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The Scandinavian Immigrant Writer in America
    by Dorothy Burton Skardal (Volume 21: Page 14)

We can call these works and poems provincial or emigrant literature, but then we give the child a wrong name. For they are not that: they are American literature in the Norwegian language.


To the general American public, O. E. Rølvaag’s novels of Norwegian immigrant life seem an isolated phenomenon, a flash of genius without forerunner or fellowship. Persons of Scandinavian background may have heard the names of a handful of other immigrant authors: Waldemar Ager, Johannes B. Wist, Simon Johnson among the Norwegians; Adam Dan, Carl Hansen, Kristian Østergaard among the Danes; Vilhelm Berger, Ernst Skarstedt, Johan Person, Anna Olsson among the Swedes. Yet few readers in any of the three national groups are aware of even the leading figures in the others, and no one has attempted so much as an outline of the broad field of Scandinavian-American creative writing. There are many hundreds of volumes and pamphlets of short stories and novels, poems and plays, reminiscences, autobiographies, essays, travel sketches, and historical accounts gathering dust in the collections of Luther College at Decorah, Iowa, St. Olaf College at Northfield, Augustana College at Rock Island, Illinois, and Grand View College at Des Moines, Iowa, and in various state historical society libraries throughout the Middle West. The achievement of O. E. Rølvaag [15] stands not alone but as the climax of a literary tradition that began in the 1870’s and is not yet dead. {1}

Certainly the definitive appraisal of these writings must wait until a number of specialized studies have clarified their content and worth; but meanwhile there are intriguing questions about how and why such a large, rich, and varied literature could develop among a transplanted people, written for a public severely limited both in number and in cultural interests, and coming to full flower after its language had begun to die out. The following introduction to this body of material, including here reference only to poetry and fiction, will attempt to define the immigrant publishing markets and reading public, the types of authors, and the motives and special problems attendant on creating a distinctive branch of American literature expressed largely in a foreign tongue.

Undoubtedly the early development of foreign-language newspapers provided the first stimulus for immigrant authors. The first-known Scandinavian-language newspaper in the United States, Skandinavia, founded in New York City in 1847, appealed to Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians not only by printing news from all three native countries but also by using both Dano-Norwegian and Swedish. At least one poem published at this early date was written by Christian Hansen, the Danish editor, himself. {2} The rapidly multiplying newspapers that were published for all groups continued to reprint poetry and, later, tales and serialized novels, by authors in the old country, as well as verse and prose writings by their own staffs; but before long they were also accepting contributions from readers. Letters to the editor often appeared in news columns; [16] but what became the particular plague of the Norwegian or Swedish newspaper was the persistent stream of amateur verse sent in by subscribers. Most of this was very bad poetry indeed, and some of the most amusing accounts of immigrant journalistic life describe the moral struggle of editors torn between their outraged artistic judgment and their fear of insulting contributors if they neglected to print their efforts.

But by no means all the verse published in the Scandinavian-American press was bad. The larger and better newspapers, which could afford to pay (although very little) for contributions, usually were the first to publish even the major works of poets in the immigrant tradition. Smaller journals then reprinted them, often again and again. Introductions to collected volumes of verse usually acknowledged previous publication in newspapers much more often than in magazines. Such journalistic verse was the earliest and most regular literary expression of the transplanted writers, and even the worst of it carried many of the same themes and attitudes as the most finished poetry in their literature. The poets constantly complained of lack of reader interest — and indeed their collected works sold as poorly as those of their American colleagues —but their serious and their popular efforts did not differ so much as those in English publications. The difference between good and bad poetry written by Scandinavian immigrants is largely in form, not content.

Most of the verse printed in newspapers was written by the immigrants themselves, but the fiction usually was not. Perhaps one reason was financial: the poems, on the whole, were gratuitous contributions; even those furnished by better-known writers were bought for small fees. Moreover, the press used less verse than fiction. Only on special occasions, such as Christmas or May 17, did two or three poetic efforts appear in a single issue of a newspaper, and often weeks would pass when smaller papers carried no verse at all. But the press used fiction in astounding quantities. Literature interested some editors more than others, and a few of their organs [17] — Emigranten (Inmansville and Madison, Wisconsin), Decorah-posten (Decorah, Iowa), and Skandinaven (Chicago) — held for certain periods a reputation of being almost literary journals. But almost every one of the immigrant papers, no matter how small or short-lived, ran not only short stories and sketches but also serialized novels, not infrequently two or even three novels at the same time. Most of the stories were reprinted, translated from American fiction or adapted from European sources. Some editors had a predilection for French murder mysteries, others for German romances; but all drew copiously on the authors of their home countries. Occasionally this policy was aimed deliberately at building stronger ties with the homeland, but, notably in the twentieth century, the reprinting of cheap popular fiction in the Scandinavian languages was simply the easiest way of getting copy. Often during the nineteenth century the source of the work was not acknowledged, a novel merely being labeled "From the French," or "Translated by X ;" but even after copyright regulations became stricter, most of the novels and many of the short stories in the foreign-language press were second printings. The fiction produced by the immigrant group itself was by no means large enough to satisfy the demand.

In addition, some newspapers instituted literary supplements. Ved arnen: et tidsskrift for skjønliteratur (By the Fireside: A Magazine of Belles-Lettres) was undoubtedly the most important of these; it is still issued as part of the weekly Decorah-posten at Decorah, Iowa. As a medium for Norwegian-American literature, it has published the work of such writers as Antonette Tovsen and Ruth Fjeldsaa, whose novels never appeared in books, as well as that of Rølvaag and other leading authors. In numbers for two years, 1927—28, were serialized Waldemar Ager’s Gamlelandets sønner (Sons of the Old Country), H. A. Foss’s Valborg, and Rølvaag’s I de dage (In Those Days) and Riget grundlægges (Founding the Kingdom) — first publication in America for the last two, which were later issued in English under one title, Giants in [18] the Earth. The quality of fiction printed in Ved arnen has varied sharply, however. From Dickens and Anatole France in translation and Bjørnson and Jonas Lie in the original Norwegian, the range has extended to Zane Grey and Gene Stratton-Porter, and their equivalents in Europe. {3}

Newspaper presses sometimes issued novels or collections of tales as books after setting them up for serialized publication. These were sold through the newspaper’s bookstore, if it had one, or offered as premiums to subscribers who paid in advance. Thus one finds, under the imprint of Norwegian or Swedish publishers in this country, wild West stories, tales of European court intrigue, cheap romances, and murder mysteries from many tongues. Occasionally an immigrant novel would find its way into book form in this manner. The phenomenally popular Husmandsgutten (The Cotter’s Son), by H. A. Foss, ran in Decorah-posten, 1884—85, and then went through several editions as a book from B. Anundsen’s press. It is said that this serial attracted six thousand new subscribers and was credited with saving Decorah-posten from bankruptcy at a time of crisis. {4} It set the style for what became a whole school of fiction in this tradition, the Horatio Alger story translated into immigrant terms.

Church periodicals were the earliest magazines founded by the Scandinavian group. The first and most persistent type was the organ of a synod or other affiliation of churches, and contained news of theological appointments, social events, and mission doings, as well as discussions of doctrine. In 1851 the two earliest Norwegian religious periodicals were established: Maanedstidende (Racine, Wisconsin), the publication of the conservative Norwegian Synod; and Kirketidende (Racine), which defended lay preaching and attacked the [19] Norwegian Synod’s high-church predilection. {5} As various new synods grew out of the bitter controversies taking place among Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish Lutherans, and as independent churches of Scandinavian Methodists, Baptists, and others grew strong enough to unite in larger groups, each founded its own organ. Some of these are among the few periodicals surviving in the original languages today.

Such church news letters carried no fiction, although poetry on purely religious themes, contributed by ministers or leading parishioners, appeared occasionally. The synods were not slow, however, to found their own magazines of "Christian entertainment," some designed for family consumption, others to provide moral and uplifting reading for children. Perhaps the earliest of the latter type was Børne-blad (Children’s Paper), published monthly at La Crosse, Wisconsin, 1875—89, and weekly at Decorah, Iowa, 1890-1902. {6} Weekly Sunday-school papers were common. Stories, serials, and verse in these publications naturally ran to a pattern. Most were translations and reprints, but original contributions also presented the "true faith," praised Christian virtues (especially obedience to parents), and glorified God. After the turn of the century the inclusion of more and more material in English marked the growing Americanization of the younger generation.

Annual church almanacs and calendars were issued, for varying periods, by several of the synods, as well as by a few newspapers. The religious ones carried calendars of Lutheran holy days, sermons, poems, lists of church members who had died during the year, reports on missions, and often a short story or two on a religious theme. Sometimes there were historical sketches of early congregations, reminiscences by leading pastors, and tales of Lutheran martyrs. The secular yearbooks ran to statistics, with jokes for fill-in material. [20]

Christmas annuals, based on old-country models, began to appear during the nineties; several proved important as markets for leading Scandinavian immigrant authors. Julegranen (The Christmas Tree — Cedar Falls, Iowa, 1896— 1950) published work of all the best Danish writers in the United States, and included short stories and poetry, travel sketches, articles about artists and famous American men and places, and some historical accounts. As late as 1953 a new annual called Dansk nytaar (Danish New Year) began publication at Blair, Nebraska, succeeding Dansk almanak, which had been issued there by the Lutheran Publishing House since 1922. The new periodical has carried on the tradition of Julegmanen by printing articles and stories written by Danish immigrants about their own lives.

Of the several Norwegian and Swedish Christmas annuals, those of the Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis have been most significant. The magnificently illustrated Jul i vesterheimen (Christmas in the Western Home — 1911—57) published only original contributions, often solicited from the best-known Norwegian-American and Danish-American authors, written in both the European tongues and in English. O. E. Rølvaag was interested in this magazine, and gave most of his short stories and a couple of poems to it. Among these were "Stemninger fra prærien" (Moods from the Prairie —1912), a short story published under the pseudonym Paal Mørck; "Julestjernen: Et fantasibillede" (The Christmas Star:

A Poem of Fantasy—1920); and "Smørkrigen i Greenfield" (Butter War in Greenfield—1928), another story. Over the years Jul i vesterheimen reflected well the changing interests of the immigrant group, including in its pages stories of pioneer days and incidents in lumber camps and gold mines, accounts of the city life of the second generation, of Americanized Norwegians during the depression, and of elderly folk waiting for death in old people’s homes. Since 1931 the Augsburg Publishing House has printed, entirely in English, an annual called Christmas. During the last thirty years, in [21] fact, a considerable number of English-language Christmas annuals have been published by various religious groups (especially Lutheran) of Scandinavian background; but they show little trace of their immigrant origin.

By far the greatest number of Scandinavian-American non-English periodicals, however, have been free of church affiliation. Some meant for family consumption did emphasize the word "Christian" in their subtitles, and the short stories and serials were as consistently moralistic as those of the church-sponsored magazines. Their founders constantly proclaimed their mission of filling a longfelt need for uplifting and educational reading matter for their language group in America. Although these publications flourished in considerable numbers from the 1870’s to the 1920’s, most proved short-lived. {7} Probably these periodicals, as well as those freer of moralizing, were begun by individual publishers as money-making projects. This would account for their extremely varied contents, designed to attract every possible reader interest. The articles covered natural history and astronomy, popularized and applied science, and discussions of American history, famous men and places, and travel in remote and exotic parts of the world. Much of this material was reprinted from other sources, as were many of the serialized novels and short stories. Sometimes, however, the periodicals included what they proudly labeled exclusive contributions; and the first novels of [22] Norwegian-American life appeared in one of the oldest of the family magazines in 1874. {8}

Occasionally a literary magazine was designed to preserve old-country values in the New World. One such was the Swedish Valkyrian: Illustrerad månadsskrift (The Valkyrie: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine), founded in New York, January, 1897, by Charles Johansen, an editor of the newspaper Nordstjärnan. To encourage circulation, the price was set at only one dollar a year, the main costs being borne by profits from Nordstjärnan. The editor, Edward Sundell, printed many excellent Swedish-American tales and novels, including some of his own, but the magazine survived only thirteen years. {9}

Similar in aim but with weaker financial backing were the organs of the cultural societies. The immigrants formed lodges in which they could speak their own language, wear old-country costumes on festive occasions, or discuss books from the homeland and papers written by members. Many of these clubs soon lost all but their social aspect, and the periodicals became news letters; but at least two, though comparatively short-lived, preserved valuable literary and historical material. Symra was published at Decorah, 1905—14, by the Norwegian reading and discussion club of the same name, and the Kvartalskrift (Quarterly) of Det Norske Seiskab i Amerika lasted 1905—18. In the latter are many discussions of prospects for a Norwegian-American literature, as well as short stories and poems which proved that it did exist. For several years Det Norske Seiskab gave an annual prize for the best piece of writing submitted by a Norwegian immigrant.

Comparable to these were special publications of Swedish [23] and Danish groups interested in literature. Prärieblomman kalender (The Prairie Flower Calendar — Rock Island, Illinois, 1900—13) provided a market for leading Swedish-American writers. Smaablomster fra vor lille have (Small Flowers from Our Little Garden), published monthly during 1901 at Grand View College, Des Moines, made available assorted poems and tales by leading Danish-American authors. Each small issue was devoted to three or four poems, or a short story, by one person. Dagen (The Day — Minneapolis, 1900—04) and Norden (The North — Racine, Wisconsin, 1903—15) were other Danish magazines printing tales and poems. {10}

The Norwegians were especially active in forming bygdelag, associations of people from one valley or province in the home country. {11} These clubs flourished in the first quarter of this century, many of them putting out yearbooks containing not only social notes but poetry and sketches, both reminiscent and fictional, about the home valley and group settlements from there. Collections of these publications at the Wisconsin and Minnesota state historical libraries and in the archives of the Norwegian-American Historical Association provide a little-known source of shorter literary compositions, many written in dialect. Rølvaag, for example, made several contributions to his regional society’s yearbook, Nordlandsiaget. {12}

A minor group of periodicals published by Norwegians and Swedes in this country consisted of humor magazines, some copied directly from examples in the homeland, some [24] patterned on American models. Put out mainly in a few large Midwestern cities during the nineties, these were printed on cheap newspaper stock and featured verses, funny stories, and cartoons. Spøgefuglen (The Joker), a Danish-American satirical periodical (Minneapolis and Perth Amboy, New Jersey), survived 1893—1931. The Norwegian Spøg og alvor (In Jest and in Earnest) did run a couple of serial novels, including a printing of Kristine: En fortælling fra Valdres (Kristine: A Tale from Valdres), by H. A. Foss. {13}

Even one-man magazines appeared among the Norwegian Americans. The most long-lived was printed monthly, beginning 1901, in St. Paul, and was entitled Smuler (Crumbs) by its editor, publisher, and chief contributor, O. S. Hervin. The little periodical discussed, criticized, and made sophisticated fun of everything in the Norwegian-American world; occasionally it printed short poems sent in by readers. Dølen (The Valley), on the other hand, issued irregularly at Joice, Iowa, and Minneapolis after 1902 by Jon Norstog, crusaded seriously for the preservation of Norwegian culture. It was copied directly from a magazine published in Norway by the poet Aasmund Vinje, a distant cousin of Norstog. With few exceptions, Norstog printed only his own poems and short stories. A third of these one-man periodicals was called Buslett’s by its publisher, O. A. Buslett. In four issues of irregular dates put out in Northland, Wisconsin, in 1922—23, the author reprinted his first poetry and tales from newspaper files of forty years earlier. He had planned to issue his entire collected works in paper-bound periodical form, but evidently lacked financial support. {14} Sometimes the bygdelag magazine was also largely a one-man undertaking: Telesoga (Fergus Falls, Minnesota, 1909—24), put out by Torkel Oftelie, is a good example. [25]

To such periodicals writers of Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish could look for publication in the United States from the 1860’s on. The demand, as with the newspapers, displayed a considerable variety of taste. Moral tales or innocent romances sold most easily to Christmas, family, and children’s magazines; humorous sketches might appeal to the comic periodicals; but serious, realistic, critical fiction had a much more limited market. The few good literary publications were comparatively short-lived, and they flourished only from the nineties until the first World War; magazines that did survive changed their literary standards with their editors. Therefore many authors looked to book publication for works which were either too good or too bad for the periodical press.

Getting books printed was not difficult, even before the establishment of Scandinavian publishing houses in the major cities of the Middle West. Newspaper presses did the work, at the printer’s cost and profit or subsidized by the author. The first novel of Norwegian-American life to appear in book form was put out by the newspaper Skandinaven in 1877, after it had run as a serial: Fra begge sider af havet (From Both Sides of the Sea), by Tellef Grundysen. It proved popular enough to run through at least three editions by 1896, the later ones being reprinted by the John Anderson Publishing Company of Chicago.

The method an author used for publishing his own book was described by Ole Amundsen Buslett, who paid the printing costs of his first little volume of verse in 1882 and then of his novelette, Fram! (Forward!). This fictional bit was an assignment in a course in Norwegian at the University of Wisconsin for Professor Rasmus B. Anderson, whose advice the young man followed, peddling his pamphlets from farm to farm in the surrounding countryside. Many amateur writers of all three nationalities, notably poets, paid to have little volumes of their works put out by newspapers and job-printing plants, in private villages as well as larger cities, until the depression. Such private editions were small, and a number of [26] them may have been totally lost; but enough remain, of those that preceded the day of soaring costs for paper and printing, to indicate that many of these books of fiction and poetry were published at authors’ expense. {15}

A third type of publication was done by the synod presses, as for example the Swedish Augustana Book Concern in Rock Island, Illinois, and the Norwegian Augsburg Publishing House in Minneapolis. Besides volumes of sermons and doctrinal tracts, these firms put out quantities of stories and some collections of poetry of high moral tone, aimed like their magazines at providing inspirational reading. A considerable amount of material was reprinted from Old World sources, especially in the early years; but much was original, and by the turn of the century most of the best immigrant writers in all three languages were being published by synodal companies. These presses also commissioned the translation of suitable stories from other languages for book publication under their imprint.

Last to develop were the Scandinavian-American commercial publishing houses of the Middle West, mainly in Chicago and Minneapolis, which accepted for publication only works which they believed would sell. They were often associated with newspapers, with which they shared a common economic fate, as well as the type and the presses. They tended to be both smaller and more short-lived than the church-subsidized companies, and not many survived the transition to English-language publishing, which the big synodal firms took in stride. Since the best immigrant authors usually preferred publication by church presses, the commercial companies [27] were often left with second choice of manuscripts, but they provided an outlet for literature whose moral tone did not meet the strict standards of the religious concerns.

Privately printed or commercially published, the amazing fact about these Scandinavian-language books is their number and their range. {16} Among the novels, novelettes, collections of short stories, fictionalized reminiscences, compilations of jokes and yams, Christmas books, religious and moral tales, and juveniles and mysteries, the scope extends from deliberate obscenity and scandal, through attacks on specific institutions such as saloons, to the most serious social criticism; and from shallow Cinderella stories, through utopian novels, to the most realistic tragedy — all within the framework of immigrant experience. The setting of the very first novel written by a Scandinavian in the United States, Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen’s Gunnar, was Norway, and later writers of all three nationalities turned out reams of romances picturing the homeland through a rosy haze. {17} Other stories dealt with various topics, from fantasies laid in Viking days to tales about African natives. A vast quantity of this fiction, however, pictures the immigrants’ daily life in many places and at all stages of its multiform development, seen optimistically or humorously or critically as the case might be but almost always on the level of simple realism.

Much of the poetry is more abstract, dealing with [28] generalized love of God, nature, fatherland, or family, and only in certain types of lyrics and a few narrative poems does it express specifically immigrant themes or attitudes. Just as original verse was published earlier than fiction in newspapers and periodicals, so poetry appeared first in book form for all three national groups. The year 1871 saw the first volume of Norwegian-American poetry, Rasmus O. Reine’s En liten samling af psalmer og religiøse digte (A Little Collection of Hymns and Religious Poems), two years before the first fiction by a Norwegian appeared in this country. The Danish clergyman Adam Dan had published poetry in Denmark before his emigration to the United States in 1870, and the next year he put out another volume in Copenhagen; but it was 1874 before the first book of Danish-American verse appeared on this side of the Atlantic —Ved Øresund og Mississippi (On the Øresund and the Mississippi), by J. Waldemar Borchsenius. {18} The Swedes’ first books were also of poetry, probably the earliest being a pamphlet entitled En svensk sång om den store branden i Chicago af Anders Nilsson, arbetskare (A Swedish Song about the Great Fire in Chicago by Anders Nilsson, a Laborer — Chicago, 1872). The actual author was the journalist Magnus Elmblad, who wrote so fluently that his first Samlade dikter (Collected Poems) was published in Chicago in 1878.

The range of competence and subject matter has been fully as wide in poetry as in prose for all three national groups, including the most devout religious celebration, lyrics of love and nature, verses in praise of the native cultural tradition and of America, social and economic criticism in rhyme — especially fight songs favoring prohibition — occasional humorous verse, down to doggerel in the style of Robert W. Service and Edgar Guest.

The wide scope of this output indicates that the immigrant [29] tradition reflected in miniature the same wide reading public as one finds in the general American population, although not in equal proportions. Because religious controversies long absorbed most of the Scandinavians’ intellectual energies and interests, almost all of their first books were doctrinal tracts and sermons. Moreover, much of their early poetry was religious; and the conservative pietism of certain elements remained a constant factor, stronger proportionately even in the present century than in corresponding native American writings. A considerable number of immigrant writers were, in fact, ministers. But there developed a reading public amused by scandalmongering and double-entendre, as witnessed by the phenomenal success of Lars A. Stenholt. This writer poured out cheap paper-bound books during the nineties and the first decade of this century, attacking rich people (especially bankers), Jews, and, above all, Lutheran church and cultural leaders, in libelous fiction, with characters so thinly disguised that his Norwegian-American readers could easily identify the persons. These he accused of every possible sin, from hypocrisy to adultery. His books, published by Waldm. Kriedt in Minneapolis, were sold like magazines on trains and newsstands, and proved so popular that Stenholt was asserted to be the only writer of the immigrant tradition who made a living from his pen. {19}

Although all the elements of the American reading public were present in the foreign-language audience, the number [30] of prospective book buyers in the latter group was so small that no immigrant author (with the possible exception of Stenholt) could earn a living from his work. To judge from the complaints of the writers themselves, only a small fraction of the immigrants ever bought books put out by one of their own number. The literary needs of most of them were satisfied by a newspaper subscription and an almanac or Christmas annual; the better-educated minority who read fiction and poetry usually turned to the authors of the home country. As one leading Norwegian-American author complained, church and politics furnished enough cultural interest; nobody wanted or missed books. "What on earth was the good of fiction and poetry? Would it bring taxes down or land prices up? And so they smothered the brat, or nearly did. . . . Those who had something to say soon learned to address themselves to themselves. It is characteristic of our most gifted authors that they have worked under the conviction that they have no public." {20} What was felt to be an almost total lack of recognition or reward for literary activity was probably a major reason that the immigrants did not produce more of lasting value.

The fact that writing fiction and poetry had to be a spare-time enterprise makes it difficult to distinguish between the amateur and the professional. One can determine this only from the number of works a man produced, the seriousness of his intent as an artist, and his reputation among his own people.

A great many "professional" writers among all three immigrant nationalities earned their livings as newspapermen, ministers, or teachers. Despite their varied backgrounds, most of them were better educated than the average immigrant. Many were distinctly untypical because they came from the cultivated upper classes of the home country. An example of this group was the journalist Magnus Elmblad, mentioned earlier as the first Swedish-American poet. He was also acclaimed as the best of these writers, although he remained in [31] this country only thirteen years, editing various newspapers. Son of a teacher at a Stockholm college, Elmblad took a degree at Uppsala University before emigrating in 1871. He had begun his prolific writing in Sweden, and continued to publish there even while he was in America. His epic poem, "Allan Roini," received the rare distinction of an award from the Swedish Academy. Unquestionably the outstanding minister-author among the immigrants was Adam Dan, who was trained at the University of Copenhagen and served as a missionary for two years in Nubia and Jerusalem before coming to the United States in 1870. He continued to issue his works in Denmark as well as in America until his death in 1931. {21}

Of scholar-authors trained in European universities before their emigration, one could name several outstanding examples. Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen was author of the first novel by a Norwegian in America; he wrote it and his other works in English. Son of a Norwegian army captain, he took a degree at the University of Christiania before coming to the United States in 1869. He became professor at Cornell University and finally at Columbia University. The Swedish linguist, August Hjalmar Edgren, took his degree at Uppsala, came to America, and enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War. He returned to Europe, became an officer in Sweden, studied further in France and Germany, and returned to the United States to take a doctorate in science at Cornell in 1871 and another degree in linguistics at Yale in 1874. A recognized authority in the science of language, he spent the rest of his life as scholar and poet alternately in Swedish and American universities, torn between his love for both lands. He died in 1903. A woman professor bearing a name famous in Norway, Agnes Mathilde Wergeland, student at Munich and Zurich, was the first Norwegian woman ever to take a doctoral degree. Finding no place for her talents at home, she came to the [32] United States on a scholarship from Bryn Mawr College in 1890. Her first years of lecturing at Illinois and Chicago universities were a time of bitter financial struggle; she was finally called to a professorship in history and French at the University of Wyoming in 1902. Beside scholarly works, she wrote two volumes of exquisite poetry in Norwegian before her death in 1914. {22}

Contrasted with these educated leaders from the Norwegian upper class were writers who were also editors, ministers, or teachers, but came from the lower ranks of society and received their training in America. Many would have had no opportunity for higher education in Europe and probably would never have developed as authors there. The greatest among these, of course, is the fisherman’s son from north Norway, Ole E. Rølvaag. After the customary early years of manual labor that most immigrants had to endure, he took his bachelor’s degree at St. Olaf and spent a year studying in Norway before being appointed to a lifelong post as teacher at St. Olaf College. Other professions are represented in this group; the chief librarian for many years of the John Crerar Library in Chicago, J. Christian Bay, and the Chicago dentist, Emanuel Nielson, were both Danish-born writers.

On the other hand, many of the authors who can be classified as professional never received much formal education. They earned their livings, often precariously, in various ways. Perhaps most of them were journalists, as was the Norwegian-American novelist Simon Johnson; growing up in pioneer days in the Red River Valley, he received only the sketchy public and parochial schooling available there. A few were businessmen, as was the lumberman and poet Julius B. Baumann. Equally occupied in his business by day and as [33] lecturer and leader at prohibition meetings and brotherhood lodges in the evenings, he usually found opportunity to write only in the dead of night or while traveling. Often he hardly had time to revise a poem before sending it off to the newspaper or magazine that had requested a contribution. Some writers were homesteading farmers, eking out their meager incomes with odd jobs as mail carriers or game wardens. Some were Jacks-of-all-trades; the ambitious Ole A. Buslett, when he discovered he could not sell enough books to support his family, became farmer, storekeeper, postmaster, justice of the peace, and member of the Wisconsin legislature. Olai Aslagsson was hobo, cowboy, and sheepherder; his animal and adventure tales were published in Norway as well as in this country and were translated into both English and Swedish. Tellef Grundysen was a drugstore clerk when he turned author; the Swedish Ernst Skarstedt became almost a professional hermit in the Pacific Northwest; the leading Danish-American poet, Anton Kvist, was a bricklayer in Chicago. Such were the immigrants whose compulsion to write Simon Johnson described in an essay:

"I know one who in stolen hours, preferably when bad weather hindered work outdoors, sat in a cold room and with numb fingers scrawled stories and poems about his people in this land. I know one who the whole day long — and it was not a mere eight-hour day either — followed his plow and harrow and composed verses which he tried to memorize until in a pause for rest he could scribble them down on a piece of wrapping paper. I know one who sat in a jolting mail wagon on the prairies of South Dakota and tried to set lines of verse on paper. The sun burned, the wind howled, storms broke loose — but this man wrote poetry. In the end he died of tuberculosis." {23} [34]

These were the dedicated souls of the tradition, motivated by their need to tell the story of themselves and their own people. Such a self-conscious artistic aim, of course, depended on membership in a group which was aware of itself as a unit and had developed pride in its own accomplishments. During the first generation after Scandinavian immigration began in considerable numbers in the 1840’s, such a situation was impossible. The physical struggle for survival in pioneer days occupied most ordinary people, and their intellectual leaders, most of them clergymen, were concerned almost exclusively with church organization and theological conflict. But by the seventies and eighties the shaping forces of national group consciousness were already strong.

The most powerful of these forces was language. The Scandinavians tended to settle in close-knit colonies because of natural ties of speech and acquaintanceship; and their common tongues became a bond among groups all over the land. The first institution to appear in nearly every settlement was a church preserving the language, dogma, and ritual of the old country. The ministers, seeking to hold their parishioners together against what they considered the godlessness of the American frontier, were the first to develop consciousness of themselves as part of an immigrant group, divided from each other by split hairs of controversy, but still, within their growing synods, working almost unanimously for conservation of the culture brought from Europe. Even those who, after the turn of the century, urged the adoption of English in the church usually did so only to attract the younger generation to this central cultural institution of their fathers. The synods, with their annual conferences attended by lay delegates as well as clergy, became a strong force for the development of a sense of belonging, of being part of a larger body of fellow Lutherans — Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.

Scandinavian immigrant newspapers and, to a larger degree, magazines, were also a unifying and conserving force. No one argued against learning American ways as rapidly as [35] possible, but the leading journalists urged preservation of the best aspects of the European heritage as well. They differed about what those aspects might be: Church leaders defined as most important the continued purity of their own dogma, or pointed out the superior moral standards of the old country; others emphasized maintaining the artistic, especially the literary, treasure of the homeland. Some thought language was crucial, and that if it were lost, all else would go; others were positive that religious and cultural values would survive in translation. But all agreed that invisible goods had been transported from abroad that were threatened by destruction in the struggle for success in the New World. The arguments involved in defining the issue fostered a unifying tradition, and the circulating of major newspapers and magazines throughout the country was in itself a cohesive force.

By the eighties the Scandinavians in this country had a record they could be proud of. During the Civil War special Scandinavian regiments had performed bravely, and were thereafter lauded to the skies in every Fourth of July address made by one of their own nationality until the end of the century. They had done no small part of the pioneer drudgery of settling the Middle West; their speechmakers were fond of calculating how many thousand acres of virgin land they had broken, and how many cords of primeval forest they had cut down. They had founded innumerable churches and other religious organizations, denominational schools and colleges. It was indeed a record of accomplishment to which politicians could point with respect when appealing to them as a voting group. Swedish and Norwegian days at the Chicago Columbian Exposition of 1893 dramatized this self-approbation.

Events in the home countries, which most immigrants followed in their newspapers, caused immediate repercussions on this side of the Atlantic. Reports of crop failure and famine in Europe instigated relief donations from countrymen, often in better circumstances, in America. The long, bitter dispute between Norway and Sweden under their common monarchy, [36] climaxing in the independence won by the former in 1905, was reflected in the United States, and found expression not only in street brawls, angry speeches, and editorials, but in poetry and fiction. Norway’s victory resulted in a great upsurge of nationalistic pride among the immigrants, helping to produce a flowering of Norwegian-American culture between 1900 and the first World War. Many of the statues of famous Norwegians found in American cities date from this period.

Beginning in the late eighties, tours made throughout the Scandinavian settlements by lecturers, musicians, and choirs from the home countries brought cultural interests and enthusiasms from Europe. Later, official visits of scions of the royal houses periodically fanned patriotic fervor. And the development of every possible type of organization based on national origin began early and still goes on: insurance and mutual aid societies, social and athletic clubs, dramatic, music, and debating groups; hospitals, orphan asylums, old people’s homes; historical associations and the American-Scandinavian Foundation; and societies for the preservation of European culture, such as Dania and Det Norske Selskab i Amerika. All were expressions of norskdom, svenskhet, and danskhed in conscious, articulate form. {24}

The three groups, however, varied considerably in the fervor of their cultural nationalism. The Norwegians were by far the most enthusiastic, the Danes the least, for many complex reasons. And even within these groups, authors varied widely in their attitudes toward norskdom or danskhed. Some of the first generation advocated the most extreme abandonment of everything European. H. H. Boyesen dramatized this attitude in his own life, stating that after setting foot on American soil he never spoke a word in Norwegian except when absolutely necessary. As professor at Cornell and Columbia, he left completely behind him the Norwegian world, and recommended [37] in his novels that his fellow immigrants do the same. Most of the leading Scandinavian-American authors, however, advocated maintaining the closest possible ties with the home countries, and preserving their own hybrid culture within the larger environment. Some believed their transitional society could be only temporary, but thought that it could make positive contributions to American society while being melted into it. The bilingual editor and author Edwin Björkman typified this attitude; he began his career in immigrant newspapers and moved on to American papers, but he never disavowed his Swedish roots; see, for example, The Soul of a Child and Gates of Life (New York, 1922, 1923). Both Björkman’s autobiographical novels and his books of essays were written in English. But the strongest writers were the firmest believers in the value of their own culture in transplantation. Swedes pointed to the growth of a strong island of svenskhet in Finland; Norwegians remembered the survival of Norse culture through many hundreds of years in Iceland. So 0. E. Rølvaag led the battle for the preservation of Norwegian language, history, and literature. Let the second and third generations continue to be bilingual, he argued, and lead richer lives for being able to draw on the cultural wealth of two lands. {25}

Some authors in this tradition directed their fire against what they considered undesirable carry-overs from European life; Kristofer Janson, for example, attacked bitterly in many tales the power of the Norwegian Lutheran church in the Middle West. {26} Others assailed the evils they saw in [38] American society: economic injustice, business immorality, an overwhelming materialism. An institution that was a great menace to immigrants, especially on the frontier, was the saloon. Hundreds of poems and songs, plays, short stories, and even novels were written in the fight for prohibition. Notably among the Norwegians, there was hardly an author or journalist who did not give some part of his time to lecturing and writing against drink.

This cause, more than any other, furnished incentive to the "amateur" writers, those of little or no ability, many of whom published only one or two books. The impulse to support worthy ends moved otherwise inarticulate immigrants to take up the fictional pen. Some attacked specific institutions, as

J. A. Harildstad did the treatment of the insane in Bonde gutten Hastad under asglbehandling i den nye verden (The Peasant Boy, Hastad, under Asylum Treatment in the New World — Minneapolis, 1919). Other writers burned with indignation at economic and social injustices, wrongs done naïve newcomers, conniving by wealthy bankers, oppression of the laboring class. One of the most vehement novels was E. L. Mengshoel’s Mené Tekél: Norsk-amerikansk arbeiderfortælling fra slutten af det 19. aarhundrede (Mene Tekel: A Norwegian-American Worker’s Story from the End of the Nineteenth Century — Minneapolis, 1919). The author portrays laborers, struggling to organize a union, who are crushed by the superior power of evil capitalists.

Most of the amateur tales, however, were written in a more optimistic vein. Their heroes usually won through to fame and fortune in the New World, and returned to their peasant homes in the old country only long enough to fetch their loved ones back to the land of the free. Minor versifiers displayed the same cheeriness and banality in following set themes: glorification of church and faith, admiration of the equality and opportunity of the new land, upward-and-onward exhortation —although a shadow of melancholy fell across their work in the universal refrain of homesickness, above all at [39] Christmastime. Many an amateur realized how unoriginal his little book was, and apologized in a brief foreword for offering yet another privately printed volume to an unresponsive public. Some confessed they hoped to earn a little extra money — not always for themselves, by any means; often it was announced that proceeds would go to a mission or to charity. Frequently the claim was that only at the "urging of friends" had the author consented to print his unworthy efforts. He hoped only to further a little the good cause of religion or temperance, or to bring a little sunshine into someone’s dark day. Underneath perhaps were obscure yearnings for self -expression and for the publicity and prestige of breaking into print.

Professional writers were by no means immune from such motives. They were especially eager to publish in the old country. No doubt many realized, particularly after World War I, that they were fighting a losing battle to preserve their language. Soon if they were to be read at all it could be only across the seas, and meanwhile the homeland offered a larger potential audience. For others, artistic recognition in the land they had left would help justify their departure. Nearly every author had somebody back home to convince that he had made good, and a book published under the higher requirements of a European concern was respectable evidence. For immigrant writers of any skill recognized the lower standards of local reviewers, so eager to further the cause of an infant literature, so aware of the difficulties a man had to overcome to write at all. Authors, exposed to the dreadful amateurishness of so many of the books being written around them, and cut off from American critics by their language, preferred to measure their achievement by European criteria.

Unfortunately, they faced specific problems more complex than any author in the home country might meet. Their most immediate subject matter, the life around them, was American; yet they must treat it with European concepts and terminology. At first the contrast between what they found and what they had left tended to sharpen their observation but [40] dull their comprehension; it was simpler to criticize than to understand. When they learned in time to interpret and explain, their initial conceptions had changed, and although they might have been aware of the transformation, their original language was often inadequate to express it. Consider the simple Norwegian words bonde and gaard. The first meant a land-holding peasant — but where were there peasants in the United States? The second meant a farmstead, freehold, or estate, but the American land system lacked the complex of social, legal, and historical associations involved with the Norwegian term. Immigrant writers found themselves forced to incorporate the English words "farmer" and "farm" into their Norwegian text, inflecting them after the rules of their own grammar. Then they had the problem of possible non-comprehension by readers in the old country, with the result that many books by immigrants, aimed at a European audience, included footnotes or glossaries explaining American terms. {27}

Authors who had not been educated in Europe faced further language problems because most Scandinavians spoke dialects which lacked written form. The same dichotomy between the speech of ordinary people and that of the educated class which still persists in the old country was preserved in the new. When the mother language survived in daily speech even to the third generation, it was usually as a dialect; yet students who went to Scandinavian-American colleges studied the language and literature of church and court across the sea. Most immigrant authors chose quite naturally to write in the more formal linguistic form, but when their characters were of peasant stock the problem of dialogue arose. Should speech be transcribed in the dialects actually used, or formalized by regular spelling and vocabulary? This question, of course, faced writers in the home countries, but in the United States it was complicated by strong admixtures of English in daily speech, creating a still more involved idiom that a few authors [41] used deliberately for comic effect. Sometimes an author chose to write a poem or sketch in his original pure dialect, transcribed into approximate phonetic spelling, to give a special flavor or for publication in one of the bygdelag magazines, which printed contributions in dialect. He then ran the risk of being more or less unreadable to fellow countrymen from provinces other than his own.

The situation was further complicated for Norwegians by the New Norse (landsmaal, nynorsk) movement at home. {28} The war between this new tongue, based on dialects and growing out of cultural and social reform, and the Dano-Norwegian, which had previously been the only written language, developed in full fury only during the latter part of the nineteenth century, and raged largely among the literary classes; thus most emigrants, before their departure, had little contact with or concern for the battle. Neither did many in this country develop any interest in the conflict, being taken up with more immediate problems, such as the survival of any form of Norwegian. Their main cultural institution was the church, which had a vested interest in preserving the older, more conservative tongue of the Bible and the catechisms. Those of their leaders who had been trained in Norway brought with them the almost unanimous rejection of New Norse by the upper classes there; those educated here had studied only Dano-Norwegian in school.

Judge then the stone wall of indifference, not to say hostility, which faced a would-be New Norse author in America! Such a one was Jon Norstog. His mother was cousin to the landsmaal poet Aasmund Vinje, in whose strongly traditionalistic province, Telemark, Norstog had grown up. He had studied under teachers who advocated return to the roots of peasant culture, and his first book of poems, Yggdrasil (Christiania, 1902), leaned heavily on Old Norse symbolism. The [42] highly unfavorable reviews this book drew were probably a factor in Norstog’s emigration the same year. Throughout his life he continued to write in a New Norse influenced by his own dialect, a style which his fellows in America found virtually unreadable. He printed on his own hand press thousand-page novels, huge Biblical dramas, volumes of poetry, which he bound himself; then he drove in a wagon over the Dakota prairies, trying in vain to sell his books — surely the ultimate in author publication. Of undeniable talent, he had a great deal of value to say to his fellow immigrants; but, being a poet, he could and would write only in the language of his heart, regardless of the inability of others to understand it. When he died in 1942 he was probably the most praised and the least read of all the immigrant authors. {29}

Norwegian-American newspapers consistently deplored the New Norse movement back home, foreseeing that it would increase the difficulty of cultural communication with the mother country. During the past fifty years both Dano-Norwegian and New Norse have been so changed by progressive "reforms" designed to bring them closer together, with the aim of ultimately combining the two, that older immigrants complain because they can hardly read newspapers from Norway. In America, meanwhile, the language has been more static, especially in spelling. During the twenties, when some leading immigrant authors had novels brought out on both sides of the Atlantic, their orthography had to be completely overhauled for the Norwegian editions.{30} This has been a [43] problem for people from Sweden and Denmark as well, because growth and change have taken place in the official languages of these two nations. Emigrants revisiting the homeland after many years’ absence regularly discover that their speech sounds old-fashioned and bookish to friends and relatives who have never left home.

Similar problems faced second-generation authors. None grew up with the conviction that their parents’ idiom was the only acceptable mother tongue. Those who lived in communities where Swedish or Norwegian was still widely used were rather bilingual. Except in families of upper-class or urban background, a dialectal type of the European language was transmitted from parents to children; but authors of the second generation nevertheless wrote in the literary form, learned at school or self-taught, because this was the only one they saw in print. They were inclined to seek more than common education, even if their opportunities for schooling were limited; in that case they read on their own. As a result many were more culturally self-conscious than the average immigrant farmer, laborer, or businessman, whose indifference to things of the spirit they strongly criticized. Not having memories of the old country to draw on, they often laid their stories in Scandinavian-American or purely American settings. Their poems celebrated the beauties of prairie and inland lake rather than glacier and salt sea. When their subjects were thus American, the language they chose for expression became a less crucial matter; for even their foreign tongue had become adapted in vocabulary and connotation to life here. The choice between English and Norwegian (or Swedish) then usually depended on the audience they were writing for, although a few were not completely at home in English.

One such writer was Anna Olsson, daughter of a leading Swedish-American minister and educator who for many years was president of Augustana College at Rock Island, Illinois. Miss Olsson, although born in Sweden, was brought to Kansas as a baby and grew up so completely the product of a hybrid [44] background that she won her greatest literary success with short stories written in the everyday mixture of Swedish and English spoken by most immigrants. This crossbred dialect is still quite funny, although few can read it easily now. She published memories of her prairie childhood, written in Swedish, in 1917, but when she translated the same book into English ten years later the stilted style revealed that she had not completely mastered the latter language. {31}

Dorthea Dahl, on the other hand, was equally competent in Norwegian and English. She came to the United States at the age of two and went to school in South Dakota; in 1902 she entered St. Olaf College at Northfield. She began writing her many stories of small-town and farm immigrant life exclusively in Norwegian, publishing in a variety of periodicals. Her first collection of tales, Fra hverdagslivet (From Everyday Life — Minneapolis, 1915), won the annual literary prize of Det Norske Selskab i Amerika. Her second collection, published five years later, contained only stories in English. Her one novel was written in Norwegian. {32}

Most second-generation authors of Scandinavian background did write in English. They may well have spoken their parents’ tongue, at least in childhood, and they may have maintained a lifelong interest in their foreign roots; but as writers they felt fully at home only in the American language. Several first-generation immigrants also published exclusively in English, in time losing full command of their original idiom. The Norwegian Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen and the Swedish Edwin Björkman have been mentioned; the Danish Jacob A. Riis must not be forgotten. A trio of Swedes may represent a [45] group of minor novelists who emigrated when still young enough to absorb English well, but old enough so that their personalities had been primarily formed in Europe. Laying most of their plots in the Old World, Flora Sandström, Costa Larsson, and Edita Morris had a number of novels published by New York firms during the 1930’s and 1940’s. {33}

Scandinavians who wrote in English had little opportunity to publish in magazines put out by their own people. The synods and sects did issue some juvenile and family publications and a few Christmas annuals in English, providing a limited market for moralizing tales. A few magazines were directed at Scandinavian Americans who read only English, but the little fiction these carried was usually translated from European literature. Scandinavia, a monthly, appeared in Chicago as early as November, 1883; it carried articles in English on ancient and modern phases of life in the three countries of origin, including translations of literature and criticism from the other side of the sea. It lasted three years. Another English-language Scandinavia with a Danish editor was founded at Grand Forks, North Dakota, in 1924.

The Northland Magazine, begun in Minneapolis in 1898, was intended to acquaint English-speaking people with Scandinavian folk; it was published "especially for those of Swedish descent who no longer know the language." An account of the Norwegian-American press in 1914 listed three non-religious periodicals currently appearing in English for readers of Norwegian background, as well as several synodal magazines. {34} The American Swedish Monthly, published in New York, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1957. Historical associations of the three nationalities issued publications printed in English. The author of short stories and [46] poetry, however, tended to turn to the native American magazines. There his special background usually played no role.

Books in English by second- and third-generation writers were frequently published by regular American firms. Many had nothing to do with the special background of the author’s childhood, and are of value in the study of Scandinavian immigrant literature only to demonstrate that here the process of Americanization had been carried to completion. Examples were the wild adventure yarns of Henry Oyen, written during and just after World War I. With titles like Gaston Olaf, Twisted Trails, and Tarrant of Tin Spout, these romances glorified virility and sex appeal for the rental-library trade. On a more serious level, a third-generation Swede, Nelson Algren, has produced several books about the seamy side of Chicago life. The Man with the Golden Arm (New York, 1949) won the National Book Award in 1950. Many of Algren’s petty gangsters and prostitutes are of immigrant background, but they are not Swedes. The greatest of the completely assimilated authors of Scandinavian background is, of course, Carl Sandburg. Born of Swedish parents in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1878, he has become a symbol of the American Middle West. Such authors help define the limits of immigrant literature because — in spite of their parentage — they fall so indisputably outside it. By no stretch of definition can they be considered anything but wholly American.

A number of other second-generation prose writers occupy the borderland between Scandinavian-immigrant and general American literature; they have evidently been influenced in choice of subject by their special background, but do not always treat their material with insight. Here the dividing line would seem to run between those who write from personal experience and those who are dependent on research. Among the latter are several historical novelists, some attracted to old-country themes, others interested in the more distant past of their group. Thus Ottilia Adelina Liljencrantz, born in Chicago of Swedish parents in 1876, produced, during the rage [47] for historical fiction at the turn of the century, some thin romances of Viking days. Martin Wendell Odland published The New Canaan (Minneapolis, 1933), a novel about the Norwegian sloopers of 1825, and Stuart David Engstrand based They Sought for Paradise (New York, 1939) on the Swedish religious colony founded at Bishop Hill, Illinois, in 1846. {35} To fictional settings laid so long before his own time no author could bring special understanding.

Other English-language novelists of Scandinavian background can be classified according to their interest in immigrant themes. Among authors of one or two volumes, some privately printed, James A. Peterson may represent those who wrote only about immigrant life as they knew it at first hand. Hjalmar, or the Immigrant’s Son (Minneapolis, 1922) and Solstad: The Old and the New (Minneapolis, 1923) communicate many of the problems and attitudes of two generations of Norwegian immigrants, despite an awkwardness in construction and style. Other men devoted their single efforts to subjects unrelated to their mixed national origin, as for example Alexander Corstvet in Elling, and Some Things That Helped to Shape His Life (Milwaukee, 1901) . {36}

More than one author of Scandinavian stock has published a number of books of which only one dealt with his immigrant background. It is as though he felt compelled to exorcise the ghost of his hyphenated past by confrontation before he could continue as a native American writer. A pair of Norwegian Americans of high ability are Anthony M. Rud, whose The Second Generation (New York, 1923) pictures vividly the conflict between Old and New World patterns of family authority, and Norman Matson, whose Dag of Fortune (New [48] York, 1928) alone among his several novels presents a realistic account of a Scandinavian-American family. Neither of these writers ever returned to an immigrant theme. The prolific Martha Ostenso might be included here. Scandinavian immigrant characters appear in minor roles in several of her novels, but only in her 0 River, Remember! (New York, 1943) do three generations of Norwegians emerge as central figures. Norwegian newspapers hailed her as a leading Norwegian-American author on the occasion of her sixtieth birthday in 1960, but on the whole she seems to have crossed the line into general American literature. She portrays characters of Norwegian stock no more frequently or perceptively than she describes Icelanders or Yankees. {37}

In contrast, other authors of Scandinavian-American origin have been primarily concerned with their own people. Sophus Keith Winther’s trilogy about a tenant farm family in Nebraska is a major contribution to the story of the Danes in America. Take All to Nebraska, Mortgage Your Heart, and This Passion Never Dies (New York, 1936, 1937, 1938) can be compared to Rølvaag’s Norwegian-American trilogy in intent and scope, although not in artistry. A second-generation Norwegian American still in full career has written all of her many books on themes from old-country and immigrant life. Borghild Dahl’s Under This Roof was published in New York in 1961, and she is currently at work on still another novel about Norwegians in Minnesota. {38}

Closely related to these works are the growing number of fictionalized and reminiscent accounts of Scandinavian-American life written by people who have been part of it. These books are no doubt part of the postwar literary trend that has [49] produced so many volumes based on nostalgia for a childhood lived in a simpler day; but, taken together, a dozen or more books from the last twenty years portray rural, small-town, and city life as experienced by Scandinavian immigrant children from San Francisco to Brooklyn. Best known of this group is Kathryn Forbes’s Mama’s Bank Account (New York, 1943), the story of California Norwegians which, as "I Remember Mama," won success on stage and television. The Coffee Train, by Margarethe Erdahl Shank (New York, 1954), records Norwegian influences shaping the life of an immigrant’s granddaughter in Dakota; among several stories of immigrant families in Minnesota, Mor’s New Land, by Lillian M. Gamble (New York, 1952), might be mentioned; Skulda Banér’s Latchstring Out (Boston, 1944) shows how much color and light Swedish traditions could bring to a raw mining town in upper Michigan; Defend My Mother, by Agnes Roisdal (New York, 1952), traces the tragic disintegration of a once happy Norwegian family in Brooklyn. A trilogy by Lillian Budd follows the Americanization of three generations of Swedish-Americans in Chicago: April Snow, Land of Strangers, and April Harvest (New York, 1951, 1953, 1959).

Authors of Scandinavian stock have written a number of children’s books, as for example, Helen Foster Anderson’s Enchanted Valley: A Story of Sweden (New York, 1941). Clara Ingram Judson’s They Came from Sweden (Boston, 1942), and They Sought a Country, by Norman Eugene Nygaard (New York, 1950), are examples of juveniles which sketch old-country background before bringing their characters to the New World; while the little girl heroine of Home for Good, by Erna Oleson Xan (New York, 1952), represents several young characters in similar books who were born in Wisconsin (or Dakota or Minnesota) and so grew up in the bicultural environment of settled immigrant families. The story of Scandinavian-American life is now available in books written by people of foreign background for every age level: picture tales for the very young, such as Nils, by Ingri and [50] Edgar Parin d’Aulaire (New York, 1948); books for the nine-to-twelve level, such as Nina Morgan’s Prairie Star (New York, 1955); novels for teen-agers like Ellen Turngren’s Listen, Mg Heart and Shadows into Mist (New York, 1956, 1958).

A number of second-generation poets have written in English, but only Sandburg has won wide recognition. Albert Edward Johannsson, son of a Norwegian mother and a Swedish father, showed considerable promise, winning a number of poetry awards while an undergraduate; but he died young. His one book, In Strictest Measure: 50 Sonnets, was published in Boston in 1944. Like Sandburg, the younger poets rarely touched Scandinavian immigrant themes and only occasionally revealed their European ties by translating poems from the Swedish or Danish. Most of them fall outside the area that has been outlined here.

It should be simple to define the main body of this literature — the multitudinous volumes of many kinds written in the United States by people born in Scandinavia who chose this nation as their home. It is American because it was written by Americans about their lives and interests; but it occupies a special field because these were adopted Americans with divided loyalties, as they signified by writing in European tongues. Yet language alone is not a sufficient criterion of membership in this group. A number of borderline figures may be difficult to classify. The long list of visitors from Scandinavia, coming only to observe and to record for European audiences, must be eliminated; but it is not always easy to distinguish between a visitor and a short-term immigrant, one who meant to remove himself permanently to America but gave up the effort at transplantation and returned to Europe, with or without American citizenship. Often, too, as the stories record, an individual who meant to stay only a few years ended by living out the rest of his life in the New World. Clearly neither the intent (when known) of the person, nor his formal citizenship (not always ascertainable either), can serve as an infallible guide. [51]

The present writer has attempted to distinguish authors who underwent discernible modification of character ("Americanization") during their years in the United States from those who returned to Europe untouched by the process, classifying the former as members of the hyphenated tradition, the latter not. The Norwegian Knut Hamsun would thus be eliminated, for during his two stays in America he remained a highly critical visitor; but both Magnus Elmblad, who spent thirteen years in the United States, and Kristofer Janson, who after a preliminary tour stayed twelve years, would be included, or at least their works dealing with the American scene would be. The judgment of contemporaries must also be considered. To Swedish Americans, Elmblad was one of themselves — and indeed he survived less than four years after returning to Sweden. Kristofer Janson wrote for nearly a quarter century after going back to Norway, but there continued to be the voice of Norwegian America the rest of his life. Nor is it so impracticable to measure Americanization as one might think. This body of literature contains descriptions of the process at practically every stage of its multiform development.

At the English-language end of the scale, it is more difficult to determine when Scandinavian-American literature becomes purely American. Books by first- and second-generation immigrants about their own experiences, as influenced by their special background, should no doubt be accounted part of the field, regardless of what language is employed. On the other hand, authors in English who betray no trace of their foreign origin should probably be classified as American writers, regardless of their parentage. Nelson Algren can no more be considered an immigrant author than can James T. Farrell. Here, too, however, there are borderline cases; on occasion a writer of the second or third generation produced a book or two containing immigrant characters or a Scandinavian theme — sometimes with insight arising from his special heritage, but often with no more perception than if he was not a [52] Scandinavian. Whether these are to be included in the group probably should be determined by the purpose of the classification rather than by the content of the books or the author’s background.

Even within the clearly defined tradition of immigrant literature, many problems await clarification. For instance, the distinction between first and second generation is not always clear. If first-generation immigrants are defined as those who made the removal from Europe to America in their own persons, how does an individual brought as an infant in arms differ from one born the day after his mother set foot in the New World? His cultural background will depend not on his place of birth but on the surroundings in which he grew up, whether an immigrant or a native American community. The present writer has considered Anna Olsson and Dorthea Dahl, both of whom came to the United States at the age of two, second-generation authors, whereas Simon Johnson, who was eight when he arrived, has been regarded as first generation. This somewhat arbitrary distinction has been made by appraising the influence of cultural background on the individual, measured partly on significant memories of the old country, partly on the author’s attitude toward his European heritage. Had Simon Johnson not been reared in an exclusively Norwegian settlement in the Red River Valley, he too might well have been classified as second generation rather than first; but the literary historian can see in Johnson’s work modes of thinking as genuinely Norwegian as those of Ole Rølvaag. It seems more meaningful to designate both as first-generation authors, although one emigrated as a boy, the other as a man grown.

Many similar problems can be clarified, if not resolved, by continued research in this neglected area of American literature; but the main value of such study would be in social history. No one in the entire Scandinavian immigrant tradition can be compared with Rølvaag. There are a few other surprisingly good authors, a host of mediocre ones, and all too [53] many who are downright bad — judged by artistic standards. As source material for cultural history, however, the field is a veritable gold mine of information, not only for the role of the Scandinavian nationalities in the making of America but also for interpreting cultural transmission, personality transformation, and influences and tensions within and between contending human groups. Here is material for historians who can recall to life the drama and drive behind a pioneering literature produced against overwhelming odds.


<1> This article is adapted from one chapter of a doctoral dissertation to be submitted at Radcliffe College. For the quotation from Rølvaag, see his Omkring fædrearven, 60 (Northfield, 1922).

<2> Danish and Norwegian, in written form, were then practically identical. For a discussion of Skandinavia, see Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Migration to America: The American Transition, 287, 288 (Northfield, 1940); A. N. Rygg, Norwegians in New York, 10 (Brooklyn, [1941?]); "The Danish-American Press," in Enok Mortensen and Johannes Knudsen, The Danish-American Immigrant, 35—37 (Des Moines, Iowa, 1950). The Library of Congress has a partial file of Skandinavia.

<3> Ved arnen was published in La Crosse, Wisconsin, September 1, 1866, through December 15, 1870, as an independent magazine. In 1884 its publisher, B. Anundsen, began issuing it as a regular section of Decorah-posten. See Anundsen, "Hvordan ‘posten’ blev til," in Decorah-posten, September 5, 1924. A partial file of Ved arnen is at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

<4> Information from Professor David T. Nelson of Luther College.

<5> Blegen, Norwegian Migration: American Transition, 302. The editor of Kirketidende supported the Eielsen Synod.

<6> A partial file of Børne-blad is in the archives of the Norwegian-American Historical Association.

<7> An early periodical was Billed-magazin: Et ugeblad til nyttig og belærende underholdning (illustrated Magazine: A Weekly Paper for Useful and Instructive Entertainment), published at Madison, Wisconsin, by Svein Nilsson, 1868—70. An exception to the normally short careers of these periodicals was For gammel og ung: Et kristelig familieblad (For Old and Young: A Christian Family Paper), published at Wittenberg, Wisconsin, 1881—1955. A full account of Norwegian-American periodicals and of some that were Danish-American is Johs. B. Wist, "Pressen efter borgerkrigen," in Norsk-amerikanernes festskrift 1914, 181—203 (Decorah, 1914). Wist mentions, p. 160, the interesting case of a woman’s magazine published in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in duplicate editions — one in Dano-Norwegian and one in Swedish, the titles being Kvinden og hjemmet and Kvinnan och hemmet (The Woman and the Home). Descriptions of a number of Swedish-American magazines appear in a pamphlet by Gustaf N. Swan entitled Swedish-American Literary Periodicals (Rock island, 1986).

<8> These serialized novels, written by Nicolai Severin Hassel, were "Alf Brage, eller skolelæreren i Minnesota" (Alf Brage, or the Schoolteacher in Minnesota), and "Rædselsdagene: Et norsk billede fra indianerkrigen i Minnesota" (The Days of Terror: A Norwegian Sketch from the Indian War in Minnesota). Both ran in 1874 in For hjemmet (For the Home — Decorah, 1870—87). There is a file of For hjemmet at Luther College.

<9> In December, 1909, Valkyrian was combined with the youth’s magazine Ungdomsvannen (The Friend of Youth — Rock Island, Illinois, 1895—1918). Files of both these periodicals and of Nordstjärnan are at Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

<10> A file of Prärieblomman kalender is at Augustana College at Rock Island; Smaablomster fra vor lille have and Dagen are to be found at Grand View College, and Norden in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison.

<11> See Blegen, Norwegian Migration: American Transition, 582—584; Einar Haugen, The Norwegian Language in America: The Bilingual Community, 1:181—186 (Philadelphia, 1958).

<12> Rølvaag played an active part in the organization of Nordlandslaget in January, 1909, and later served as its president. He also contributed to its periodical, Nordlandslaget (Nord-Norge after 1918), articles ("En travel sommer tilbragt paa Nordland," 1924), poems ("Julekveld," 1925), and letters to the editor ("Kjære Nord-Norge!," 1927). A partial file of Nord-Norge is in the Minnesota Historical Society. A letter from Rølvaag to fellow Nordlanders is quoted in Theodore Jorgenson and Nora O. Solum, Ole Edvart Rølvaag: A Biography, 187—189 (New York, 1939).

<13> Spøg og alvor was published in Minneapolis, 1899—1903; a partial file is at Luther College. Kristine was first published in book form in Decorah in 1886.

<14> Files of Smuler in the archives of the Norwegian-American Historical Association at Northfield show fairly regular publication, with some double numbers, May, 1901—August, 1913. A file of Dølen and a few copies of Buslett’s are in these archives.

<15> Laurance M. Larson, "Tellef Grundysen and the Beginnings of Norwegian-American Fiction," in The Changing West and Other Essays, 49—66 (Northfield, 1937); introduction to Fram! (Chicago, 1882), reprinted in Buslett’s, no. 2 (April, 1922). Fram! also ran in Skandinaven in 1882. Waldemar Ager claimed, "Hardly more than a couple of volumes of collected poems have been put out by publishing companies; the rest were published and paid for by the authors themselves. Not one achieved more than one edition, and in the vast majority of cases the ‘poet’ let the matter rest with one book — probably couldn’t afford any more." See Ager, "Norsk-amerikansk skjønliteratur," in Wist, Festskrift, 292—306.

<16> Accurate figures on Scandinavian-American titles are not available. Enok Mortensen, Danish-American Life and Letters (Des Moines, 1945), a preliminary bibliography, includes 90 volumes of fiction and 40 of poetry, besides other types of work. Files compiled by the present writer contain, of Norwegian-American literature, 266 fiction titles, 121 of poetry; of Swedish-American, 146 of fiction and 117 of verse. The total of nearly 900 items — excluding periodical material — should be considered a minimum figure. Probably the best surveys in English are in Frederika Blankner, ed., Giovanni Bach, The History of the Scandinavian Literatures (New York, 1938). Selected bibliographies list the main titles in what is still the infant literary history of the immigrant field. An exhaustive bibliography of writing by Norwegian-born residents of the United States and Canada before 1930 is being prepared by Thor M. Andersen of Trondheim, Norway.

<17> Gunner appeared as a serial in the Atlantic Monthly in 1873 and in book form in Boston the following year.

<18> Reine's book was printed by Fædrelandet og emigranten (La Crosse). Dan’s Taarer og smil (Tears and Smiles) appeared in Skanderborg, Denmark, in 1868, his Alperoser (Alpine Roses) in Copenhagen in 1871. Borchsenius’ book was published in Madison, Wisconsin. The Øresund of his title is the narrow sound lying between Denmark’s easternmost island and Sweden.

<19> Typical titles are: Chicago anarkisterne (The Chicago Anarchists —1888); Præste-historier: Skildringer af nordmændenes aandsliv i Nordamerika (Stories of Ministers: Descriptions of the Spiritual Life of the Norwegians in North America — 1893); Den nye Minnesota-biblen: fortsættelse af Wisconsin-biblen (The New Minnesota Bible: A Continuation of the Wisconsin Bible —1901); Falk og jødinden: Fortælling fra Norge og Amerika (Falk and the Jewess: A Tale from Norway and America — 1901); Paul O. Stensland og hans hjælpere: Eller, milliontyverne i Chicago (Paul O. Stensland and His Assistants: Or, the Million-Dollar Thieves in Chicago — 1907); Paven i Madison: Eller, Rasmus Kvelves merkværdige liv og hændelser (The Pope in Madison: Or, Rasmus Kvelves’ Remarkable Life and Doings — 1908). Waldemar Ager calls Stenholt "the only Norwegian-American author who has been able to live by the pen, although the living was wretched enough"; Festskrift, 296. Stenholt was the muckraker of this immigrant group.

<20> Ager, in Festskrift, 294.

<21> Ernst W. Olson, History of the Swedes of Illinois, 1:189—191 (Chicago, 1908); file on Danish Lutheran ministers, Grand View College archives, Des Moines. Elmblad’s "Allan Roini" was published in his Samlede dikter (Stockholm, 1889).

<22> Larson, Changing West, 82—115; Yale Alumni Weekly, 13:691—694 (May 11, 1904); interview with Edgren’s daughter, Mrs. William Barkley of Lincoln, Nebraska, April, 1952; Maren Michelet, Glimpses of Agnes Mathilde Wergeland’s Life, 65, 75—86 (Minneapolis, 1916). The Wergeland volumes were Amerika, og andre digte (America and Other Poems — Decorah, 1912), and Efterladte digte (Posthumous Poems — Minneapolis, 1914).

<23> See an unsigned biographical sketch in Baumann’s Samlede digte (Minneapolis, 1924); Skandinavens almanak og kalender, 1931, p. 27; Simon Johnson, "Skjønlitterære sysler blandt norsk-amerikanerne," 6, 14—16, an essay read before the Symra Society of Decorah, February 17, 1939, and published in part in Decorah-posten, February 24, March 3, March 10, 1939.

<24> "Norwegianness," "Swedishness," and "Danishness" are the awkward English translations of these conceptions of national culture as expressed in language, art, religion, history, literature, folklore, and the collective personality of the people.

<25> For a discussion of Rølvaag’s attitudes, see Jorgenson and Solum, Ole Edvart Rølvaag, especially chapters entitled "In the Councils of His People," p. 112—139, and "A Heritage," p. 291—319.

<26> Kristofer Janson was considered so important an author by his contemporaries that he was awarded a writer’s pension by the Norwegian parliament in 1876. He resigned it when he emigrated in 1881 to accept an appointment as a Unitarian minister in Minneapolis. As a champion of woman’s rights, he attacked, in many articles and stories, the power and dogma of the Norwegian-American Lutheran clergy. See, for example, his collections of short stories: Præriens saga (Chicago, 1885), Normænd i Amerika (Copenhagen, 1887), and Fra begge sider havet (Christiania, 1890). He returned to Norway in 1893 because of the scandal connected with his divorce.

<27> For a valuable documented study of mutation in transplanted language, see Haugen, Norwegian Language, vol. 1, chapters 4—7.

<28> Haugen, Norwegian Language, vol. 1, chapter 8. It should be mentioned that the term nynorsk (called "New Norse" by Professor Haugen) antedates the controversy discussed here. The word did not become official until 1929, although it had been widely used earlier.

<29> Carl Søyland, "Besøk hos Dakota-dikteren Jon Norstog, norsk-amerikansk forfatter fenomen, hvis store verker få har lest," in Nordisk tidende, November 20, 1941; Ingvald Torvik, "Jon Norstog: Landsmåldiktaren på prærien i Nord-Dakota," in Syn og segn, 58:165—174 (1952). Torvik indicates that Norstog’s work produced greater interest in the Old World than in the New.

<30> In general, the immigrants continued to use the language which was current when they left Norway, without following subsequent changes there. Newspapers and journals vary according to the public they are intended to reach. For example, Decorah-posten maintains an old-fashioned spelling familiar to the many old settlers among its subscribers, while Nordisk tidende in Brooklyn, catering to later immigrants, differs little from a conservative Oslo paper. See Haugen, Norwegian Language, 1:141—149.

<31> Olson, Swedes of Illinois, vol. 2, part 3, p. 113. Anna Olsson’s earliest tales in both Swedish-American dialect and literary Swedish appeared in Frôn solsiden (From the Sunny Side — Rock Island, Illinois, 1903). Her own childhood story, En prärieunges funderingar (Musings of a Prairie Child), came out in Rock Island in 1917 and in Stockholm in 1919, the second furnished with a glossary of Americanized terms. She translated it as I’m Scairt: Childhood Days on the Prairie (Rock Island, 1927).

<32> Skandinaven (Chicago), December 24, 1926. The tales in English were called Returning Home (Minneapolis, 1920), and the novel, Byen paa berget (The City on the Hill—Minneapolis, 1925).

<33> By Sandström: Let Me Go (1933), Thelma Svane (1934); by Larsson: Our Daily Bread (1934), Fatherland, Farewell! (1938), The Ordeal of the Falcon (1941), Revolt in Arcadia (1942), Ships in the River (1946); by Morris: My Darling from the Lions (1943), Three Who Loved (1945), Charade (1948), The Flowers of Hiroshima (1959).

<34> Wist, in Festskrift, 161—164.

<35> Liljencrantz’s titles include two juveniles and the following: The Thrall of Leif the Lucky (Chicago, 1902), The Ward of King Canute (Chicago, 1908), Randvar, the Songsmith (New York, 1906), A Viking’s Love and Other Tales of the North (Chicago, 1911). See George Leroy White, Scandinavian Themes in American Fiction, 25—80 (Philadelphia, 1937).

<36> Elling was highly recommended by William James, Corstvet’s professor at Harvard. See Albert O. Barton, "Alexander Corstvet and Anthony M. Rud," in Norwegian-American Studies and Records, 6:146 (1931).

<37> Examples are Wild Geese (1925), The Dark Dawn (1926), The Mad Carews (1927), The Young May Moon (1929), The Waters under the Earth (1930), There’s Always Another Year (1933), and The White Reef (1984), all published in New York.

<38> Besides a travel book and an autobiography, Miss Dahl has written the following fiction: Karen (1947), Homecoming (1953), The Daughter (1956), A Minnetonka Summer (1960), and two juveniles, Cloud Shoes (1957) and Stowaway to America (1959), al

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