Collett, Wenche and Holberg: Figures of Norwegian Socialism

Please allow me to say that Oslo is a very artistic city and it is full of statues. Now I think I would have to spend a life time to take a picture of every single one. However, the city has commemorated in fine bronze casting some of the most influential cultural figures of Norwegian history, and I felt it my duty to dedicate this blog to three figures who I feel deserve recognition, and whose statues compelled me to photograph them. So today goes to these Norwegians who throve and worked towards making their society a better place.

Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royl Palace grounds in Oslo.
Statue of Camilla Collett at the Royal Palace grounds in Oslo.

The history of Norway comes across as one deeply influenced by artists and writers, at least in modern times. This woman, however was not only a famous and influential writer; she is often considered as the first Norwegian feminist. Camilla came from  family with a huge artistic background: one of her brothers Henrik Wergeland was a famous author, and her father Nicolai Wergeland was a theologian but also a composer. After marrying to Peter Jonas Collett, who was not only a politician but also a literary critic, she found the support she required to start publishing her work. Her pieces were echoes of political and social criticism and realism, where she addressed the difficulties of being a woman in modern society. She was a polemic author, who wrote in a fairly casual tone, which many of her readers appreciated and empathise with. However, Camilla’s story ends on a sad note. After her husband died suddenly, her sons were sent away to be taken care of by their relatives, she was forced to sell their house and suffered severe financial difficulty until her death in 1895. Despite all the stigma and hardship that she undertook, her work has not been forgotten, and it certainly helped waking up the minds of many in the era Nationalism and Romanticism. Camilla was a pioneer, and like many she was and still somehow is undermined – hence why I could not stop myself from bringing her to the spot light.

Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.
Statue of Wenche Foss by the National Theatre.

Another special woman in the history of the Norwegian arts – the beloved actress Eva Wenche Steenfeldt Stang (5 December 1917 – 28 March 2011). This woman rocked the stage, television, and any place where she could act. The piece that brought such a star to the centre of the Norwegian arts was her performance in To Tråder by Carl Erik Soya. Since then she became a regular of the National Theatre, with almost constant appearances from 1952 onwards. Foss was also gifted with a great voice, which expanded her shores performing in operettas, as well as doing soe voice acting in her later life – Foss was the voice for the animated character Enkefru Stengelføhn-Glad. But the reason why the Norwegians always have a soft spot for this woman is due to her activism and social support. Foss was mother to a child with Down Syndrome who unfortunately died, and in 1971 she suffered from breast cancer and endured it. She did not let these traumatic experiences to bring her down: she became an active supporter of raising awareness for the disabled members of society, to the point of founding the holiday resort Solgården (Alicante, Spain). After her experience with cancer she spoke publicly about this once again to raise awareness and to give hope to those who may share her fate. Moreover, Foss was supportive of gay rights and gay marriage and often confronted the Christian Democratic Party for their position against homosexuals. This remarkable woman earned in his life the title of Star of the Order of St. Olav (1988) as one of the few civilians who received this knightly title from the king, as well as a number of other awards for her artistic and personal contributions. Her death brought so much grief to the Norwegian population that she was granted an honoured funeral at the expense of this state – making her the firth woman in Norwegian history to receive such privilege. Her funeral was broadcasted on national television and attended by the king, queen and prime minister of the country.

I want to end this post on a completely different note though, because I have a lot of respect for this man, and as a historian, I could not miss him.

Ludvig Holberg - by the National Theatre.
Ludvig Holberg – by the National Theatre.

Holberg, the man who bridges my Norwegian and Danish adventure together. Baron Holberg, born in Bergen in 1684 shined in so many areas I could write endless posts about him, so I will try to keep it brief, but interesting. Holberg started as a theologian and then diverged into the fields of law, linguistic and history out of his own curiosity. What original made him famous, however and the importance of his statue at Oslo, was his contribution to Norwegian and Danish literature with his emblematic series of comedies. Ditching his theological background, he made it to the university of Copenhagen to develop his study in law. Holberg was a great student and soon his knowledge elevated him to the position of assistant professor for the law school, and shortly after  moving to metaphysics, rhetoric and Latin, and finally history – which he seemed to have valued most amongst his acquired disciplines. Nonetheless it was his satiric pieces that brought him to fame, and which he wrote in the period between 1719 to 1731. However, the great fire of Copenhagen of 1728 changed the mood of his audience – a public ridden by misery and despair was not all that keen on is comedies, so he moved onto writing philosophy and history again. Holberg was deeply influences by Humanism and Enlightenment, and devoted his work to urge people to build a better society, awaken their minds and educate themselves accordingly. Despite his wealth and fame he was a man who lived in a moderate manner and did not indulge in the eccentricity of Baroque society. He was a practical man and thought his money would be better of invested. This is best reflected in his physical legacy, for he did not marry or had children: Sorø Academy. Holberg bought this estate to create this institution for the education of the children of the nobility. it was this donation that earned him the title of baron, and the reason for which the king excluded him from paying taxes as his donation was far larger than he could ever pay in taxes.

And thus my brief biographical triptych of Oslo’s statues ends. I hope you join us on the next update 🙂 .

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