sign manual of his right to be ranked as author, and together with his two succeeding novels, Den Evige Krig (1899) and Moder Lea (1900) it makes up, in a natural sequence the first group of...

(The entire section is 8625 words.)

James Branch Cabell (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: "The Face of the World," in Johan Bojer: The Man and His Works by Carl Gad, translated by Elizabeth Jelliffe MacIntire, Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920, pp. 247-55.

[Cabell was an American journalist and fiction writer. In the following essay, he offers a favorable review of The Face of the World.]


What Johan Bojer planned to make The Face of the World there is no way of telling. But as the volume stands it is a very handsome piece of irony; and its main character in particular is "rendered" in such a manner that all readers of this book will (I believe) remember Harold Mark for a long while, with (I sincerely trust) unuttered...

(The entire section is 1619 words.)

Cecil Roberts (essay date 1920)

SOURCE: "Treacherous Ground," in Johan Bojer: The Man and His Works by Carl Gad, translated by Elizabeth Jelliffe MacIntire, Moffat, Yard and Company, 1920, pp. 256-60.

[Roberts was an English journalist, editor, poet, and novelist. In the following essay, he delineates the plot of On Treacherous Ground and comments on the lyricism of Bojer's writing.]

Some years ago the first Bojer book found its way into my hands and a review resulted in a number of inquiries as to who Johan Bojer was and where he lived. It was hardly necessary to answer questions because there have been few authors of whom one feels that they write themselves into their books more than Bojer....

(The entire section is 946 words.)

Julius Moritzen (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: "Before the Mast of a North Sea Fisherman," in The New York Times Book Review, April 29, 1923, p. 7.

[In the following essay, Moritzen comments on Bojer's realistic portrayal of Norwegian seafaring life in The Last of the Vikings.]

The courage that possessed the men that went down to the sea in ships centuries ago and cut the first path across the Atlantic Ocean became the heritage of those dauntless fishermen of Norway who made the Lofoten Islands their cherished goal before steam, electricity and other motor power put sailing craft in the discard. In open boats, scarcely different in construction from those used by their Viking ancestors, Norwegian fishermen...

(The entire section is 3068 words.)

Hans P. Lödrup (essay date 1926)

SOURCE: "Johan Bojer," in The American-Scandinavian Review, Vol. XIV, No. 4, April, 1926, pp. 207-17.

[In the following essay, Lodrup surveys critical opinion of Bojer during his lifetime and discusses several of the author's major works.]

The Norwegian people are gifted artistically but not gifted politically. Therefore we have a disproportionately large number of great writers and distinguished artists, while we have an equally disproportionate dearth of statesmen. It is our peasantry that has been the fountainhead of artistic genius among us, and from this part of our population Bojer sprang. In being self-taught, or as Americans say self-made, he resembles many...

(The entire section is 4419 words.)

Theodore Jorgenson (essay date 1933)

SOURCE: "Neo-Realism," in History of Norwegian Literature, The Macmillan Company, 1933, pp. 443-512.

[In the following excerpt, Jorgenson presents a thematic overview of Bojer's works.]

A Procession is the first of a group of [Bojer's] early works, which may be given the common designation of political satires and includes broadly the productions of hal a dozen years between 1896 and 1902. They are more realistic than neo-romantic. The central emphasis is on the accusation that political parties and overheated agitation tend to warp the characters of men and to draw them away from the pursuits of useful labor. Work is Bojer's gospel. The bitter campaigns which...

(The entire section is 2161 words.)

Brian W. Downs (essay date 1966)

SOURCE: "The New Century," in Modern Norwegian Literature, 1860-1918, Cambridge University Press, 1966, pp. 189-98.

[Downs was an English author and educator who specialized in Scandinavian studies at Cambridge University. In the following excerpt, he discusses the moralist elements in Bojer's works.]

[At 24, Bojer] published a mature, characteristic novel, A Procession (Et Folketog, 1896). Amid full and variegated pictures of a typical Norwegian constituency, half agricultural, half maritime, it centres on the disastrous career of the chairman of a District Council: on an admirable programme for alleviating the little man's problems and hardships, he gets...

(The entire section is 940 words.)

Further Reading

"The Power of a Lie." The Bookman XXXV, No. 209 (February 1909): 236.

Favorable review of The Power of a Lie that praises Bojer for creating a story that is "intensely suggestive and disturbing."

Randell, Wilfred L. "Three Holiday Novels." The Bookman LXIV, No. 384 (September 1923): 285-86.

Favorable review of The Last of the Vikings that discusses the novel's realistic depiction of seafaring life.

(The entire section is 60 words.)