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BJ~RNSTJERNE BJPRNSON'S BEYOND HUMAN POWER AND KAJ MUNK'S THE WORD I IT IS A WIDELY KNOWN FACT that in his play The Word Kaj Munk refers directly to Bjpmson's drama Beyond Human Power (that is to say Over Evne, Fprste Stykke). The student of theology, Johannes Borgen, in The Word is assailed by religious doubts after reading Beyond Human Power. One evening he attends a performance of the play with his fiancee Agathe. When they leave the theater, Agathe saves the preoccupied Johannes from being run over by a car but is herself killed. Johannes later tries to resurrect her but fails. The strain is too much for him and he loses his reason. This much is common knowledge. It is likely, however, that a more intimate connection than this exists between The Word and Beyond Human Power. Both plays pose the question: may the Christian faith, under exceptional circumstances, be strong enough to work xniracles? Bjpmson answers this question in the negative, :Munk in the affirmative. Thus it is possible to regard Kaj Munk's modem "miracle play" as an anti-naturalistic reply to the implied statement in Bjpmson's naturalistic drama that men are restricted by the operation of ineluctable laws of nature, that xniracles are beyond human power. . The numerous lyrical passages which are found in Beyond Human Power (especially in the descriptions of the Nordland scenery) should not blind one to the fact that philosophically Bjpmson's play is a thoroughly naturalistic work. As early as 1878, towards the end of his religious crisis, Bjpmson had conceived the idea of the play, and a letter of his to Georg Brandes of April, 1878, indicates that originally he wanted to describe several generations of one family through a series of works in the manner of Zola.1 The original plan was changed, of course, but when Beyond Human Power was completed in Paris in 1883, the play showed some of the characteristics of 1. Bjprnson writes: "Zola. Oh yes! To treat contemporary society in family groups, that is Zola! And now I am in the midst of a play for which the idea recently dawned on me, the idea which I from now on unhesitatingly make the idea of my life. Immediately after the idea had grown strong in me, a subject appeared in this new light: '~eyond human powerlu A family with this characteristic---in life, faith, in a hundred different ways which in a drama, howe"er, must only be seen faintly behind the four or five main characters that are revealed completely. Such a family gathered in one room!-the main scene." Georg og Edv. Brandes, Bre.;ceksling med nordi.ske Forfattere og Videnskabsmamd. Udgivet af Morten Borup. Under ~Iedvirkning af Francis Bull og John Landquist (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1939), IV, 35. 30 1960 BJ¢RNSON AND MUNK 31 doctrinaire naturalism. Like Zola endeavoring to achieve scientific exactness in the portrayal of character, Bj¢mson had taken care to base his work on thorough documentation. He had prepared himself for the description of Clara Sang's illness by a study of French psychiatric works on illnesses of the nervou~ system and hysteria. Bj¢mson himself has informed us of his sources. At the end of Beyond Human Power he refers to Charcot's Leyons sur le systeme nerveux (Paris, 1881) and to Paul Richer's Etudes cliniques sur fhystero-epilepsie au grande hysterie (Paris, 1881). From these two works Bj¢mson has culled symptoms characteristic of hysteria and given them to his characters Clara and Rachel Sang. Clara has been bedridden for one and a half months without sleep. Certain days she does not speak at all, other days she is compelled to talk incessantly. She suffers from repeated hysterical seizures. On one occasion, she tells her sister that she lay for eight days knotted up with her legs towards her chest; but when her husband came home he was able to release her from the cramp, because he exercises strong hypnotic influence over her. When she learns about her children having lost their Christian faith, the shock almost brings about a hysterical convulsion; but Sang, by putting his hands on...


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