The history of Norwegian literature starts with the pagan Eddaic poems and skaldic verse of the 9th and 10th centuries with poets such as Bragi Boddason and Eyvindr Skaldaspillir. The arrival of Christianity around the year 1000 brought Norway into contact with European medieval learning, hagiography and history writing. Merged with native oral tradition and Icelandic influence this was to flower into an active period of literature production in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. Major works of that period include Historia Norwegie, Thidreks saga and Konungs skuggsja.
Little Norwegian literature came out of the period of the Scandinavian Union and the subsequent Dano-Norwegian union (1387-1814), with some notable exceptions such as Petter Dass and Ludvig Holberg. In his play Peer Gynt, Ibsen characterized this period as Twice two hundred years of darkness/brooded o’er the race of monkeys, although the latter line is not as frequently quoted as the former. During the union with Denmark, written Norwegian was replaced by Danish.
Two major events precipitated a major resurgence in Norwegian literature. In 1811 a Norwegian university was established in Christiania Seized by the spirit of revolution following the American and French Revolutions, the Norwegians signed their first constitution in 1814. Soon, the cultural backwater that was Norway brought forth a series of strong authors recognized first in Scandinavia, and then worldwide; among them were Henrik Wergeland, Peter Asbjornsen, Jorgen Moe and Camilla Collett.
By the late 19th century, in the Golden Age of Norwegian literature, the so-called Great Four emerged: Henrik Ibsen, Bjornstjerne Bjornson, Alexander Kielland, and Jonas Lie. Bjornson’s peasant novels, such as En glad gutt (A Happy Boy) and Synnove Solbakken are typical of the national romanticism of their day, whereas Kielland’s novels and short stories are mostly realistic. Although an important contributor to early Norwegian romanticism (especially the ironic Peer Gynt), Henrik Ibsen’s fame rests primarily on his pioneering realistic dramas such The Wild Duck and A Doll’s House, many of which caused moral uproar because of their candid portrayals of the middle classes.
In the twentieth century, three Norwegian novelists were awarded the Nobel prize in literature: Bjornstjerne Bjornson in 1903, Knut Hamsun for the book Markens grode (Growth of the Soil) in 1920, and Sigrid Undset in 1928. In the 20th century writers like Dag Solstad, Jostein Gaarder, Erik Fosnes Hansen, Jens Bjørneboe, Kjartan Flogstad, Lars Saabye Christensen, Johan Borgen, Herbjorg Wassmo, Jan Erik Vold, Rolf Jacobsen, Olaf Bull, Jan Kjarstad, Georg Johannesen, Tarjei Vesaas, Sigurd Hoel, Arnulf overland and Johan Falkberget have made important contributions to Norwegian literature.