Bjørnson, Bjørnstjerne Martinus

1832 – 1910

Dramatist, author, poet, prominent Norwegian patriot Liberal

Bjørnson finished Upper Secondary School in 1852 and then became a journalist. He wrote literary reviews and short stories. In 1857 he made his literary debut with the peasant tale Synnøve Solbakken. He was instructor and artistic leader at the Norwegian Theater in Bergen 1857-1859. At that time he also started working as an editor and politician. He was co-editor of Aftenposten in Kristiania (Oslo) 1859-1860, but then he went abroad. Bjørnson became one of the greatest Norwegian poets with an international reputation. In 1903 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Politically, Bjørnson was a radical, liberal intellectual. With voice and pen, he defended nationalism, liberalism and progress. His political activity reached a peak in the 1880s, when Norwegian liberals were struggling for a parliamentary system and increased autonomy within the Swedish-Norwegian union. At that time, however, he also became a strong proponent of the cause of peace, and believed that Norway could play an important role in its progress. While being in favour of increased autonomy for his own country, he got opposed to nationalist policies that might lead to war. In the mid-1890s there was a crisis in the Swedish-Norwegian relationship. Bjørnson then became unpopular for demanding that the crisis be liquidated by arbitration. He got unpopular both in Norway and Sweden when he suggested that Russia should be given rights of transit across northern Norway to the Atlantic. (Russia wanted access to icefree harbours). Why, he asked, should “a line on the map” put an end to “that love of neighbour to which we are everywhere obligated”? By contemporary standards, Bjørnson’s engagement for peace was broad. He supported Emile Zola in the Dreyfus affair, and generally got engaged in the struggle against persecution and oppression of individuals and minority groups. He was concerned with the social problems of his time, and demanded universal suffrage. He also came to see himself as a socialist, but hoped for the class struggle to be peacefully resolved. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was the most famous member of the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting 1897-1906.