Bjørneboe's perhaps the rarest book

Red Emma
PROHIBITED BOOK / Red Emma is Bjørneboe's scenic story about the anarchist Emma Goldman and her faithful «fellow soldier», Alexander Berkman.


We had lived in the counterculture for a while. Worked in Gateavisa, clerk at Jaap (the book café Jaap van Huysmand's memory), eaten at Spisestedet. We were house heating in Hjelmsgate 3. And when several of us happened to be homeless at the same time, we organized together with members of the anarchist movement in Hjelmsgate a housing occupation of the empty Læregutthjemmet in Pilestredet 34 in August 1975.

As a budding literature, we had just started the magazine Trollskrift, with the subtitle «revolutionary literary magazine», which we as Gateavis journalists of course published at Futurum Forlag. After a while, we saw that there was in fact room for a countercultural publisher who focused exclusively on the literary, and who had a broader perspective than just publishing the publishers' own books. And since Street newspaper was Futurum Forlag's main business, and other things did not get the same attention, we felt that we did not step on any toes when three anarchists "went solo" and started a new publishing house. As we for completely personal reasons chose to call Forlaget Bjørnsons Grav.

Published by Bjørnsons Grav

In Pilestredet we had become acquainted with Henning Dahl, a funny screw with a fervent commitment to theater, a sense of the wildest stunts and a similar execution ability. Henning could actually have been worth a separate article, but it is his role as scriptwriter that makes him mentioned here.

Henning was one of Jens Bjørneboe's many friends / acquaintances. At one of their last meetings (the last one?), Henning was handed a manuscript, with the message that he could use it for whatever he wanted. This was Bjørneboe's stage story about the anarchist Emma Goldman and her faithful "fellow soldier", Alexander Berkman. Henning was in flames over the manuscript, and absolutely believed that we should publish it as a book. We, who had just started publishing. Published by Bjørnsons Grav in collaboration with Røde Emma's theater syndicate.

The book was launched at the Horten Festival in 1976, just over a month or two after Bjørneboes
passing away. The price was set at five kroner.

The three of us behind the publisher naturally saw the potential in a script by Bjørneboe, and it was with trembling hands that we received the tightly written pages.

- But fuck! exclaimed Harry: – the script is in Danish!

For Henning's project, it did not matter what kind of language the text was kept in, but for us it was a big line in the bill.

- We can not publish it in Danish, Dag declared: – Why in the world has Bjørneboe written it in Danish?
- But are we able to "translate" it into Bjørneboe's Norwegian? wondered Erling, the third of the publishers.

We were well acquainted with Bjørneboe's literature, but did not feel directly steadfast in his conservative national language, as we ourselves at that time were strewn around us with radical book language forms and a-suffixes on most nouns.

- If we are to release it, we have to stick to a goal form we master, Harry concluded; – even though we may step on some Bjørneboe purists' toes.

"Use it for whatever you want."

The conclusion was therefore that Forlaget Bjørnsons Grav would publish the text in a moderate Bokmål costume, where we at least mastered the orthography. Contact with the printer was therefore established, we got Ole Kristian Lunde to design a cover, and then the book was set and proofread in Tønsberg. Printing and binding also took place there. The first edition should be for a thousand books, with an option for a thousand more. But during the process, the printer got cold feet and did not want us to state the correct printing location in the book.

In the middle of this process, Jens Bjørneboe went up to the attic of his house on Vestgården on the island of Veierland outside Nøtterøy. And hung himself. Thus disappeared the alibi we had to publish the text: "Use it for whatever you want." So then no one could either prove or disprove that Henning Dahl had received the text for free use. We decided to take the chance of release anyway, so it had to burst or wear. An unpublished text by Jens Bjørneboe was a piece of jewelery we could not underestimate.

We brought with us a few hundred copies of the book from Tønsberg, while the rest remained unbound at the printer pending the sale.

And it went. The book was launched at the Horten festival in 1976, just over a month or two after Bjørneboe's death. The price was set at five kroner. (Original calculation gave a price of NOK 3, -. Why we increased the price by two kroner, is forgotten, but possibly because we then did not have to exchange so much. Another funny thing in this connection is that Pax Forlag a few months earlier had published Bjørneboe's plays Denim, a book not entirely different from ours in size, and priced it at NOK 25.

The book was stopped

By detours, we heard that Bjørneboe's family had found out about our business as far as it was concerned Red Emma. They were unhappy. André Bjerke himself became involved in stopping the book. And since the publisher's address was on the back of all our printed matter, it was an easy matter to get in touch with us. Then once in the summer of 1976, there was a scary-looking window envelope in mailbox 275 at Sentrum post office in Oslo, with a predictable content. The letter was from the lawyer who managed Bjørneboe's estate.

The text was not to be misunderstood. It claimed that our publication of Red Emma was an illegal pirate edition, and a gross commercial exploitation of Bjørneboe, so if we wanted to avoid a police report with subsequent compensation claims, all books, both the finished and those that were still in sheet form, would be delivered to a specified law firm in Tønsberg within a given deadline. We behind Forlaget Bjørnsons Grav of course tried to avoid this, but the author's estate manager and the rest of the family were unable to move. According to them, this commercial exploitation of Bjørneboe could not continue, even though the sale price Red Emma was five kroner.

We do not regret the release.

In retrospect, of course, we who published the book have given some thought. We do not regret the release. The only thing we regret is that we did not put in much effort to use Bjørneboe's language form. Since the script was in Danish, we should definitely be able to do it. We were educated in Bjørneboe's literary world at that time, and had reference literature available. Moreover, Bjørneboe's death came inconveniently, considering the time of publication. We are not saying that Bjørneboe would have given us permission to publish Red Emma; no one can know anything about it. However, Bjørneboe was known for being generous with the left, and perhaps especially the anarchists, so you can never know.

Did Henning Dahl steal the manuscript?

Then one can ask: Why in the world was the script in Danish? My tip is that Bjørneboe himself wrote it in Danish. It was – according to Bjørneboe himself – unfinished, so it seems completely unlikely that someone else would have given it the Danish language suit, other than the author himself.

Did Henning Dahl steal the manuscript? I am aware that such accusations have been made. Since Bjørneboe has been dead for 44 years, and Henning for 12, the answer to that question is buried in the darkness of history. I can not claim to have known Jens Bjørneboe – an interview for Gateavisa I did together with Syphilia Morgenstierne (Mari Toft) for Gateavisa 1/76, can not be extended to become an acquaintance. I did not know Henning very well either (who really did that?), But I do not see him as a thief. At the time Henning received the manuscript, Bjørneboe was a rather run-down and unhappy man, something he confirmed himself by taking his own life quite a short time later. So it is quite possible that Bjørneboe gave the script to the enthusiastic theater man Henning, so that it could perhaps be realized from a stage.

Today is Red Emma referred to as Bjørneboe's perhaps most rare book. Almost perfect copies are sold today for NOK 3 in antique shops, the few times it is available there.

Also read: Jens Bjørneboe and street newspapers

Subscription NOK 195 quarter