O. E. Rölvaag Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ole Edvart Rölvaag (ROHL-vahg) was born on the island of Dønna off the coast of Norway. His father, a veterinarian, came of a family of peasant fishermen, and for a time young Rölvaag, together with his brother Johan, also secured his livelihood from the sea. His formal education was slight, consisting of only a few weeks’ schooling every year. In 1896, determined to come to the United States, he refused the command of a fishing boat and instead emigrated to South Dakota. There he worked for a year on an uncle’s farm until he had earned enough money to attend college.{$S[A]M{oslash}rck, Paal[Morck, Paal];Rölvaag, O. E.}

In Norway Rölvaag had been regarded as a poor student, but he had always been an avid reader, particularly of the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, H. Rider Haggard, Frederick Marryat, Alexandre Dumas, père, and Jules Verne as well as those of such Scandinavian writers as Zacharias Topelius, Jonas Lie, and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. In the United States he added to his love of reading a strong incentive to learn. He first attended Augustana College, a small preparatory school in Canton, South Dakota, and from there went to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, where he graduated with honors in 1905. He then returned to Norway for a year of graduate study at the University of Oslo before accepting a position at St. Olaf.

His association with St. Olaf continued until a few months before his death a quarter of a century later. He settled in Northfield, after marrying Jennie Berdahl in 1908, the year he became a U.S. citizen. In 1910, the year his daughter, Ella Valborg, was born, he received a Master of Arts degree from St. Olaf and eventually was honored with a full professorship. The Rölvaags’ first son, Olaf, born in 1909, and their third son, Paul, born in 1915, died at the ages of six and five; their second son, Karl, born in 1913, became a governor of Minnesota.

Rölvaag’s career as a...

(The entire section is 809 words.)


(Novels for Students)

O. E. Rolvaag was born April 2, 1876, on Donna Island off the coast of Norway, where he lived until he was twenty. Despite an early and...

(The entire section is 494 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Eckstein, Neil T. The Marginal Man as Novelist: The Norwegian-American Writers, H. H. Boyesen and O. E. Rølvaag, as Critics of American Institutions. New York: Garland, 1990. Closely studies Rölvaag’s social criticism.

Haugen, Einar. Ole Edvart Rölvaag. Boston: Twayne, 1983. An excellent introduction to his life and career.

Överland, Orm. “Ole Edvart Rölvaag and Giants in the Earth: A Writer Between Two Countries.” American Studies in Scandinavia 13 (1981). Describes Rölvaag’s English translation of his works into what would become the flagship of his literary reputation.

Reigstad, Paul. Rölvaag: His Life and Art. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972. Short critical biography.

Simonson, Harold Peter. Prairies Within: The Tragic Trilogy of Ole Rölvaag. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1987. Critical study contains index and bibliography.