Jonas Lie Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Jonas Lauritz Edemil Lie (lee), one of Norway’s most prolific nineteenth century novelists, was born near Drammen, Norway, on November 6, 1833. The son of a town sheriff, he grew up in the city of Tromso, where his youthful impressions of the wild seagoing life provided material for many of his later novels. He studied for a time at the naval academy but was forced to resign because of poor eyesight. At the University of Christiana, preparing for a career in law, he was the fellow student of two other future great writers: Björnstjerne Björnson and Henrik Ibsen.

Lie practiced law with varying success for many years until financial pressures following a bankruptcy forced him to turn to journalism. He had little success until he and his wife (a cousin, Thomasine Lie, whom he married in 1860) collaborated on a brief romantic novel, The Visionary, published in 1870. With royalties from that book he traveled to Rome, where he continued to write.

In quick succession he published a volume of short stories in 1871 and two novels, The Barque “Future” and A Norse Love Story. These works established him as one of Norway’s leading novelists and brought him a government pension. He then traveled through Germany and returned home, where he devoted his efforts to realistic novels of nineteenth century Norwegian life; among the best is The Family at Gilje, published in 1883. After a brief sojourn in Germany, Lie settled at Paris, where he wrote The Commodore’s Daughters and Niobe. He finally ended his voluntary exile to spend the last six years of his life on native soil, writing a two-volume collection of romantic folktales, Trold, and preparing a fourteen-volume edition of his Collected Works. He died at his home Fleskum, Bærum, near Christiania (Oslo), on July 5, 1908.

In spite of his popularity in Norway, Lie has been generally ignored outside his native country. Nevertheless, anyone who seeks a detailed picture of Norwegian domestic life in the late nineteenth century will find the best representation in the novels of Jonas Lie, a writer almost unexcelled as a painter of milieu.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Boyesen, H. H. Essays on Scandinavian Literature. New York: C. Scribners Sons, 1911.

Downs, Brian W. “Elster and Lie.” In Modern Norwegian Literature, 1860-1918. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966.

Lyngstad, Sverre. Jonas Lie. Boston: Twayne, 1977.

Naess, Harald S., ed. A History of Norwegian Literature. 2 vols. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.