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An evening with Bang: part two

Panellists at the live launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

This is the second of two blogs reporting on our recent book launch event for an anthology of writings by Herman Bang: Some Would Call This Living. In part two, we hear from the translators.

Charlotte Barslund on her translations of short stories

While working on his short stories, I have come to appreciate just how well Bang captures the inner lives of characters who might at first sight not be regarded as worthy protagonists. He nails the stifled, impoverished lives of decent people. They try their hardest to improve their lot in life, and the few happy times they have and their lives of endless drudgery are invoked with agonising accuracy, leaving the reader with a sense of outrage and frustration at the harshness of the human condition. At the same time he is an astute, witty and entertaining observer of human nature’s less attractive sides: greed, vanity, self-importance, desire, snobbery. These themes are universal, they span generations and cultures.

As a literary translator working in commercial publishing, rather than academia, my priority was to produce translations which would make it clear why Bang is a writer who deserves wider recognition. When I encountered issues in the Danish text such as terms which nobody knew, inconsistencies in the geography in some short stories and errors in the naming of characters, I was very keen that these should be resolved and cleared up. I was surprised at how many anomalies we spotted, given that Bang had presumably had an editor for his published works. One unintentionally funny error included a heroine’s brother and love interest both being given the same name on the final few pages, which spiced up the plot no end. Either Bang’s editor wasn’t paying attention, or it was a case of not questioning what they presumed to be a divinely inspired author. However, in my experience working with 21st-century publishers, you do your authors no favours by not fixing their mistakes.

Paul Russell Garrett on Bang’s autobiographical accounts

Herman Bang was a very complex personality, who wrote in different ways in different genres. It was a stimulating part of this enterprise to be sent several collections of his texts to read, and to be able to compare solutions with other translators.

There is a great deal of humour in Bang’s autobiographical writings, sometimes at his own expense, as in his account of the lamentable reception of a tour of Bornholm he undertook with fellow artists. He can be extremely sarcastic – for example in his description of the Kaiser’s family, whose only function in life seems to be to pose for photographs – and is fond of biting understatements. Otherwise he is frequently a sympathetic observer of the different classes of society, especially those who are lower down the social scale.

He can also write very subtly, making oblique hints at events rather than explaining them fully. In ‘Expelled from Germany’, for example, he dances around the question as to why he is driven out of one place after another, leaving it to the reader to conjecture as to the cause of his discomfort.

Janet Garton on her translations

Bang’s fiction is at times problematic, even frustrating to unravel. He has often been called Denmark’s most important impressionist writer; his style is allusive and the meaning often elusive. He refers to things obliquely, giving the reader a glimpse of a person or a situation which suggests hidden depths or ambiguities which you are left to guess at. Let me give an example.

The long story ‘The Ravens’ tells of an old lady, Frøken Sejer, who is presumed to be wealthy, and is surrounded by a family who are all keen to inherit her wealth and stop her squandering it. She gives a lavish dinner for all of them, which they enjoy greedily, at the same time as wondering privately how much it has cost and counting the silver cutlery and cut-glass bowls, which seem to be mysteriously disappearing. Some of them are hoping to have her declared incapable of managing her affairs and confined to an asylum, and there is a great deal of half-concealed jostling for attention and point-scoring against perceived rivals for the inheritance, not to mention downright thieving. There are many unsubtle hints at possible strategies to worm Frøken Sejer’s money out of her, while she enjoys the whole situation hugely.

There is also a concealed homosexual thread running through the story – concealed because of course it could not be openly acknowledged in 1902. There are odd references to having some business in a kiosk, making it sound as if they are places for flirtation, whether hetero- or homosexual. One of the characters in this story, Willy Hauch, is clearly homosexual; he is introduced as being ‘polished to a shine all over’ and comes in apologising for being late because he has had ‘an errand at a kiosk’. He makes various remarks about not being the marrying kind, and during dinner he keeps an eye on Herr Lauritzen, the attractive young hired waiter, who assures Willy at one point that he has ‘many strings to my bow’. As people depart after the dinner, Willy jumps on to an electric tram and, the narrator tells us,

 suddenly spotted Herr Lauritzen …

‘Fancy meeting you here, Lauritzen,’ Willy said, ‘we’ve caught the same tram.’

‘So it would appear, Herr Hauch,’ Lauritzen replied with a nod.

No more is said, and they both leave the story at this point.

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An evening with Bang: part one

Panellists at the live launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

This is the first of two blogs reporting on our recent book launch event for an anthology of writings by Herman Bang: Some Would Call This Living. Part one introduces the anthology using comments from two of the panellists.

Paul Binding on the writer Herman Bang

Herman Bang was a master of very different forms of writing, although there is a thematic unity in his production which binds it all together. On the one hand, he was a superb and respected journalist with an enormous social compass, a sharp observer of social distinctions and dramatic events. In his description of the catastrophic Christiansborg fire of 1884, the immediacy of his account makes the reader feel the heat and hear the flames; in his brief recording of a fatal car accident, ‘In a Flash’, he brings home the terrible finality of violent death.

On the other hand, he also wrote many wonderful short stories and novellas, like Ved vejen (Katinka), often recording the quiet existence of those on the sidelines of life, those whose fates are normally unrecorded. This was the era of the short story, and Bang admired amongst others Maupassant and Chekhov. In a story like ‘Frøken Kaja’ he brings to life the inhabitants of a boarding house with a keen awareness of the tiny distinctions which mark out some of the boarders as being of a slightly higher class than the others.

Bang was in many ways an outsider in Danish literary circles. Although he shared many of the preoccupations of the Modern Breakthrough movement with its emphasis on realistic depictions of contemporary society, he had strained relations with its Danish leaders, Georg and Edvard Brandes – perhaps partly because of his precocious early success as a critic with Realisme og Realister, published when he was only 22. He was also an outsider because of his sexuality, being homosexual during a period when it was regarded with hostility. Despite fleeing abroad, he never achieved a harmonious relationship, perhaps because he was too complicated for anyone to be able to reciprocate fully.

The subversive nature of sexuality is a theme of many of his stories, such as ‘Les Quatre Diables’, which tells of a circus act of high-flying trapeze artists, two men and two women whose harsh early lives have led them to form an intimate bond through their act. But their work and dedication is undermined by desire, as Fritz is seduced by an aristocratic lady who saps his strength in their encounters. Here sexuality is shown to be a threat to a well-regulated society.

Dorrit Willumsen’s novel Bang (also published by Norvik Press) is one of the best ever written about a creative writer, tracing how Herman Bang was hounded across Europe, at one and the same time suffering acutely and deliberately provoking his own tragedy.

Janet Garton on the background to the publication

The story of this anthology goes back to 2018, when I was contacted by a group of Danes going by the mysterious name of De Bangske Morgenmænd (translates roughly as The Bangian Morning Men). I had not heard of them, but it transpired that they are a group of men with a passion for Herman Bang’s works and a desire to promote them, who meet every year on the morning of his birthday to celebrate his achievements. They were aware of how little Bang is known in the English-speaking world, and suggested that Norvik Press might consider publishing some of his short stories and journalism, two genres in which he excelled and which have hardly been translated into English at all. They sent us a quite long and very varied list of short stories, autobiographical pieces, journalism and letters – which is practically identical with the final contents of our volume. We were a little daunted at first by the prospect of such a large publication – a total of 170,000 words to translate – but decided that it would be a really worthwhile undertaking, if we could raise enough funding to cover the substantial costs. It helped a lot that De Bangske Morgenmænd are well connected. We were able to discuss the project in detail when I was in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2019, and as a result we applied to and received funding from Augustinus Fonden and Consul George Jorck og hustru Emma Jorck’s Fond. Professor Poul Houe from the University of Minnesota, who is one of the Morgenmænd, brought us some funding from his university as well as supplying the informative introduction. And the translations were also supported by the ever-reliable Statens Kunstfond. That is how we were able to produce this handsome volume.

Part two will delve into the translators’ experiences while working on this project. Stay tuned!

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Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology

Cover of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology brings together a selection of Herman Bang’s writings – short stories, autobiographical pieces, reportage – in English translation from the original Danish.

Readers familiar with the eccentricities of Bang will enjoy having his fiction and non-fiction gems available in one handsome volume; and readers new to Bang are in for a real treat! For the Bang-curious, you can read two extracts from the Anthology below which provide a flavour of his inimitable flair across prose genres:

Short story: Extract from The Last Ballgown
Journalism: Extract from The Fire

Purchase Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology at your favourite bookshop, or here. Translated by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett. Introduction by Poul Houe. Get more Bang for your buck by ordering our Bang Bundle with Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer via our special offer!

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Back to university: ebooks and reading lists

Where has the summer gone?! With the reading-hammocks being folded away and back-to-school beckoning, this week we’re highlighting two resources: our new ebook catalogue, and recommendations for university reading lists.

Hot off the (digital) press, our 2020 Ebook Catalogue collects together all the Norvik titles that are currently available for you to download and enjoy instantly on your Kindle or other e-reader device:

Vigdis Hjorth’s PEN award-winning A House in Norway, translated by Charlotte Barslund – a perfect choice for #WITMonth

Ilmar Taska’s acclaimed Pobeda 1946: A Car Called Victory, translated by Christopher Moseley

Kirsten Thorup’s timely The God of Chance, translated by Janet Garton

Jógvan Isaksen’s Walpurgis Tide, translated by John Keithsson – a slice of Faroese eco-crime

We hope to digitise more of our backlist in future, too.For those returning to campus – in-person, or remotely – we recommend some autumnal poetry: Hans Børli’s We Own the Forest: And Other Poems presents a dual-language text with facing-page English translations rendered by Louis A. Muinzer. This work by the ‘lumberjack poet’ – a phrase I’ve never had occasion to write before! – is ideal for Norwegian classes. Students of Finnish may also be interested in our forthcoming selection of poems by Pentti Saarikoski, A Window Left Open, jointly translated by Emily Jeremiah and Fleur Jeremiah and also in a dual-language format.

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Lagerlöf and public health education

This week we’re highlighting two translations from our Lagerlöf in English series: Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden (1906-07), available here; and The Phantom Carriage (1912), available here, both translated by Peter Graves.

This blogpost is adapted from a longer essay by one of our directors, Claire Thomson. If you read Swedish, you can download it for free here.

As we begin to understand Covid-19, this dreadful new disease afflicting humankind, there is some comfort to be found in the thought that within the last century, great leaps were made in the treatment and control of another scourge: tuberculosis. In Sweden alone, half a million people died of tuberculosis between 1900 and 1950. In 1904, the Swedish National Association Against Tuberculosis (Nationalföreningen mot Tuberkulos) was established to coordinate public health education about the disease. One of the association’s founders, alongside Crown Prince Gustav, was the author Selma Lagerlöf.

In its first few decades, a key activity for the Association was to organise peripatetic lectures and film and slide shows educating Swedes about hygiene and other preventative measures against tuberculosis. Money was raised for research and education through the sale of stamps and the majblomma flower pin. But a subtler means of raising awareness was Lagerlöf’s writing; she was encouraged by the Association to write the novella The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen, 1912), a ghost story which lays bare the sickness, poverty and misery engendered by tuberculosis. The novella was adapted for the silver screen in 1920-21 by the great Swedish director and actor Victor Sjöström. A blockbuster of its day, it was one of the first films to use double exposure, and inspired the young Ingmar Bergman to take up filmmaking.

Feature films and literature can, of course, indirectly promote public health messages. But in the days before television and social media, purpose-made short films were widely used in public information campaigns. In 1952, twelve years after her death, Lagerlöf’s writing again played a role in educating the Swedish populace about the fight against tuberculosis. By this time, half a century of research had resulted in effective prevention and treatment, and Sweden had been one of the countries to pioneer a nation-wide screening and vaccination programme in the 1940s (including the use of miniature x-ray machines in buses). The dramatist Martin Söderhjelm was commissioned by the National Association Against Tuberculosis to make a short film reminding Swedes of the work of the Association, encouraging them to participate in medical screening programmes, and looking to the future. The sixteen-minute film, shown in cinemas around the country in autumn 1952, was Medan det ännu är tid: ‘While there’s still time’.

In order to engage its audience, Medan det ännu är tid opens with a tale that every Swedish cinema-goer would remember from their school days: an episode from Lagerlöf’s Nils Holgersson. Chapter XLIV of the epic novel fills in the back-story of two recurring characters, Åsa the goose-girl and her little brother Mats, and the film devotes its first five minutes to the sad fate of these fictional children. Åsa and Mats are from a poor Småland family. Their siblings and mother are infected by a traveller and die one by one, and their father flees. The orphaned Åsa and Mats attend a lecture explaining the symptoms, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, and they realize that their family died of the disease, not of the sick traveller’s curse. Åsa and Mats embark on their own journey through Sweden to find their father, navigating forests, towns and frozen lakes (see below), and along the way they tell the people they encounter about the need for good hygiene in combating the spread of tuberculosis. The film thus stages the historical phenomenon of travelling public health lecturers, an authentic detail already embedded in the novel by an author who was herself a founding member of the National Association Against Tuberculosis. But in typical Lagerlöf style, public health education is also framed in Nils Holgersson as a kind of mythical or folktale-style wandering across the national map, undertaken by the good citizens Åsa and Mats.

Both in Lagerlöf’s novel and Söderhjelm’s film, the fight against tuberculosis thus emerges as a collective undertaking for Swedish society, a battle that is fought not only by scientists and medics, but by ordinary people doing simple, everyday things – like washing their hands.

* * *

For Peter Graves’ translation of Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden, Norvik Press commissioned original illustrations from the illustrator Bea Bonafini. Bea comments here on her illustration for chapter XXV, which depicts a dramatic episode in Åsa and Mats’ trek through Sweden:

Possibly my favourite image, I chose this tragic moment for its visual power, as well as for how poignantly Lagerlöf depicts the race for survival of the brother and sister. I imagined the aerial view of the running children, seen from the perspective of the gander and the boy as they direct the children out of the maze of cracking ice. The image evokes the precarious balance between life and death as the children try to avoid running into dead ends while making their way across. It is the first inverted image I use, where the picture of the iced lake fills a negative space, causing an initial sense of disorientation appropriate to the nature of the image.

‘The Ice Breaks Up’, illustration by Bea Bonafini for Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden
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Karin Boye’s modernist classic now published in English for the first time

Malin Forst is a precocious, devout twenty-year-old woman attending a Stockholm teachers’ college in the 1930s. Confounded by a sudden crisis of faith, Malin plunges into a depression and a paralysis of will. Oscillating between poetic prose, social realism, fragments of correspondence, and imagined dialogues between the forces of nature, Crisis telescopes Malin’s distress out into metaphysical planes and back, as her mind stages struggles between black and white, Dionysian and Apollonian, and with an everyday existence that has become unbearably arduous.

And then an intense infatuation with a classmate reorients everything.

First published in Swedish as Kris in 1934, Boye’s meditation on a crisis of faith and queer desire is recognised as a modernist classic for its stylistic and literary experimentation. Now, in January 2020, the full text is available in English for the first time, translated by Amanda Doxtater. You can find it in all good bookstores, or via norvikpress.com.

For a taster of a key scene, download an extract here.

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An evening with Danish author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano

Bang coverA reading and panel discussion with author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano

Tuesday 16 October 2018, 6.00-7.30pm
UCL Arena Centre
10th Floor, 1-19 Torrington Place, London, WC1E 7HB
Tickets are free, but pre-registration is essential. To book your place, please email norvikevents@gmail.com by 9 October

Join us over a glass of wine with Danish author Dorrit Willumsen and translator Marina Allemano, as they discuss the process of bringing Herman Bang to the English-speaking world. Bang will be available for sale at a special discounted price for one night only. 

In Bang, winner of the 1997 Nordic Council Literature Prize, Dorrit Willumsen re-works the life story of Danish author, journalist and dramaturge Herman Bang (1857-1912). In a series of compelling flashbacks that unfold during his last fateful train ride across the USA, we are transported to fin-de-siècle St Petersburg, Prague, Copenhagen, and a Norwegian mountainside. A key figure in Scandinavia’s Modern Breakthrough, Herman Bang’s major works include Haabløse Slægter (Hopeless Generations, 1880), Stuk (Stucco, 1887) and Tine (Tina, 1889).

Read more about Bang here

Read an extract from Bang here

Browse and buy Bang and other books in all good bookshops and at norvikpress.com

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Ten Lagerlöf masterpieces for £100

Women in Translation Month is almost over, but we couldn’t let it pass without celebrating the woman whose shadow looms large over our catalogue, and the women and men who have translated her work: Selma Lagerlöf.

For a limited time only, we’re offering ten Lagerlöf masterpieces for £100. Read on for more details…

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To date, Norvik Press has published ten of Lagerlöf’s works in English translation [click here to download the series leaflet]:

A Manor House Tale: a psychological novella and a folk tale in which two young and damaged people redeem each other.

Banished: infused with the visceral horrors of the First World War, Banished is a tale of love, loneliness, and the extremes of human morality. Read an extract here.

The Emperor of Portugallia: A compelling exploration of father-daughter relationships and of madness.

The Phantom Carriage: an atmospheric ghost story and a cautionary tale of the effects of tuberculosis and alcoholism, famously adapted to film by the great Swedish director Victor Sjöström.

Lord Arne’s Silver: from a 16th-century killing unfolds a tale of retribution, love and betrayal.

Mårbacka: part memoir, part mischievous satire set on Lagerlöf’s childhood estate. Read an extract from Mårbacka in English here.

The Löwensköld Trilogy: Lagerlöf’s last work of fiction, the trilogy follows several generations of a cursed family and explores destiny, evil, motherhood, and many other themes along the way. The trilogy consists of three volumes:  The Löwensköld Ring, Charlotte Löwensköld, and Anna Svärd.

The internationally beloved tale of a boy and his goose, Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden, Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Nils Holgersson is also available in a single-volume hardback collector’s edition).

Purchased individually, all eleven paperbacks (including the two paperback volumes of Nils Holgersson) cost a total of £135 (plus P&P). Until 14 September 2018, we are offering a limited number of complete sets of eleven paperbacks at the discounted price of £100 (plus P&P). This special price is only available on orders placed directly with Norvik Press, not through book stores or online. Please email norvik.press@ucl.ac.uk to place your order. First come, first served – available only while stocks last!

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Why You Need to Read Suzanne Brøgger

Suzanne Brøgger is a Danish icon. With her 1973 collection of essays Fri os fra kœrligheden (Deliver Us from Love) she put herself on the map as a powerful feminist voice and became the spokesperson for a whole generation of Scandinavian women. She wants change and challenges traditional boundaries of sexuality and gender in her work. In her early writings, there is a distinct polemic voice fighting for social transformation, but later on in her authorship, Brøgger becomes more philosophical, posing the big existential questions about human life. She fills her stories with herself, transgressing the line between fiction and autobiography, in order to convey the spirit of the age she is living in. But using herself as material has led to a lifetime of trying to balance the role of subject and object. Because in addition to being an author, Brøgger is a striking beauty with an aura of sensuality – a combination that has spurred curiosity and desire since she made her debut in the public sphere. However, it seems this has only prompted Brøgger to be more innovative, constantly reinventing herself and her writing, flouting generic conventions.

Brøgger’s collection of essays A Fighting Pig’s Too Tough to Eat is now out in a beautiful new reprint. It contains several essays, including ‘Who Needs Witches’ where she celebrates female power and the human body, and ‘The Love of Death’ which starts out with an allegorical train ride where a woman is either having sex or dying; Brøgger is investigating our fear, disgust and fascination with both phenomena. In the midsection of A Fighting Pig’s Too Tough to Eat, you will find a short novel with the same title. This novel is one of Brøgger’s most popular books and is about rural life in the small community Løve, interwoven with observations of the Cluny Tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn. It is an exploration of the concepts of alterity, textuality and change and is divided into sections according to the senses, with chapter titles like ‘To Taste’ and ‘To Touch’.

We hope that you will enjoy this reprint and that it might stir you to think differently about the world we live in.