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|Alexander (Lange) Kielland (1849-1906)|
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 Jonas Lie. Kielland was perhaps the foremost prose stylist of his day. His literary career lasted 12 highly productive years, during which he wrote his major works.
"Nothing is so boundless as the sea, nothing so patient. On its broad back it bears, like a good-natured elephant, the tiny mannikins which tread the earth; and in its vast cool depth it has place for all mortal woes. It is not true that sea is faithless, for it has never promised anything; without claim, without obligation, free, pure, and genuine beats the mighty heart, the last sound one in an ailing world. And while the mannikins strain their eyes over it, the sea sings its old song." (from Garman and Worse, 1880)
Alexander Kielland was born in Stavanger into wealthy merchant family. His father, Jens Zetlitz Kielland, was a bank director, consul, and artist. Kielland's mother, Christiane Lange, died in 1862, after which his father married again. His older sister, Kitty, became a landscape painter.
Kielland studied law in Christiania, and after graduating in 1871, he then worked as a director of a brick works. In 1872 Kielland married Beate Ramsland. During his years at the university he had read Kierkegaard's works. Especially Georg Brandes and Stuart Mill later inspired his decision to devote his creative energies to social criticism and reform. In 1878 Kielland went to Paris, where he met Bjørnson, and showed to him his stories. The older writer encouraged Kielland's literary aspirations and found him a publisher. Next year Kielland published his first book, a collection of short stories. In 1881-1883 Kielland lived in Denmark, spending much time with the Brandes brothers and J.P. Jacobsen.
Among Kielland's most important novels is Garman og Worse (1880), in which he depicts the life in his native city of Stavanger and tells of the decline of a family and a firm. Georg Brandes, with whom Kielland was in correspondence, emphasized the critical role of literature in social questions. Garman og Worse served as a model for Thomas Mann's famous novel Buddenbrooks (1901). Arbeidtsfolk (1881) is a penetrating study of the cynical tyranny of Kristiania officialdom and attacks Norway's state bureaucracy. The harrowing Else (1881) deals with the sexual exploitation of women. Skipper Worse (1882) is another portrait of his native Stavanger and an indictment of religious fanaticism. In the trilogy Gift (1883), Fortuna (1884) and Sankt Hans fest (1887) Kielland satirizes the hypocrisy of Norway's clergy. The story follows Abraham Lövdahl from his childhood to a failed scientist and reflected the contemporary cultural debate Norway. His best plays were the satirical comedies Tre par (1886) and Professoren (1888).
With his irony Kielland angered 'venstre,' the leftist political group, and the conservatives had problems to tolerate his free thoughts in religious questions. The large-scale industrial capitalism appalled him, and the greed of its beneficiaries. When the government rejected Bjørnson's and Jonas Lies request about Kielland's state pension for more or less political reasons, Bjørnson eventually gave up his own pension. Kielland's novel Jacob (1891) was born from the turmoils of these struggles, and mocked political opportunists who are not ashamed of anything.
From 1889 to 1890 Kielland worked as a journalist at Stavanger Avis. After virtually stopping writing fiction in 1891, he published only stories which had appeared earlier. In 1892 he was appointed Stavanger's burgomaster, although in Arbeidtsfolk had condemned high officials. In 1902 he became the governor of Romsdal.
In his short stories Kielland could intentionally refer to familiar juxtapositions and motifs, but then undermine expectations just hinting to hidden meanings, leaving conclusions to the reader. 'Karen' depicts a fox who loses its prey in the moor. Parallelly the story follows a busy evening in an inn. Karen serves the guests. She is small and delicate maiden, earnest and reserved, and in her usual way takes care of everything. A tall and handsome conductor comes with his mail coach, and leaves again after a short moment. Karen hears when one fish pedlar mentions that he is married, she drops the teaspoons and goes out. "She heard nothing that was called after her from the inn. She went across the court to her room and began mechanically to make her bed. Her eyes stared into the darkness. She pressed her hands at her head, to her breast; she groaned. She could comprehend nothing – nothing! She heard the landlady's complaining voice: "Karen, dear Karen!" it called. She ran out across the court, behind the inn, across the moor."
In the short story 'Two Friends' Kielland showed the same kind of understanding of human nature that marked Guy de Maupassant's work. Kielland tells how false ambitions can be psychologically destructive. Alphonse is a spoilt child of fortune, handsome, charming and loved by all. However, he doesn't have the energy to have success in life. Charles envies him and struggles hard to became prosperous and respected. Their ways separate and Charles waits for the ruin of his former friend. When Alphonse counterfeits his name on a bill, Charles gets his chance. Alphonse greets him warmly in his favorite café. "It was long since Charles had heard that old pet name. He gazed into the well-known face, and now for the first time saw how it had altered of late. It seemed to him as though he were reading a tragic story about himself." Alphonse takes poison and dies in the middle of his friends.
French literature and rationalistic view of the world influence deeply Kielland, but he also read John Stuart Mill and Charles Dickens. As a novelist he was faithful to realism and rejected the other dominant trend of the period, naturalism. Kielland combined elegant style and brilliant wit with psychological understanding. With Georg Brandes's he shared the view that literature should work as a means of social criticism. Kielland revealed the oppression of the poor, scourged hypocrisy in the clergy, and satirized bureaucracy and the schoolmen. However, Kielland's coldness for the unrefined, surfacing in his last novel, Jakob, separated him from a number of fashionable writers who followed the call of Socialism. In 1905 he published a study on Napoleon, which is not among his best works. Already from the mid-1880s, Kielland had suffered from shortness of breath, and he could not put his full energy into writing. Kielland died in Bergen on April 6, 1906.
For further reading: Min far Alexander Lange Kielland by B. Kielland (1949); Alexander Kielland's litterära genombrott by N. E. Bæhrendtz (1952); Der Einfluss der norwegischen Literatur auf Thomas Manns "Buddenbrooks" by Walter Gryters: Triltsch (1961); Alexander Kielland's romaner by O. Apeland (1971); Tendenz und satirische Schreibart im Werk von Alexander L. Kielland by Helmut Blochwitz (1988); Alexander L. Kielland og hans samtid by Gerhard Gran (1992); Om Garman & Worse av Alexander Kielland by Hilde Sejersted (1996); A History of Norwegian Literature, ed. by Harald S. Naess (1993, vol. 2 of A History of Scandinavian Literature); Mannen i speilet: Alexander L. Kielland i Stavanger 1888-1902 by Einar O. Risa (1999); Søkelys på "Gift" av Alexander L. Kielland by Ellen Ugland (2000); Forfatterens strategier: Alexander Kielland og hans krets by Tore Rem 2002);