Norway enjoys a dynamic essay tradition extending back to the Danish-Norwegian author Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754).
Norway was part of a political union with Denmark from 1380 until 1814. During this time, Danish became the language of government and literature. Norwegian-born Ludvig Holberg (1684-1754) played a central role in the creation of a joint Dano-Norwegian literary tradition. Holberg’s witty comedies had their greatest impact on the development of Danish drama, while his influence in Norway largely revolved around his historical writings and essays (see Holberg under Project Runeberg). Norwegian authors of the later 1700s viewed themselves as the cultivators of Holberg’s classical humanist legacy.
In 1814 Norway entered into a union with Sweden. This lasted until 1905, when Norway was recognized as a sovereign state. During the 1800s, two versions of written Norwegian emerged. While Bokmål ("Book Norwegian") created a Dano-Norwegian hybrid by transforming the phonetics of written Danish to reflect Norwegian pronunciation, Nynorsk ("New Norwegian") was devised as a new linguistic form compiled on the basis of Western Norwegian dialects. Holberg’s essays were a source of great inspiration for Aasmund Olavsson Vinje (1818-1870), who was one of the first authors to utilize Nynorsk for literary purposes. Using Nynorsk¸ Vinje penned clever, provocative pieces on subjects ranging from philosophy and politics to literature and language.
As the 19th century progressed, a number of skilled Norwegian essayists emerged. In the period between the two world wars, radical leftwing authors used finely-honed essays to express their commitment to and indignation over matters relating to cultural and political affairs.
More recently, Norwegian writers have become proponents of the philosophical essay. Hans Skjervheim (1926-), is a prominent non-fiction author who employs essays to present a complicated subject matter in an open fashion, to discuss it using non-academic language, and to test it in relation to problems that are universal to human life.
Essays have been given particularly free range in Norwegian literary journals, and many Norwegian authors have produced literary essays alongside their own fiction and non-fiction works. Moreover, a number of non-fiction writers make use of essayist style when writing for a wider public. Professor Trond Berg Eriksen has written both essays and introductory textbooks on the history of ideas. And Professor of Social Anthropology Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s work on Øyeblikkets tyranni (The Tyranny of the Moment, 2001) is presented in the style of an essay in order to convey its substance in a clear and easily understandable manner.