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jonas lie

JONAS LIE (1833 - 1908)

Jonas Lie was born in Hokksund (Hon Farm), but spent his childhood in Tromsø, to which his family had moved when he was five years old. His father worked there as a judge. The seafarers, winter storms and storms at sea, Russian traders, Lapps and Finns, inspired Lie´s imagination and in his books he often returned to Nordland. Following his father´s footsteps, Lie was educated at the University of Christiania as a lawyer. He began practice in 1859 at Kongsvinger and married in 1860 his cousin Thomasine Lie. At the same time Lie worked as a journalist and timber merchant. Because of unsuccessful financial speculations, Lie lost his property in the economic crisis of 1865-68.

Norwegian novelist who is considered one of the four great ones of the 19th century Norwegian literature. The others are Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, and Alexander Kielland. Jonas Lie stands out for his impressionistic style, picking out only significant details of setting, atmosphere, mood, and speech. In his first novels Lie mingled realistic with fantastic elements. Lie´s studies of family life, such as "The Family at Gilje", and stories of the life of the fishermen and the stormy Arctic Ocean, represent his finest work.

With much encouragement from his wife and with her collaboration, Lie devoted himself to writing from 1868 and moved in Christiania (Oslo). Lie´s first work, "Den fremsynte eller billeder fra Nordland", appeared in 1870 and earned him a scholarship. The novel centered on Lie´s childhood impressions of life in an Arctic seaport. It was followed by the first Norwegian story of sea and of business life, "TREMASTEREN FREMTIDEN ELLER LIV NORDPÅ". His early novels were not successfull, but showed his skill at depicting seafaring people.

One of Lie´s central works is "FAMILIEN PAA GILJE", a classic novel that deals with the position of women. The tragedy of Gilje family is set against warm, happy moments of everyday life, which give the dark story a contrast. "KOMMANDØRENS DØTRE" also portrayed the constrains on women and other problems of Norway´s increasingly irrelevant upper class, but in more bitter tone. Disillusioned "LIVSSLAVEN", about the slums, was influenced by Emile Zola. "LODSEN OG HANS HUSTRU" dealt with maritime life in the far north. "MAISA JOHNS" was about a poor seamstress.

The much anthologized short story "Elias and the Draugh" was included in a collection originally published by Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, and has been reprinted for instance in Roald Dahl´s Book of Ghost Stories. In the tale a poor fisherman plunges a harpoon into a back of a seal or so he thinks. The creature vanishes into the sea in a spray of mingled blood and water. He sees the creature again, with a long iron prong projecting from its back, in a boat house. Elias buys a "fembøring", the famous Norland fishing-boat, and sets to sail home with his family. On the dark sea he meets a rival boat. The sea strucks his vessel. His wife, taken by the sea, calls his name. Elias cannot help her and he decides to save the three children he has on board. At that he was convinced in his innermost soul of two things: one was that it was none other than the Draugh himself who sat steering his half-boat alongside his and who had lured him on to destruction, and the other was that he was fated no doubt this night to sail the sea for the last time. For he who sees the Draugh at sea is a marked man.

The Draugh, a sea monster, sails with a crew of men lost at sea who have not received Christian burial. Elias loses his two sons during the night, he tells his Bernt, the youngest, all about the Draugh, who he had wounded him in the neck and how the Draugh was now taking his revenge. In the morning Elias throws himself into the sea, crying: "Im going to mother. In Jesus´s name!" Bernt is saved, but he would never go to sea.

In his works Lie has depicted business life, the sea, social misfortunes, the narrow and conventional existence endured by Norwegian middle-class women, and other subjects with sharp sense of social realism. Differing from many of his 19th century colleagues, Lie rarely used his writings for the more direct type of social discussion, which gave many novels of the time the tone of tracts. Although "The Barque Future (1872) took its theme from Pierre Joseph Proudhon´s famous slogan "Property is theft", it juxtaposed coolly, almost journalistically old and greedy merchandising with new ideas and enterprising spirit.

In "The Peasant and Prima" Lie expresses his admiration of the simple life style of peasants. Evina, a young girl from the backwoods of Finland, likes sing from morning to night to her heart´s content. Her beautiful voice attracts the attention of a stranger just before she is due to marry Vermund, a young man from her neighborhood. The stranger persuades her to follow him and became rich. Evina gains success as an opera singer.

She learns to speak foreign languages, drink champagne, and have all the things she wants. Years pass and her high notes are no longer so full and pure. She gradually loses all her property to creditors. Evina returns to her birth place and marries Vermund who has faithfully waited for her. In the evening, Evina sat in the chimney-corner and stirred the pot, humming the while arias and fragments of melody from the operas as they rose in her mind, much like a song-bird that is hoarse and only occasionally can bring its voice into tune.


With this story Lie seems to say, that all the artistic glory and fame is temporary, and nothing compared to peace of mind. Toward the end of his life Lie became more pessimistic and naturalism gave way to mystic views.

He wrote two volumes of fairy tales called TROLD (some translated as "Weird Tales from Northern Seas"), which draw on his knowledge of the folklore of the far North and Lapp magic.

In "Finn Blood" a fisher named Eilert has prejudices against Finns, his neighbors. He believes that they practice sorcery and idolatry. After a shipwreck he experiences a strange adventure at the bottom of the sea. He then wakes up from his delirious sleep, and the Mermaid of his dream turns out to be a young girl, a Finn his neighbors had rescued him. After that it seemed to him that he had never heard anything so absurd and presumptuous as the twaddle that would fix a stigma of shame or contempt on Finn blood, and the same spring he and the Finn girl Zilla were betrothed, and in the autumn they were married.Lie wrote these tales in a simple epic style, but in later novels he returned to his earlier realism.

Lie´s marriage with Thomasine was happy. They lived in Rome and from 1882 to 1906 in Paris. In 1906 they returned to Norway. Thomasine Lie died in 1907 and Jonas Lie in their home "Elisenfryd" in Stavern on July 5, 1908.

Stavern Church

Selected works:

        The Visionary or Pictures from Nordland
        The Barque Future
        The Pilot and His Wife
  • THOMAS ROSS, 1878
  • RUTLAND, 1880
  • GRABOWS KAT, 1880
  • GAA PAA!, 1882
        The Family at Gilje
  • LIVSSLAVEN, 1883
        One of Life´s Slaves
  • EN MALSTRØM, 1884
        The Commodore´s Daughters
  • ET SAMLIV, 1887
  • MAISA JOHNS, 1888
  • DIGTE, 1889
  • ONDE MAKTER, 1890
  • TROLD, 1891-92
  • NIOBE, 1893
  • LINDELIN, 1894
  • DYRE REIN, 1896
  • EVENTYR, 1909
  • Peasant and Prima and Finn Blood, published in
        the anthology Scandinavian Short Stories, 1995