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Finn Carling (1925-2004)

 

Prolific Norwegian novelist, poet, playwright and critic. Carling's career as a writer spanned over 50 years. In his works Carling dealt with the themes of estrangement and isolation. He also published documentary accounts of groups feared or ignored by society – the blind, homosexuals, the terminally ill.

"Jeg er betatt av kvinnelige forfattere, av deres rikdom og nærhet til detaljer. De skriver så man kjenner duften og smaken på deres ord. Virginia Woolf, Nadine Gordimer, Doris Lessing – herregud som jeg misunner dem denne evnen . . ." (Carling in Aftenposten Morgen 16/9 1988)

Finn Carling was born in Oslo into an upper-middle-class family, the son of Bjarne Carling and Sigrid Schultz. Carling spent his growing years in the pleasant suburb of Smested, where later lived in a house built beside his childhood home. Among his favorite books in his youth was Rosamund Lehmann's Dusty Answer, a story about loneliness, dreams, and young love. The author was 20 when she wrote the work.

In his childhood Carling created a fantasy world, which was a source for inspiration for his later writings. He studied psychology at the University of Oslo but never got his degree – from early on, he had a passion for writing. In 1962-64 he studied sociology on a grant at Howard University in America. As a writer Carling made his debut in 1949 with Broen, an experimental work which consisted of two short stories, and the one-act play Glasskulen. Carling's other dramas include Gitrene (1966), based on the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac, Slangen (1970), and Skudd (1971).

Carling's lifelong struggle with his affliction – he was born with cerebral palsy – is seen in his novels, especially in the theme of human isolation and in his essays about society's outsiders, the elderly, and misfits, but in spite of his severe disability Carling was known among his friends for his strength and good humor. He was a sought-after lecturer and he made several travels to Africa.

In his autobiography, Kilden og muren (1958, And Yet We Are Human), Carling wrote: "My life, I told my friend, did not differ from the lives of other people, although my childhood, of course, had in some ways been different from that of a physically normal boy, since I could not walk until the age of fifteen, but had to crawl on my knees to get around." After publishing poems, articles, and plays Carling again turned his interest to the novel and themes of illusion, fantasy, and myth. The provocative Norwegian writer Jens Bjørneboe (1920-1976) criticized Carling, a prominent figure of modernism, that in Desertøren (1956) he ignored action, the basis of a story, and focused instead on words and thoughts.

Kometene (1964) was about a family whose members spend their isolated lives like comets in cold space, never coming near each other. A death in the family causes the first signs of a change in the regular course of life. In Gjesten (1970) Carling dropped his experiments with narrative technique and told about a small family, a father and his daughter and son. In the center of the story is the daughter who grows from a child into a young woman during a few summer days. Inside this simple frame the author spins a net of dreams, anticipations, and hidden meanings. The protagonist of Brevene (1980) is an ordinary woman, Gertrud Angell, who suddenly starts to behave strangely and finally is shut up in a mental hospital. Her change is depicted through the eyes of her husband and other members of the family. Their reactions reveal more about themselves than Gertrud's crisis.

Commission (1991) is one of Carling's best-known works in the English-speaking world. In the story a nameless writer staying in Corsica tries to solve the mystery of Sebastian, a depressive and a playboy. During this search he meets people close to him, among them a brother engaged on animal experiments. The writer – in the text 'one' – tries to help a dog that has been tormented by children and could be an embodiment of Sebastian himself. "A rage one has never felt before is almost bursting one apart. A rage against violence and injustice. In a world like ours, why hasn't one felt it before? Was it such feelings that drove Sebastian in his fight against oppression."

In Dagbok til en død (1998, Diary for a Dead Husband), Beatrice, a dutiful middle-aged woman, goes through a period of introspection after her husband's death of a heart attack. In this process Beatrice discovers a wide gap between her own dreams and what her friends and children expect from her. Beatrice has lived in the shadow of her domineering husband, and her diary becomes a vehicle for self-awareness and a freedom that she had not known existed. "First time a tap began to leak or the car refused to start, I was helplessly alone. Not lonely. You took care of practical matters in the forty years we were married. You were married." The story is carefully structured, and written in almost minimalist style, which marked Carling's work in general.

In 1992 Carling was awarded Humanistpriset and in 1999 he received the Norwegian Council for Cultural Affairs prize. Carling died in Oslo on March 12, 2004. He was married three times; first to Åse Weidemann; then to Kitty (“Noffi”) Ringnes. His third wife was Anne Carling, a writer. Her first fictional work, En´søster er en søster er en søster, came out in 1999.

----Robert Turner smiled. But my dear chap, he said, in the first place we have our agreement about utter frankness, and in the second we are experienced men who know about most things in life, who know indeed that the lust of the flesh sometimes leads to the destruction of the body. I've seen especially among my artist friends how a wild life in youth has led to an early death in the madhouse. I was once shown a brain that had belonged to one of our most gifted illustrators who unfortunately ended his days like this, and it had become as smooth as a plum and so shrunken that it could have lain in a child's hand. Naturally I can't disclose his name to you - can merely say that he was quite close to me at one period. But your illness hasn't progressed so far in any case, for, from what I can judge, your sanity is still intact.
----I think so, said the guest in a low voice.
----It's interesting, by the way, Robert Turner continued, that while to begin with I knew I had heard the name of your illness but was unable to recall in what connection, it suddenly dawned on me during our conversation just now that there was once a German writer called Hedwig Courths-Mahler who wrote rather unimportant novels about trivial, sentimental love. It would undoubtedly have been an amusing whim of fate if, for instance, her brother or her son was the doctor who gave his name to the disease you suffer from.
----Once again the guest reddened. Not because Robert Turner had so intimately described the very tragic course of the illness from which he obviously believed his guest suffered, but because he was afraid that Robert Turner actually understood that there was no such thing as Courths-Mahler's Disease. That he had just pulled the name out of the air. Or, more correctly, that it had bobbed to the surface of his consciousness as a distant memory of a book, probably one in a bookcase at the home of an old aunt with a weakness for sentimental novels. Again in the hope of saving a desperate situation, he said, in a low voice and with a carefully calculated side glance at the guests at the other tables: Courths-Mahler's Disease doesn't affect the brain.
----What does it affect, then? asked Robert Turner.
----The heart, the guest whispered, still with the vague backing of his aunt's modest bookcase. But that only happens after many years, for the disease becomes encapsulated and just lies there as a hidden poison in the body.... At any rate, that was how the doctors explained it to me, he added uncertainly.
----And soon you'll die, then?
----Yes, said his guest.
----Death was an occurrence that Robert Turner didn't consider worth mentioning. He had mentioned earlier, after all, that he himself had experienced it physically and that people's anxieties about it were, in his opinion, greatly exaggerated. Therefore he turned without so much as a sympathetic nod back to the real problem - namely, which interesting dishes would make the forthcoming meal a perfect ending to a radiant day. Not for a moment did it occur to Robert Turner that this, in his judgement, rather uncultivated guest would be capable of offering advice in matters of a culinary nature, and if, contrary to his presumption, that actually happened, he naturally wouldn't have dreamed of taking any notice of it. But simply because he liked to think aloud, he leaned back in his chair all the same and asked pleasantly: What do you think about a fakes soupa to begin with? It's still quite hot, you know, what with the sun roasting away all day. Don't you think too that a soup like that's the very thing that might refresh us?
(from Under the Evening Sky)
(Special thanks to Nigel Hunter who gave the idea for this page, helped with the biography of Finn Carling and selected the quotation above.)
For further reading: Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 1, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Litterære skygger: norsk fantastisk litteratur, ed. by Torgeir Haugen (1998); Menneske og struktur: en analyse av Finn Carlings "Marginalene" by  Vivi Bjelke (1988); "Seg selv kan man da ikke miste!": en analyse av Finn Carling: Marginalene og fiendene, med hovedvekt på avvikerproblematikken by Elisabeth Dybvik (1984); Finn Carling's "Skyggen": en studie av en modernistisk roman by Johannes Eide (1970); Det kjærlighetsløse menneske": en presentasjon av Finn Carlings dikting fram til "Gitrene" by Terje Ramsøy-Halle (1970); Et speil for oss selv: menneskesyn og virkelighetsoppfatning i norsk etterkrigsprosa by Leif Longum (1968); 'Finn Carling: A Personal Introduction' by L. Muinzer, in World Literature Today, 79, Spring (1966)

Selected works:

  • Tilbake fra intet; Reisen til Rimini, 2006
  • Finn Carling: Dagbok til en død, 2005
  • Drømmeres møte; Ord for en stemme; Aftenstund har løgn i munn, 2005
  • Eneboeren, 2004
  • De små hjelperne, 2003
  • Reiser i et lukket rom, 2002
  • Øynene i parken, 2001
  • Forstenede øyeblikk, 2000
  • Kan hende ved en bredd, 1999
  • Gepardene, 1998
  • Skumring i Praha, 1997
  • En annen vei, 1996
  • Gjenskinn, 1994
  • Frokost i det skjønne, 1994
  • Dagbok til en død, 1993
    - Diary for a Dead Husband (translated by Louis A. Muinzer, 1998)
  • Antilopens øyne, 1992
  • Oppdraget, 1991
    - Commission (translated by Louis M. Muinzer, 1993)
  • Hva med Hippokrates? Om legerollen og det hele menneske, 1991
  • Det innerste rommet, 1990
  • Merkelige Maja, 1989
  • Gjensyn fra en fremtid, 1988
  • Lille Orlando, 1986
  • Fabel X, 1984
  • Museumstekster, 1982
  • Visirene, 1981
  • Brevene, 1980
  • Forpliktelser, 1980
  • Mørke paralleller, 1978
  • Marginalene, 1977
  • I et rom i et hus i en have, 1976
  • Tre skuespill, 1975
  • Skapt i vårt bilde, 1975
  • Fiendene, 1974
  • Resten er taushet, 1973
  • Skip av sten, 1971
  • Skudd, 1971
  • Slangen, 1970
  • Gjesten, 1970
  • Skapende sinn, 1970
  • Lys på et ansikt, 1969
  • Rikskringkastings, 1969
  • Tilfluktsrommet, 1968 (TV drama, dir. by Arnljot Ber)
  • Gitrene, 1966
  • Kometene, 1964
  • Blind verden, 1963
  • Sensommerdøgn, 1960
  • Tre dialoger / Johannes Hohlenberg, 1959 (translator)
  • Prosessen: et skuespill / Andre Gide & J.-L. Barrault, 1958 (based on the novel by Franz Kafka, translated by Finn Carling)
  • Kilden og muren, 1958
    - And Yet We Are Human (tr. 1962, introduction by Angus Wilson) / And Yet We Are Human and Kierkegaard: The Cripple, 1980 (translated by Theodor Haecker, reprint edition 1980)
  • Desertøren, 1956
  • Vanskeligstilte barn i hjem og skole, 1956
  • Fangen i det blå tårn, 1955
  • Skyggen, 1954
  • Fyrsten og ynglingen: novelle, 1952 (illustrated by Olav Mosebekk)
  • Piken og fuglene, 1952
  • Arenaen: fem fortellinger med en ramme, 1951
  • Stemmene og nuet, 1950
  • Glasskulen, 1949
  • Broen: to noveller med en enakter, 1949


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