Vik, Bjørg (Turid)
VIK, Bjørg (Turid)
Nationality: Norwegian. Born: Oslo, 11 September 1935. Education: A journalism school. Family: Married Hans Jørgen Vik in 1957; three children. Career: Worked as a journalist in Porsgrunn, five years. Lives in Porsgrunn. Awards: Riksmål prize, 1972; Aschehoug prize, 1974; Norwegian Critics' prize, 1979; Porsgrunn prize, 1981; Cappelen prize, 1982; Booksellers' prize, 1988.
Søndag ettermiddag [Sunday Afternoon]. 1963.
Nødrop fra en myk sofa [Cry for Help from a Soft Sofa]. 1966.
Det grådige hjerte [The Greedy Heart]. 1968.
Kvinneakvariet. 1972; as An Aquarium of Women, 1987.
Fortellinger om frihet [Tales of Freedom]. 1975.
En håndfull lengsel [A Handful of Longing]. 1979; as Out of Season and Other Stories, 1983.
Snart er det høst [Soon It Will Be Autumn]. 1982.
Når en pike sier ja. 1985.
Gråt, elskede mann [Weep, Beloved Man]. 1970.
En gjenglemt petunia [A Forgotten Petunia]. 1985.
Små nøkler store rom. 1988.
Poplene på St. Hanshaugen. 1991.
To akter for fem kvinner [Two Acts for Five Women]. 1974; asWine Untouched (produced New York). Hurra, det ble en pike! [Hurray—It's a Girl!]. 1974.
Sorgenfri: fem bilder om kærlighet [Free from Sorrow: FivePictures of Love]. 1978.
Det trassige håp [The Obstinate Hope] (radio play). 1981.
Fribillet til Soria Moria. 1984.
Vinterhagen [The Winter Garden]. 1990.
Reisen til Venezia [The Journey to Venice]. 1991.
Daughters, 1979; Myrtel [Myrtle], 1981.
Fribillett til Soria Moria.
Gutten som sådde tiøringer. 1976.
Jørgen Bombasta. 1987.*
"The Norwegian Short Story: Vik" by Carla Waal, in Scandinavian Studies 49, 1977.* * *
Although Bjørg Vik has written plays, novels, and children's books, her reputation rests mainly on her eight short story collections, two of which have been translated into English. Vik is known as a feminist writer, and most of her stories deal with women at various stages in life. She describes women in transition from childhood to adolescence, to adulthood, and to old age and depicts female sexuality honestly and forthrightly.
Reconciling the need for freedom with the need for love and connectedness with others, Vik examines the fates of ordinary men, women, and children searching for warmth and growth in an impersonal and oppressive society. Though she is sometimes criticized for portraying women as resigned victims, her work reflects solidarity with other women, and her characters achieve insight leading to hope.
Vik's protagonists often remain nameless, and the locations are always unidentified. Nevertheless, characters and settings are vividly described. She captures a mood in just a few words, revealing a character's psychology in brief scenes or exchanges of dialogue. The heavy burden of nouns shows how things can define a person's life. Images and metaphors are always polished and precise.
An Aquarium of Women (Kvinneakvariet) is Vik's most overtly feminist work. Each section of three stories represents a different stage in women's lives. The first story ("Sunday 43") features adolescent girls learning about adult life. The girls get conflicting messages about their femininity as one mother explains to her daughter what a "tart" is and her aunt tells her that she soon will be "a little lady, a dangerous little lady." The nameless girl in "It's Good to Be on the Bus" realizes that she is valued for her appearance, and she experiences the contrasting masculine and feminine worlds of nature outdoors and the home indoors. The bus ride is a metaphor for the girl's journey into unfamiliar territory and the comfort of returning home with the knowledge she has gained there.
The second section portrays adults. The first title, "Climbing Roses," suggests the theme of middle-class social climbing. Trapped by the materialism of a consumer society, the adults are mercilessly skewered in the diary entries of a clear-sighted but unforgiving teenage girl. Taking place over several years and telling of five families from one neighborhood, the story demonstrates Vik's unique ability to encompass a long time period and multiple stories within a few pages. In "Liv" a working-class woman is exhausted and enervated by her double shift. The factory work is hard and repetitious, dulling both mind and body. When not at her job, she is working at home. Now and then she explodes in anger, but most of the time she is too tired to react and certainly too tired to participate in protest meetings. She finally realizes that she is not solely responsible for the way her life is. The reader is left to wonder whether her new insight will lead to positive change. In "Emilie," although the protagonist is a middle-class professional, her life is not appreciably easier. Exhaustion combined with craving for autonomy and freedom lead to a breakdown. The story ends on a note of hope as Emilie writes to tell her husband of the quest she is about to embark on—to find her true femininity in sympathy and solidarity with other women.
The final trio of stories features "liberated" women and addresses issues of political as well as personal freedom. In the last story, aptly titled "After All the Words," a woman travels, meets a man, and reflects on her situation and that of all women. Of the stories this is the most sexually explicit and also the most explicitly political and feminist piece. The protagonist reflects that "no-one can liberate women except women …. and we know that we are many." Women "imprisoned in the myth of femininity" will be impatient together and will find new happiness together.
The Norwegian title of En håndfull lengsel (A Handful of Longing) reveals its theme of people—mostly women—longing for a little closeness and warmth, a little recognition, an opportunity to develop their talents. The English title, Out of Season, unfortunately misses this point. Vik portrays the longing of a working-class girl to fulfill her potential as an artist ("Spring"), of a middle-aged woman for a romantic relationship outside marriage ("The Annexe"), of two widows for warmth and contact ("The Widows"), of a twice-divorced woman for love from a man who will not physically or emotionally abuse her ("Soffi"), and of an old man for love and attention from a young woman ("Crumbs for an Old Man"). The final story, "The Break-up" ("Oppbruddet"), portrays a woman telling her husband that she is in love with another man and is leaving him after 16 years of marriage. Though the story is told from the woman's point of view, the man's emotions are clearly revealed. Images of light permeate the story—the weak winter sun, warning beams from lanterns and lighthouses, a flickering lightbulb, the flat, chilly February light. All of these images come together in the last sentence: "The winter sun fell on the sidewalk, surrounding the bowed figure with a merciless stream of light." In one of the two translations of the story the last sentence is omitted. Vik's ending is ambiguous and inconclusive, something that is unfortunately lost in the mistranslation.
One feminist reviewer criticized the collection, finding the mood too dark, the tone too resigned, and the characters too weighed down by their fate. A closer reading, however, reveals growth in the characters' understanding of their relationships and their realization that freedom means more than the loosening of external bonds.
Vik's fiction is calm, reflective, and deeply satisfying. The entrapment, frustration, and desperate longing in her earlier work is frequently replaced in her later stories by reconciliation and harmony. With subtle psychological insight she creates totally believable characters and situations. Diving below the surface of the mundane lives of ordinary people, she brings them to life for the reader.