Haff, Bergljot Hobæk 1925–

views updated

Haff, Bergljot Hobæk 1925–

PERSONAL: Born May 1, 1925, in Botne, Vestfold, Norway; married twice (divorced); children: one daughter. Education: Attended teachers' training college.

ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, Postboks 6860, St. Olavs Plass, Oslo, Norway 0130.

CAREER: Novelist. Worked briefly as a teacher.

AWARDS, HONORS: Norwegian Critics Prize, 1962, 1996; Gyldendals Legat, 1962; Doblougprisen, 1985; Aschuhoujprisen, 1989; nominated for Nordisk Råds litteraturpris, 1989 and 1992; Brageprisen, and Riksudsprisen, both 1996.


Raset (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1956.

Liv (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1958.

Du finner ham aldri (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1960.

Bålet (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1962.

Skjøgens bok (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1965.

Den sorte kappe (fiction), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1969.

Sønnen, Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1971.

Heksen: opptegnelser fra en fjern fortid, Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1974.

Gudsmoren: en menneskelig komedie, Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1977.

Jeg, Bakunin: bruddstykker av en urostifters liv og levnet, Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1983.

Den guddommelige tragedie (fiction), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1989.

Renhetens pris (title means: "The Price of Chastity"), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1992.

Skammen (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1996, translation by Sverre Lyngstad published as Shame, Harvill Press (London, England), 1999.

Sigbrits bålferd (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 1999.

Den evige jøde (novel), Gyldendal (Oslo, Norway), 2002.

Haff's works have been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Danish, and Dutch.

SIDELIGHTS: Bergljot Hobæk Haff made her literary debut in 1956 with the novel Raset, which firmly established her as one of Norway's leading novelists in the second half of the twentieth century.

Haff was born in 1925 in the countryside on the western side of the Oslo fjord. Her father was a theologian and a teacher in a local teachers' training college. In an interview with Knut Faldbakken in Vinduet, Haff discussed her career, explaining that because she was female, it was presumed that she would become a teacher. She taught briefly in Denmark, where she lived for a time with her first husband. She went on to explain that at the time she wrote Raset she felt trapped in her marriage and her job; when she finally left both, even her asthma, from which she had suffered since childhood, disappeared. In 1957 she moved back to Oslo to devote herself to writing. Haff's struggle to become her own person led to her second novel, Liv, about a sixteen-year-old girl who undergoes a similar process.

Haff's first two novels, as well as her third novel, Du finner ham aldri, are all written in a traditional Norwegian psychological-realistic and epic style. Her fourth novel, Bålet, marks a definite change, as Haff began to experiment with form, leaving the epic style and moving toward the use of allegories. Her subject matter also changed. Several of her more mature works deal with the struggle between good and evil, and suffering becomes a central theme. As Amanda Langemo wrote in her review of Haff's Renhetens pris for World Literature Today, "There is angst and there is conflict, but there is also resolution. There is fantasy and there is myth, but there is also reality." The novel is set during the Inquisition in Spain, giving the author the perfect background for the conflict between good and evil, in this case as seen through the eyes of a woman.

Skammen, according to Tanya Thresher in World Literature Today, shows how "Haff uses alternative narrative techniques, telling the inset stories through letters, diary entries, dramatic dialogue, and third-person narration." Thresher noted that this technique allows the author to "explore the styles of the historical novel and psychological realism." Skammen is the story of several generations of a Norwegian family. The author's thematic conflict between good and evil is partly shown in relation to the problems caused for the family by the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II. In Skammen, as in many Norwegian novels written after 1945, family members struggle with condemnation and guilt, some having been linked with the Nazis, while others joined the Resistance or kept Jews hidden in their homes.

Haff moves easily from one culture to another, but her themes are often the same. In Den guddommelige tragedie, she describes the suffering of the black population in South Africa under apartheid, using images and language drawnfrom the Bible. Jeg, Bakunin: bruddstykker av en urostifters liv og levnet is a novel about Russian anarchist Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin, while her 1974 novel Heksen: opptegnelser fra en fjern fortid is set in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Haff's heroes are often suffering rebels, quite frequently women living in a male-dominated society who are struggling with irreconcilable opposites such as good and evil, which struggle often leads to death and destruction.



Edda, Volume 1, 1995, Jan Bjøndal, "Lidelse og håp i Bergjlot Hobæk Hoffs forfatterskap," pp. 14-23.

Times Literary Supplement, July 16, 1999, Carolyne Larrington, "Survival Stratagems," p. 22.

Vinduet, Volume 29, number 2, 1975, Knut Faldbakken, "Få dem heller en kjæreste," pp. 2-8; Volume 43, number 1, 1989, Therese Bjørneboe, "Sør-Afrikansk requiem: Intervju med Bergljot Hobæk Haff" (interview with author), pp. 2-7.

World Literature Today, spring, 1993, Amanda Langemo, review of Renhetens pris, p. 399; autumn, 1997, Tanya Thresher, review of Skammen, p. 813.