If you don’t have a clue, just answer "Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson".This was some good advice given to me by an avid quiz participant. Ninety percent of the time, "Bjørnson" is the right answer. Who wrote the novel Synnøve Solbakken? Who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1903? Who wrote the Norwegian national anthem? Who wrote En glad gut, Ingerid Sletten, Brede seil over Nordsjø’ går, Killebukken, lammet mitt or other Norwegian treasures? Novels, short stories, plays, poems, and songs. Bjørnson, Bjørnson, and more Bjørnson.
He may not be as famous today as he was in 1902 when he turned 70 years old and a festschrift was published in his honour, or as famous as he was when he died in Paris in 1910 and the Norwegian government paid for the return of his body to Norway on the armour ship Norge for a grand burial. You may also be quizzed on Norway's “Great Four” – Ibsen, Bjørnson, Kielland and Lie – who travelled in the same circles as Knut Hamsun, Amalie Skram, and Aasmund Olavsson Vinje. These prominent writers were both Bjørnson’s friends and foes, because Bjørnson is rumoured not to have been very easy to live with, something actress Karoline Reimers, whom he married and fathered six children with, soon learned. Despite his many affairs, she never jumped from the balcony or any other place, but stayed with him until his death. By the same token, he was for Christianity, against Christianity, against monarchy, in favour of monarchy, for the New Norwegian language, against the New Norwegian language, supporting cotters and matchstick factory workers, and fighting for the condemned and oppressed, both in this country and abroad. He was preoccupied with small birds, insects, and the size of the gravel used on the roads around Aulestad in Gausdal, where he lived when he wasn’t living in Italy or travelling to France, America or elsewhere. And he wrote about it all. The National Library’s collection alone holds thousands of letters and articles.
And we read until our eyes grow weary, and we repeat his words, perhaps not even knowing they are his: “On the day of victory, who counts the number of battles lost?”, “Lift your head up, nimble boy”, and “Good deeds shall save the world”.
Next time you’re not sure of the answer, just answer “Bjørnson”. You’ll probably be right.