Jens Bjørneboe : biography
Jens Ingvald Bjørneboe (October 9, 1920 – May 9, 1976) was a Norwegian writer whose work spanned a number of literary formats. He was also a painter and a waldorf school teacher. Bjørneboe was a harsh and eloquent critic of Norwegian society and Western civilization on the whole. He led a turbulent life and his uncompromising opinions cost him both an obscenity conviction as well as long periods of heavy drinking and bouts of depression, which in the end led to his suicide.
Jens Bjørneboe's first published work was Poems (Dikt) in 1951. He is widely considered to be one of Norway's most important post-war authors. Bjørneboe identified himself, among other self-definitions, as an anarcho-nihilist.
During the Norwegian language struggle, Bjørneboe was a notable proponent of the Riksmål language, together with his equally famous cousin André Bjerke.
Death and legacy
After having struggled with depression and alcoholism for a long time, he committed suicide by hanging on May 9, 1976.
In his obituary in Aftenposten, Bjørneboe's life and legacy were described as follows:
For 25 years Jens Bjørneboe was a center of unrest in Norwegian cultural life: Passionately concerned with contemporary problems in nearly all their aspects, controversial and with the courage to be so, with a conscious will to carry things to extremes. He was not to be pigeonholed. He dropped in on many philosophical and political movements, but couldn't settle down in any of them. He was a wanderer, always traveling on in search of what was for him the truth—and he was a free man, in that he always ruthlessly followed his innermost intentions. Perhaps he could say, like Søren Kierkegaard, that "subjectivity is truth," for he knew no other guide than his personal conviction and his own impulses—but he related not merely to himself; his deepest concern was society and the person in society. His subjective grasp always involved the totality.Obituary, Aftenposten, May 11, 1976
Jens Bjørneboe was born in 1920, in Kristiansand to Ingvald and Anna Marie Bjørneboe. He grew up in a wealthy family, his father a shipping magnate and a consul for Belgium. The Bjørneboe family originally immigrated from Germany in the 17th century and later adopted their Norwegian name. Coming from a long line of marine officers, Bjørneboe also went to sea as a young man.
Bjørneboe had a troubled childhood with sickness and depressions. He was bedbound for several years following severe pneumonia. At thirteen he attempted suicide by hanging himself. He began drinking when he was twelve, and he would often consume large amounts of wine when his parents were away. It is also rumored that he drank his father's aftershave on several occasions.
In 1943 Bjørneboe fled to Sweden to avoid forced labor under the Nazi occupation. During this exile, he met the German Jewish painter Lisel Funk, who later became his first wife. Lisel Funk introduced him to many aspects of German culture, especially German literature and the arts.
Bjørneboe's early work was poetry, and his first book was Poems (Dikt, 1951), consisting mainly of deeply religious poetry.
Bjørneboe wrote a number of socially critical novels. Among those were Ere the Cock Crows (Før Hanen Galer, 1952), Jonas (1955) and The Evil Shepherd (Den Onde Hyrde, 1960). Ere the Cock Crows is a critique of what Bjørneboe saw as the harsh treatment, after the Second World War, of people suspected of having associated in any way with the Nazis (among them the Norwegian writer and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Knut Hamsun). Jonas deals with injustices and shortcomings of the school system and The Evil Shepherd with the Norwegian prison system.
His most significant work is generally considered to be the trilogy The History of Bestiality, consisting of the novels Moment of Freedom (Frihetens Øyeblikk, 1966), Powderhouse (Kruttårnet, 1969) and The Silence (Stillheten, 1973).
Bjørneboe also wrote a number of plays, among them The Bird Lovers (Fugleelskerne, 1966), Semmelweis (1968) and Amputation (Amputasjon, 1970), a collaboration with Eugenio Barba and the Danish theatre ensemble Odin Teatret.
In 1967, he was convicted for publishing a novel deemed pornographic, Without a Stitch (Uten en tråd, 1966), which was confiscated and banned in Norway. The trial, however, made the book a huge success in foreign editions, and Bjørneboe's financial problems were (for a period) solved.
His last major work was the novel The Sharks (Haiene, 1974).
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