Hulda Garborg

A woman of and for Norway

Photo: Wikimedia Commons / public domain
Portrait of Hulda Garborg, Borgens Atelier.

Asker, Norway

Hulda Garborg (née Bergersen, 1862 – 1934) was a writer, educator, and social debater. She was one of the key figures of the “Norwegianness” movement of the 1880s and remained so for the rest of her life, in an era regarded as the golden age of cultural left-wing nationalism. She published more than 40 books, mostly novels and plays. Her works triggered debate, most noticeably as did those with themes dealing with feminism and sexuality.

Image: Otto Valstad / public domain
Oil painting of Hulda and Arne Garborg, 1905.

She is probably most remembered for her incentive to promote Norwegian folk songs and the bunad, the Norwegian national folk costume. The word bunad may be the most indelible of the lingo of Norwegian folklore. It is derived from the Old Norse word búnaðr, which means “a wherewithal for housekeeping and/or clothing.”

In 1912, she was the key instigator of the founding of Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theater) in Kristiania (as Oslo was named from 1624 – 1924), a stage dedicated to works in Nynorsk and in Norwegian dialects.

Her life story starts with her being born Karen Hulda Bergesen on the Såstad farm in Stange Kommune in Hedmark, a former county that in 2020 merged with Oppland county to create Innlandet County.

When Hulda was 2 years old, her parents divorced. Together with her mother, Marie Petrine Olsen (1835 – 1888), she moved to the city of Hamar on the north shore of Mjøsa, Norway’s largest lake. When she was 12 years old, she moved with her mother and two elder sisters to Kristiania. 

As a teenager maturing in Kristiania, she became involved in leftist politics, the labor movement, Norwegian nation building, and the faction promoting a New Norwegian language. There, she met and became romantically involved with prominent writer and intellectual Arne Garborg (1851 – 1924), who wrote mostly in landsmål, now known as nynorsk. When she was 25 in 1887, she and Arne married. 

Hulda Garborg

Photo: Asker Museum
The home of Hulda and Arne Garborg.

The couple then moved to Tynset kommune in Østerdalen, now part of Innlandet County. In Tynset, they lived for nine years in a cabin on a small farm named Kolbotnen near Lake Savalen in Hedmark. In 1888, their son was born and named Arne after his father.

Thereafter, they frequently visited Kristiania, with longer visits abroad, mostly in Germany, with one winter in Paris. In 1897, they relocated to Labråten in the Hvalstad region of Asker kommune in Viken County, which remained their home for the rest of their lives. Late in life, they had a summer residence named Kuudaheio built in Time kommune in Rogaland County. They are both buried there.

Further reading:

Book cover image
Hulda Garborg, the Author and the Feminist.

Hulda Garborg, Forfattaren og Feministen (Hulda Garborg, Author and Feminist). A study of the ideology of Hulda Garborgs authorship voiced in a fictitious conversation between a modern reader and a writer of a bygone era, by Norwegian literature researcher and writer Sigrid Bø Grønstøl (1944– ), Oslo, Aschehoug, 2012, 211 pages hardcover, ISBN 978-82-03-35329-1 (in Norwegian Nynorsk)

This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.