Olav Duun (doon), a schoolteacher in northern Norway in the vicinity of Trondheim, did not begin to write until after he was thirty years old. He then began to draw on the traditions of the Namdalen region, where he had been born on November 21, 1876. In his novels he presents a vivid picture of peasant freeholders fiercely battling against nature for survival.
Duun’s first notable achievement was his long saga The People of Juvik, published between 1918 and 1923. This work consists of six volumes dealing with one family from the end of the eighteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, and it traces the gradual rise of the family from grim brutality to an altruistic sense of ideals. Duun glorified the independent peasant, the man of the land who represented purpose and importance. The People of Juvik became well known, and Duun followed it with other novels depicting the solid people and traditions of northern Norway, until his death in Botne by Holmestrand, on September 13, 1939.
Duun was also distinguished as one of the first and most able Norwegian writers to write in landsmål, the language of the people, particularly those in rural areas in the north. Until his time, most Norwegians believed landsmål to be crude and undignified, and most literature was written in riksmål, the language of government, officialdom, and the cities (riksmål is very close to modern Danish). By his example Duun, with an enormous talent for conveying the speech of his people, accomplished a great deal for the growing cause of landsmål as both a national and a literary language. The qualities of landsmål—its tradition, its simplicity, its closeness to the people and the land—served as the perfect instrument for Duun’s work.