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  • Amalie: Et forfatterliv by Janet Garton
  • Katherine Hanson and Judith Messick
Janet Garton . Amalie: Et forfatterliv. Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, 2011. Pp. 394 + endnotes and index.

In the 1880s radical intellectuals and conservatives across Scandinavia were engaged in a debate about sexual morality and the institution of marriage so impassioned and widespread that it became known as the Great Morality Debate. Among the many writers who argued against the status quo were the Norwegian Amalie Müller, a fledgling critic and aspiring author, and [End Page 513] the Dane Erik Skram, a well-established critic and author. The two met in Norway in 1882 at a party celebrating Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson when authors from all over Scandinavia traveled to Bjørnson's home in eastern Norway, Aulestad, for the occasion. The strikingly handsome Amalie Müller, a woman with a past that included divorce and mental illness, was a focal point at the gathering, and the man who captured her attention was Erik Skram. After the party, Müller returned to her home in Kristiania, Skram to his in Copenhagen, and an intense correspondence ensued.

They exchanged long letters, often several a week. The wide range of topics discussed reflects their literary and artistic interests, but the real interest of the couple was their amorous relationship. The letters Amalie and Erik exchanged are love letters full of passion but also caution and hesitation on Amalie's part. Erik wooed her with the patience and confidence of an experienced Don Juan, and the resulting correspondence is a staging in miniature of the Scandinavian morality debate.

In March 1884, a year and a half after they met, Amalie sailed to Copenhagen to embark on a new marriage and a new life. It is at exactly this point that Janet Garton starts her biography of Amalie Skram, Amalie: Et forfatterliv. Garton's publications include editions of several volumes of Amalie Skram's correspondence with her lover and husband Erik (three volumes), with other Scandinavian authors, and with her publishers and editors (one volume each). Letters are a primary source material, richly supplemented by many others in this thoroughly researched and well-documented biography of Amalie Skram's mature years and her career as one of Scandinavia's most controversial and important authors.

Garton's decision to start her biography in the subject's thirty-eighth year was in large part determined by Liv Køltzow's biography, Den unge Amalie Skram (1992), which depicts Skram's childhood and youth in Bergen, her first marriage and years at sea, her nervous breakdown and hospitalization at Gaustad mental asylum, and the beginnings of her literary career. Garton writes that her book can be read as a continuation of Køltzow's. At the same time, Garton takes advantage of the opportunities an author's career offers to look back on her early life so the reader who has not read Den unge Amalie Skram is filled in on those years.

The biography is divided into four sections and follows the chronology of her years in Denmark with each section heading delineating a phase of Skram's life and career: I. En skandaløs forfatter 1884-1889, II. Offentlig suksess og private lidelser 1890-1895, III. Skriveblokkeringer og litterær fornyelse 1896-1900, IV. Livet alene 1900-1905, and finally an Epilogue in which Garton reflects on Skram's reputation from the years following her death in 1905 up to the present and concludes that Skram should be [End Page 514] remembered as a "nordisk" author whose creative works were fostered by both her homelands, Norway and Denmark. The book's forty-one chapters are relatively short and each is headed by a quotation, either from a letter written by or about Skram, an article reviewing her work, or a journal entry of a family member or a friend. The emphasis, particularly in the first half of the biography, is on Skram's own words, and Garton quotes liberally from her letters.

The period of courtship and the first years of her marriage to Erik Skram were among the happiest in Amalie Skram's adult life. This was also an intensely creative time with...


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pp. 513-517
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