Norwegian Author Agnar Mykle and the Song of the Red Ruby

Agnar Mykle (1915-1994) is regarded as one of the most important Norwegian postwar authors. His writings have had considerable influence on subsequent writer generations. His prose represents a combination of detailed poetic realism, intense sensual descriptions, great humor and deep seriousness. Mykle’s radical descriptions of sexuality triggered the biggest literary trial in Norway in the 1900’s.

Agnar Mykle was born in Trondheim as the oldest son of Ole Elias and Emma Myklebust (In 1944, Agnar changed his surname to avoid any connection to his family). As a child he was severely hampered by asthma and for long periods tied to the house. His childhood would play a big part in his writings. His father’s strict discipline and mother’s superficiality represent most of Mykle’s literary themes.

In 1939, he joined the Norwegian School of Economics in Bergen. Despite excellent grades and exams it was clear that his interests went in other directions. He joined the student socialist group (Sosialistisk Studentlag), he founded the Student Orchestra, and he also met his future wife, Jane. During World War II, he began to experiment with literary sketches and short stories and in 1944, he published his first novel, ‘Jægermarsjen’ (English: The Hunter March).

Over the following years he wrote the short story collection ‘Taustigen’ (English: The Rope Ladder). Already then, Mykle had an exceptional ability to combine detailed and realistic situation descriptions with intense and emotional depictions.

The novel ‘Lasso round the Moon’ (1954) was Mykle’s big breakthrough as a writer. The story is about a young composer Ask Burlefot, his escape from the family, his yearning for beauty and his insecurity – not unlike Mykle’s personal life. It is a story of betrayal – first and foremost in relation to the protagonist’s younger brother. The novel received great reviews and is considered one of the most important Nordic novels in the 1900’s.

The story about Ask Burlefot continues in the novel ‘Song of the Red Ruby’ (1956), where the protagonist’s sentimental and longing love plays a central role. His quest for love and sexual conquests, described with a radical and outspoken language, led to the first Norwegian trial against a literary work since the Bohemian literature in the late 1800’s.

The trial against the publisher Gyldendal and Agnar Mykle attracted enormous attention. The principal and legal issues surrounding the banning of literary expressions created an international debate. The book and the author achieved worldwide fame, and ‘Song of the Red Ruby’ became one of the most translated Norwegian books ever. The publisher and the author were acquitted but the book was out of the market for over a whole year.

After the trial, Mykle titled himself ‘the greatest writer in the world’ and declared that he was working towards getting the double Nobel Prize in 1984. After a divorce and another failed marriage, he moved back to Jane and spent the rest of his life in Asker. From there, he published ‘Rubicon’ (1965), which introduces a new literary protagonist, Valemon Gristvåg. The book has the same linguistic tone and liberating humor as his earlier works. In 1967, he published ‘Largo’ which contains two subtle and deeply serious short stories.

Mykle spent the last 30 years of his life writing. He had not published anything of the vast material he produced during this time, including a number of ‘letters to the world’, social analysis and autobiographical material. After his death, three collections of unpublished material were launched with limited success.


Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews

Source: Store Norske Leksikon

Photos: On top: Nasjonalbiblioteket, below: Budstedet

Categories: Culture, Reading

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