Characterisation and Narrative Structure in Olav Duun

An introduction to Duun's work in english. Simon Andrewes' article "Characterisation and Narrative Structure in Olav Duun" was originally published in Scandinavica in 1982. Scandinavica is s scholarly journal focusing on the literature and culture of all the Nordic countries. Andrewes has now allowed us to publish it here on this webside, as an deeper introduction to Duun for our foreign guests.

Characterisation was an element of fiction to which Olav Duun attached considerable importance. In 1916 Duun was complaining in a letter to his publisher, Olaf Nordli, that his characters did not ‘live’ and that therefore his books where ‘fusk i kunst’ (1). In the following year, in a letter to his old Norwegian teacher. Vetle Vislie, Duun gives a short psychological sketch of Martin Brudalen, the main character in his new novel På Lyngsøya, and laments over his lack of success in incorporating these psychological observations into the compositional structure of the novel(2). The idea that his characters should ‘live’. That they should, as it where, grow ‘naturally’ out of the fictive action and structure of the novel, was a main concern of Duun’s around this time, and a problem which he eventually seemd to solve – even to his own satisfaction – during the next years, particularly in the creation of the character Odin Setran.

To solve the problem, Duun had to turn to history, in Det gode samvet and then the Juvikfolke-cycle, in order to explore how social and economic change was to be translated in fiction into human fates and altered psychology(3). Empirically observed psychological features are incorporated into the structure of the novels in such a way that they emerge as the logical and necessary consequence of the portrayed action. The formation of the characters in Duun’s mature works develops, as if it were bound by laws of nature, out of fictive action, which in turn rooted in historical social reality. Martin Brudalen, as an example of Duun’s pre-mature work, was certainly a product of observed social reality, but his character was not shown to be a necessary development of the portrayded action. Characterisation in Duun’s work is the fictional treatment of actual social-historical development, and not by any means the product of the free fancy of the author. Indeed, Duun frequently expressed a certain envy at the freedom of style of his teacher, Vetle Vislie, a freedom which he seemed unable to allow himself in his novels. The collection of short stories Vegar og villstig, which Duun himself called ‘eit skulearbeid’, seems to have been directly inspired by Vetle Vislie’s Vintervegen (4).


Read the article in full in the enclosed pdf. 11 pages.
Image: "Juvikingar" from 1918 is the first of the six novels in "The People of Juvik"-series. It was published in USA in 1930 as "The Trough of the Wave", translated by Arthur G. Chater.