Lost in Translation: Norwegian novelist Regine Normann
10th Apr 2015
Regine’s father died when she was four. Her mother, unable to cope with bringing up five young children, sent her to stay with relations. Just three years later, her mother had remarried and moved away. Regine never lived with her mother again and was effectively an orphan without the title. It was this harrowing childhood experience that would later serve as the impetus for Regine’s future work.
Despite enduring an emotionally fraught childhood, Regine was already moulding a positive foundation for herself. After attending school, she worked as a governess for a priest, and at seventeen married Peder Johnsen, a teacher. Sadly, the marriage was far from what she imagined, with Regine describing the union as a “ten year long rape”. However, a new driving force was born out of the marriage, as it was then Regine began to write.
Peder took measures to prevent Regine from writing, such as restricting her lamp oil and tearing up her papers. Instead of succumbing to these demands, Regine took matters into her own hands. In the freezing Norwegian climate, she began writing in a nearby cave, known as Sinahula. Dimmed lamp light merged with the emotional factors that must have been involved meant writing would have been a truly arduous task. Regine hid her manuscripts in the cave to prevent her husband from destroying them before they could be safely transported elsewhere.
Her resilient spirit should be celebrated and remembered, for those who might find solace in a woman’s grievous story that was triumphant in the end.At this point Regine did something courageous – she moved away to become a teacher and left Peder soon after. Bearing in mind it was 19th century Norway, a move like this would have been very daring for any woman at this time.
In 1905, Regine finally made her debut with the novel, Kravbaag: skildriner fra et lider fikseavar (Kravbaag: Pictures of a Little Fishing Village). In this first novel, the protagonist a young woman named Paulina suffers at the hands of a vindictive mother who sets out to ruin her daughter’s life. Themes of rape and the abuse of both women and children also permeate her other novels, including Bortsat (Given up for Adoption) and Barnets Tjenere (The Child’s Servant).
The novel Staengt is particularly relevant to Regine’s own life. In this novel the protagonist, Sara, is destroyed by her guardian and told to marry an elderly preacher who beats her when she protests to being raped. Adhering to the folklore theme that could often be found in Regine work, Sara meets a girl and a boy who she goes hunting for treasure with inside a cave. It is the only solace from her oppressive life and the cave seems to represent freedom, just like Sinahula had for Regine years earlier.
From childhood, it seemed that Regine Normann was destined for a life filled with sorrow. However, looking at her novels together, it is clear that Regine took her life experiences and processed them through writing.
She published eighteen books and revealed that teaching and writing were her two “life’s works”. Her resilient spirit should be celebrated and remembered, for those who might find solace in a woman’s grievous story that was triumphant in the end.