Private photo: Marianne Bjørneboe on the left, then Therese and Suzanne. Otherwise Jens and Tone.
BJøRNEBOE / In this essay, Jens Bjørneboe's eldest daughter reflects on a lesser – known psychological side of her father.


One year before my father died, I wrote in the diary "Dad is old." He was 54 years old and had just bought a house on an island in Vestfold. With this he wanted both to "begin anew" to look ahead, and to "travel back" to what he missed from his childhood: salt water, fishing and boating. He had many times throughout his life sought to find "home", physically as well as mentally. In this lay a hope of finding peace. As a writer, he appealed especially to young people and thus belonged to "the future". But also because he spoke of an impending world revolution and a more just age. Yet he had a strong vein of nostalgia. I think of the term in its original meaning: as a painful homesickness. It refers to an attraction towards a past that does not actually correspond to the realities, but a created perception based on the needs of the longing.

My father did not romanticize his childhood, on the contrary, but he mythologized parts of it. He had negative memories that were often repeated – they were about loneliness, anxiety, shame. This, as well as two incidents were particularly pointed out as affirming and vital to his self-esteem and fate: a suicide attempt as a 13-year-old, and the reading of a book about the concentration camp Oranienburg a few years later. In several places he says that childhood formed the basis of everything he wrote. He quotes Romantic poet William Wordsworth (and Freud) as saying that "the boy is the man's father."

A struggling intellectual

There are also other images from growing up in Kristiansand that appear in the authorship: the sea, the islets, crab fishing, the smell of seaweed and kelp. These were good memories he talked about. Since he put so much emphasis on suffering (through writing and gradually more and more in private life), I would think that his longing for the good might have been all the greater. He sincerely wanted to create a more harmonious life for himself and us daughters by moving from the "city of Phyton", where he was never allowed to be at peace. He wanted to write the opposite of "The History of Bestiality", stories about those who had fought injustice, who had sacrificed their own lives for others, because – as he said: Just as evil and the will to rule over others are part of human nature, so is the opposite a greater mystery.

My father's last year was marked by illness and alcohol. I saw that he could not take care of himself. He was exhausted, but talked about all the work that lay ahead of him and how strong he really was – something I understood was about denial and self-deception. His identity was as a struggling intellectual, his life depended on his ability to write.

I grew up with a father who taught me that fairy tales, myths and stories have one
healing power.

In the end, he worked on an autobiography; in this he tries to approach the boy he once was. He asks why life assumed the form it did. But at this time he was too ill to really go back and into what had been; he did not find new images, memories or more perspectives. The narrator's voice goes in a circle and has problems gathering. I think of what he wrote and said, that truth is the foundation of spiritual freedom – which was crucial to him. He also reiterated that "lies create disease". As I remember, and read him, he failed to confront and acknowledge who he had become; failed to meet his own gaze in the mirror (a motif he as a young man was able to process). Therefore, he could not write the autobiography true and honest, which was the goal, nor stop drinking, choose life.

The play about knight Georg

The last year he lived, I was 14 years old. Young girls want to look up to their father and admire; the child's need for confirmation from the adult stems from a natural attraction towards mutual love. For me, as a teenager, it became an internal conflict – since I experienced betrayal and shame associated with my dad. But it is in human nature to find strategies. I fell in love and projected my longing towards another who could indirectly be linked to him, who was safe because it was distant.

An older class at Steinerskolen replayed the play Georg who kills the dragon. It is based on a legend about the knight who liberates a village that has had to sacrifice its virgins. It was said that Knight Georg was helped by the archangel Michael; a figure that has a significant place in it anthroposophical worldview and pedagogy, and which is part of the medieval and the church's cult of saints. He is a complex figure and is depicted both with the lance raised above Lucifer – which he defeated, and with the scales where he weighs the evil against the good. He is the protector of both the knights and the sick, and is celebrated on September 29 (in Norway called Mikkelsmesse). He leads the righteous and will lead the final battle against Satan.

Saint George in battle with the dragon.
Saint George in battle with the dragon.

My father (who had been an active anthroposophist) was very interested in Michael. He is an important figure in the authorship. He identified with him and pointed out that he himself was born in Michael's time: autumn. I saw the show at school many times, and was intensely fascinated by him who played Knight Georg. In a letter, I wrote to Dad about how wonderful it was, and we shared thoughts on both the myth and the healing power of art – something I was obviously too young to understand the scope of.

Dad knew I cared about him and that more people did. By this time I had received several letters from my grandmother who appealed to me, the eldest and most sensible, to try to talk to Jens, conveying that she was worried about his health: "He is very nervous." At Dad's funeral, I had a postcard that the Georg actor had sent me, which I doubted all day, as a magical object.

To take his own "I" in hand

Today I am older than my father was, and see his life and poetry with a look marked by both what I experienced with him, and by experiences through my own life. That I have worked with film, became a literary scholar and playwright, is connected with the fact that I grew up with a father who taught me that fairy tales, myths and stories have a healing power. When Dad read to us children, it was an almost sacred ritual, and many of my best memories are related to this: excitement, humor, and exploration of strange places and figures.

When you have a strong relationship with art and literature, loneliness and feelings of alienation can be alleviated. I experienced coming from a "different" family – and that I was in a way "marked" because of the public role my father had: I myself was diminished. I saw that in many ways he was "a stranger" and understood that this had followed him since childhood as a strong feeling of both loneliness and "homelessness".

Loneliness is a central motif already in the first short novel Duke Hans em> #. The story is historically based and deals with the year 1602, when the young Danish-Norwegian duke – who has a depressive disorder – dies. He "does not fit" into the role he is assigned, with his overly sensitive mind and his penchant for crying. The Mikael motif appears here, but also another that is important: finding "a brother" in a spiritual community. In the book we meet several lonely figures – and in some of the situations they meet, a "brotherly" togetherness arises.

I Jonas from 1955, a lonely boy is portrayed who escapes because he is to be moved to "The Idiot" – a school for those who are "different". It says that Jonas sees them take off from the road where the school children go; and it is as if they are "going out of the world." Jonas used to have good times with his father; when they go to the harbor, hand in hand – a repetitive image – they look outwards. The father tells about his life as a sailor and about foreign ports, and Jonas "became a brother with all these smells". It is therefore no coincidence that he escapes to a ship. Here he is taken care of and then literally "rented" back home and on to a "good" school where the children are not assessed on the basis of bureaucratic goals. Here he gets to hold his much-loved teacher in his hand, becoming happy and confident. The latest novel, The sharks from 1974, concludes with these words: "I stood with Pat's brown fist in my hand and my own restless heart in my chest." I see this as a picture of my father's own longing to actually take his own "I" in hand: the boy and the man united. The poem "My heart" is about the orphaned heart – a poor boy who "has neither home nor place to live" – ​​is taken in the hand by the poem's "I".

Blue men

I Blue man from 1959, it is told about the upbringing of Sem Tangstad, a child who lives in his own world, where the only thing that matters is a reference work with depictions of world art. These are drawn by Sem. This is an artist's novel with autobiographical elements, not least the description of the horoscope presented to Sem. Here it says about the great loneliness and unrest that characterizes him. Also in Duke Hans, the horoscope plays an important role. My father believed that astrology could tell about human disposition and life; he had a strong need for meaning – and to hold on to a worldview where each person's life is part of a larger plan. As he wrote: "There must be a meaning to madness."

That the novel about Sem is called blue man, seems somewhat strange given the striking red color of his hair. But this is a personal "sign," a "code": My father was dark and black-haired. In class photos from his childhood, it is obvious how he stands out. His appearance "revealed" his alienation, which applied both within the family, at school and in the city (when he traveled to Oslo as a 20-year-old, he immediately gave up the dialect). He talked about "Jewish blood," which had been a theme in the family. That the main character Shem is red-haired may point to a Jewish origin, since the Ashkenazi Jews are characterized by red hair. It is also linked to Judas, a figure my father wrote about already in his first collection of poems, and the "traitor" is a recurring figure (with whom he obviously identified). Another tradition, which specifically points to the name "Blåmann" (and the author) is the Norse; in this, dark-skinned people were called "blue men".

North Africa

After my father broke with the anthroposophical movement, he traveled south and stayed for a long time in Italy, where he could visually slip in and also feel "at home" in the culture. Although he grew up talking longingly about the countries around the Mediterranean, he felt an increasing ambivalence and distance from European history. He writes about this in "The History of Bestiality" and in the last part, The silence the narrator stays in a North African country – here he feels "at home". My father was traveling in Tunisia and Algeria, where he experienced an even greater external similarity than in Southern Europe – and these trips I experienced that he greatly enjoyed. He bought clothes and hats for both himself and us.

When I came to a North African country as an adult, I had a strong experience that followed me when we drove the bus to the hotel: All the people could be siblings of my father. The first night in the hotel I slept little, because there was a "sight" that arose in the room: In the armchair in the corner, Dad sat and smiled. He expressed that he had found peace, found his home. When the minaret began to preach the first prayer of the day, I got up and went out into the streets, I felt calm, open, and strangely little "stranger".

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