Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen Criticism - Essay

Atlantic Monthly (review date November 1874)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Recent Literature.” Atlantic Monthly 34 (November 1874): 624-25.

[In the following review, the anonymous author favorably appraises Gunnar, focusing especially on Boyesen's seemingly natural command of the English language and his portrayal of Norwegian landscapes and themes.]

Amongst the works of fiction printed in the English language this year, there can hardly be any so remarkable in some aspects as the idyllic story which Mr. Boyesen tells us.1 It is not only remarkable for being a good story, which is distinction enough, but it ought to be known to every one who takes it up as an achievement almost singular in letters. It is not a translation from the Norwegian, as one might guess, but is the English of a Norwegian, thinking and expressing himself in our tongue with a grace, simplicity, and force, and a sense of its colors and harmonies, which we should heartily praise in one native to it. Mr. Boyesen has proved his genius both for literature and for language. The example of the Italian Ruffini, who writes charming novels in English, and the case of the Italian Gallenga, whose work is a model of journalistic writing in our language, are the only instances worthy to be compared with the present; and we believe that these authors have lived a long time in England; whereas Mr. Boyesen's citizenship is as new as the last election.

But it is not on his phenomenal side that we care mostly to regard him, and if his English were not joined with poetic instinct and a rare artistic power, it might remain for the gratification solely of persons of “culture.” We like his Gunnar because it is the work of a poet, and announces its origin in all characteristics. It is of that good school of which Björnstjerne Björnson is the head, and to which we have nothing answering, of English root. It is an idyllic sort of story which regards simple things naturally, but at the same time poetically. As our readers know, the scene is almost entirely among the Norwegian peasants; the plot is the love of a houseman's (or tenant's) son for the daughter of a rich peasant landowner, and relates to Gunnar's growth from a dreamy boyhood to...

(The entire section is 913 words.)

Atlantic Monthly (review date March 1883)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Recent Poetry.” Atlantic Monthly 51 (March 1883): 421-23.

[In the following review, the anonymous author provides a generally favorable assessment of Boyesen's collection of poetry Idylls of Norway.]

Mr. Boyesen has wisely named his book of poems with reference to the most characteristic of the contents;1 and in so far as these answer to the title, they have a freshness and a distinctive interest which give the modest volume a separate place. Brier-Rose, Hilda's Little Hood, and Thora are charming pastoral love stories, vigorous, youthful, sweet with the vernal breath of the northern forest, and told in melodious verse, the shaping of which...

(The entire section is 865 words.)

Laurence M. Larson (essay date 1937)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Larson, Laurence M. “Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.” In The Changing West and Other Essays, pp. 82-116. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1937.

[In the following excerpt, Larson describes Boyesen's progress from amateur to professional as seen in his literature and criticism.]

Soon after his interview with Boyesen in July, 1871, W. D. Howells sent him a copy of Hans Christian Andersen's travel story, “A Poet's Bazaar,” to review for the Atlantic. The review was prepared and published in October of the same year. So far as the writer has been able to learn, this was the first contribution submitted by a man of Norwegian birth or blood that had...

(The entire section is 4572 words.)

George LeRoy White, Jr. (essay date 1937)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: White, George LeRoy, Jr. “Other Outstanding Literary Interpreters of the Scandinavian.” In Scandinavian Themes in American Fiction, pp. 173-92. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1937.

[In the following excerpt, White provides an overview of Boyesen's writings and investigates his role as a chronicler of Scandinavian immigration.]

It is in the writings of Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen that the multifarious problems peculiar to the Scandinavian as an individual first get anything like complete treatment. Prior to his entrance into the field of American letters, the Scandinavian did not appear as an individual immigrant. The historical novels on Norse...

(The entire section is 6894 words.)

George Leroy White, Jr. (essay date January 1942)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: White, George Leroy, Jr. “H. H. Boyesen: A Note on Immigration.” American Literature 13, no. 4 (January 1942): 363-71.

[In the following excerpt, White provides a close reading of Boyesen's fiction and discusses how it portrays the immigrant experience.]

American fiction in the 1870's and 1880's began to become conscious of “place and race,” and an obvious reason for this interest was the fact of immigration.1 Waves of people from foreign lands were breaking across this country. The American writer who was at all aware of the subject matter around him could not fail to become interested in ascertaining how much these foreign people were...

(The entire section is 3489 words.)

Alfred Kazin (essay date 1942)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kazin, Alfred. “The Opening Struggle for Realism.” In On Native Grounds: An Interpretation of Modern American Prose Literature, pp. 3-50. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1942.

[In the following excerpt, Kazin characterizes Boyesen as an important advocate for the broadly-conceived Realist school, although as an author he lacked the necessary talent to achieve greatness within the genre.]

Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen was a Norwegian and professor of German at Columbia who had a wide knowledge of the traditions of European realism and endeavored to emulate the most commonplace of them in his three best-known novels of American manners—The Golden Calf,...

(The entire section is 1143 words.)

Clarence A. Glasrud (essay date 1956)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Glasrud, Clarence A. “Boyesen and the Norwegian Immigration.” Norwegian-American Studies and Records 19 (1956): 15-45.

[In the following essay, Glasrud argues that his reputation notwithstanding, Boyesen was largely ignorant of the Norwegian immigrant's experience in America; rather, his significance was as a liaison between European and American literature.]

The career of Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, “the first writer of Norwegian birth or blood to use the English language in the successful cultivation of literary art” has been subject to general misunderstanding for a number of reasons.1 The most important misconception involves Boyesen's...

(The entire section is 10712 words.)

Marc L. Ratner (essay date 1962)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ratner, Marc L. “Howells and Boyesen: Two Views of Realism.”1New England Quarterly 35, no. 3 (1962): 376-90.

[In the following excerpt, Ratner explores William Dean Howells influence, as mentor and editor, on Boyesen's literature and criticism.]

When regarding the growth and development of American letters in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries one is struck with the influential rôle of William Dean Howells. In fact, his significance as a critic and novelist has been too much taken for granted by critics of nineteenth-century America. As a critic, Howells encouraged realistic fiction in America by supporting writers such as Twain,...

(The entire section is 4061 words.)

Marc L. Ratner (essay date 1964)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ratner, Marc L. “The Iron Madonna: H. H. Boyesen's American Girl.” Jahrbuch fur Amerikastudien 9 (1964): 166-72.

[In the following essay, Ratner evaluates Boyesen's attitudes towards the nineteenth-century American woman as revealed in his fiction and criticism.]

One of the great social questions of the late nineteenth century was the “woman question,” and the problems which developed out of the changing status of women in society, particularly that of the independent woman, provided material for novels and drama as well as for sociological treatises. One can see evidence of this interest in the work of Shaw, Ibsen, Henry James, to name a few in...

(The entire section is 3504 words.)

Marc L. Ratner (essay date 1967)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Ratner, Marc L. “The Romantic Spencerian.” Norwegian-American Studies 23 (1967): 204-19.

[In the following essay, Ratner describes Boyesen's development from European Romantic evolutionist to a more socially conscious Realist.]

One of the strongest influences affecting American thought during the late nineteenth century came from the natural sciences. Discoveries and theories in geology and organic evolution undermined the strong religious beliefs of many, affected the idealistic philosophy of romantic transcendentalism, and encouraged a greater interest in the ethical and social implications of man's place in society.1 In the work of Hjalmar...

(The entire section is 5232 words.)

Robert S. Fredrickson (essay date February 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fredrickson, Robert S. “Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen: Howells ‘Out-Realisted.’” Markham Review 3, no. 5 (February 1973): 93-97.

[In the following essay, Frederickson argues that Boyesen has been both misinterpreted and under-appreciated by critics.]

When Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen died suddenly and unexpectedly in October, 1895, at the age of 47, the elite of American letters served as his pallbearers.1 Boyesen was an ambitious literary man who appeared to have made it. His collected works would fill forty volumes. Many of his novels had been popular, going through several editions, and he had influenced such important literary figures as William Dean...

(The entire section is 3713 words.)

Robert S. Fredrickson (essay date 1980)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Fredrickson, Robert S. “The Major Phase” and “Conclusion.” In Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen, pp. 128-63. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.

[In the following excerpts, Frederickson defends his assertion that Boyesen produced his best work in the last five years of his life and discusses the author's place in American intellectual and literary history.]


During the last five years of his life, Boyesen's talent and theory coalesced. He was ready to create novels which had the complexity necessary to make them vital and the intellectual authority to command respect. Boyesen had wanted to write a novel which was a...

(The entire section is 14864 words.)