New group of “Four Greats” emerges

A red thread runs through the works of the acclaimed Norwegian authors


Photo: Ole Berg-Rusten / NTB
Jon Fosse is the fourth Norwegian author to receive the Nobel Prize.

Fredrik Moen Gabrielsen

There is now a new group of “Four Greats,” consisting of the four Norwegian Nobel Prize in Literature winners, says one literary scholar. There is a common thread between the four, says another.

When Jon Fosse received the Nobel Prize in Literature in Stockholm on Dec. 10, something happened that few Norwegians living today have experienced. The previous Norwegian author to receive the prize was Sigrid Undset in 1928.

In its time, Gyldendal publishing house used the term “De fire store,” or “The Four Greats,” to market the books of Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Alexander Kielland, and Jonas Lie. The term eventually became part of Norwegian literary history.


Photo: NTB
Sigrid Undset was the third Norwegian writer to receive the Nobel Prize in 1928.

“When we now have a new group of four, namely Bjørnson, Knut Hamsun, Sigrid Undset, and Fosse, they probably do not have much more in common than the love of the Norwegian language, literature, nature, and culture. Which is not nothing, when you think about it,” said Ståle Dingstad, professor in Nordic literature at the University of Oslo to NTB.

The fact that a full 95 years have passed between award winners three and four can be because of several reasons, Dingstad believes. For one thing, for the first 30 years the prize was only awarded to European authors, with only one exception. It was then opened to writers from all over the world.


Photo: NTB
Knut Hamsun was awared the prize in 1920 for his novel Markens Grøde.

“But it must be mentioned that not all of those we count among our best authors have had international impact comparable to Jon Fosse’s worldwide theater success. This has definitely contributed to his receiving the award,” Dingstad believes.

Form and rhythm

Associate Professor Zsofia Domsa at the Department of Language and Literature at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has a Ph.D. in Jon Fosse and has known him for over 25 years.

Although there are not necessarily any definite similarities between the four Norwegian Nobel Prize winners, realism is a common thread, Domsa believes.

“All these four write about something extremely important to being able to understand ourselves, that is, people of our times,” she said to NTB.

Bjørnson four greats

Photo: Claudio Bresciani/TT / NTB
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was the first Norwegian to receive the prize in 1903.

“But at the same time, there is a kind of idealism in the awarding of the Nobel Prize. It says something about the kind of light that is shed on literature in the year that the prize is awarded. This changes quite quickly, as we have seen.”

She said that it is not the plot or the action that is central to Fosse’s works, but it is about the form and rhythm of the language.

“You don’t draw conclusive lessons from it. It is more a kind of look at the world.”

Fosse teachings at NTNU

She points out that there is great interest in Norwegian literature worldwide, with Norwegian authors on nomination lists for most prestigious international prizes.

“Fosse does not use western Norway as a backdrop. It is part of the personality and form, that it rains, that there is wind. There is something real and authentic about it, and that is what readers all over the world want to experience,” said Domsa.

This fall, Fosse’s works have been a central part of one of the subjects she has taught at NTNU. When the Nobel Prize was announced, it created joy and energy among the students, she said. And now she receives many requests to write and speak about Fosse in Hungary.

“Even the Hungarian Academy of Sciences has asked me to give a lecture about Fosse in connection with the award. It is great to be able to promote his writing, Norwegian literature, and literary research as a subject on this occasion.”

Also see: Jon Fosse accepts Nobel Prize in Stockholm.

This article originally appeared in the January 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway