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Agnar Mykle (1915-1994)


Norwegian writer who is best known for the sexually naturalistic novel Sangen om den røde rubin (1956, The Song of the Red Ruby), which was banned in many countries. With the previously published Lasso rundt fru Luna (1954, Lasso Round the Moon), which described the youth of the super-potent Ask Burlefot, Mykle provoked one of the last obscenity trials in Norway.

"I am for ever renouncing gentleness and mercy, my way leads to Hel. I am selling the harp of heaven and buying the boggart's fiddle. I am abandoning people and taking citizenship in Utgard. I ask for seid. Do you hear, gods, seid!" (from Lasso Round the Moon)

Agnar Mykle was born in Trondheim, the son of Ole Elias Karlsen Myklebust, a professional musician in a military band, and Emma Gustavsdatter Ramfjord. In his childhood Mykle suffered from asthma and spent long period at home. Before entering at University of Economical and Political Sciences in Bergen, Mykle earned his living in 1936-37 as a teacher and principal at small schools in Finmark. After finishing his studies, he continued his career as a teacher, lecturer, and took odd jobs. He also worked closely with labour organizations. In 1936 he married Ruth Benzen.

Mykle began to write in during World War II. In 1947 Mykle went with his second wife, Axeliane ("Jane") Christine Kielland Holm, to Paris to study puppetry at the Académie des Compagnos de la Marionette. He then studied theatre in England in 1951, and in the United States on a Fulbright scholarship. These activities led to the foundation of the Norwegian Puppet Theatre, run by Jane and Agnar Mykle. At the Norwegian Broadcasting Company Mykle was employd by AOF, the workers' education association, for some years.

As a writer Mykle gained fame after World War II with his semi-autobiographical novels. His first book, Taustigen, a collection of short stories, came out in 1948. It was followed by Tyven, tyven skal du hete (1951), translated into English under the title The Hotel Room by Maurice Michael. The protagonist, Ash Grande has much similarities with Ask Burlefot. Ash assaults a bigoted hotel night porter who enters a room where he and his girlfriend are making love. In his trial for this offense Ash reflects his past. The title of the book was from a nursery rhyme (The thief, the thief you will be called / 'Cause you stole my little friend).

Lasso Round the Moon was a story about young Ask Burlefot and his hunt for ideals. He is a teacher in a small town and manages to get two of his girlfriends pregnant. He flees and returns to the town twelve years later as a famous composer. The Trinidadian novelist and critic V.S. Naipaul wrote of Lasso Round the Moon: "Mykle is longwinded; he has certain rhetorical mannerisms, and his technique is clumsy. But the sensibility is true, the passion genuine. The book is likely to attract attention because of its frank sexual detail. But this detail is a necessary part of Mykle's theme, which is of development and discovery; it is of a piece with the intensity and honesty of the book."

Sangen om den røde rubin, its sequel, was set in the late 1930s, and depicted Burlefot in his student days in Oslo and his affairs with women. As in the novels of D.H. Lawrence, Mykle's characters find freedom through sexual exploration, but Burlefot is not able to step out from the "tradition" of male subjugation of women. Mykle's sexually explicit scenes led in 1957 to the book's prosecution for obscenity. At the Oslo City Court it was read aloud, judged obscene, but the verdict was overturned by the High Court in 1958. The the juridical process made the novel an international best-seller, but possibly it also destroyed Mykle's literary creativity, although not his picture of himself as "the greatest writer in the world". In the neighboring country Finland the translation of book, published by Akirjat in 1957, was confiscated. A film version of novel was made in 1970 Denmark, starring Ole Søltoft as Ask Burlefot. The sex comedy angred Mykle so that he declared war on Denmark.

After divorce Mykle married in 1960 Toril Hofseth. In the 1960s Mykle withdrew from the publicity and Jens Bjørneboe and Knut Faldbakken took up the role of literary provocateurs in Norway. Mykle's Rubicon (1965), which turned out to be his last novel, was about Valemon Gristvag, who motorcycles across Hitler's Germany to France in the summer of 1939. After the short story collection Largo (1967) Mykle stopped publishing. A reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement wrote that the book "moves like some solems, slow Scandinavian film lingering on flesh, idyllic landscape and sinful man." Although Sangen om den røde rubin made the author famous and was translated into many languages, Mykle was forced to borrow money from his editor, Harald Grieg at Norsk Gyldendal Forlag, without being able to pay them back. Mykle died in 1994, in Asker, where he lived with Jane after his third divorce. Mykle contributed to several Norwegian papers. His essays and letters were published in three volumes in 1997-98. According to Anne Luise Kirkengen's doctoral thesis, Mykle was a victim of sexual abuse by his mother.

For further reading: Guide to Modern World Literature by Martin Seymour-Smith (1973); World Authors 1970-1975, ed. by John Wakeman (1980); Agnar Mykle: endikterskjebne by Eystein Eggen (1994); Mykle og Norge by Anders Heger (1995); Embodiment of sexual abuse in childhood by Anne Luise Kirkengen (1998); Mykle. Et diktet liv by Anders Heger (1999, recommended introduction to Mykle's life); Mønsteret og meningen: Agnar Mykles romaner om Ask Burlefot by Leif Johan Larsen (2001) - Special thanks to Ingvild Kaarvann Berntzen who has helped with this page (however, the mistakes are mine - PL) - Other writer whose works have been banned because of sexual explicitness: Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Jean Genet

Selected works:

  • Jægermarsjen, 1945 (The Hunter March)
  • Taustigen, 1948 (The Rope Ladder)
  • Tipp, og verden er din!, 1949 (play)
  • Morgen i appelsingult, 1951 (play; Morning in Yellow Orange)
  • Tyven, tyven skal du hete, 1951
    - The Hotel Room (translated by Maurice Michael, 1963)
  • Jeg er like glad sa gutten, 1953
  • Lasso rundt fru Luna, 1954
    - Lasso Round the Moon (translated by Maurice Michael, 1960)
    - Silmukka kuun sirppiin (suom. Olli Nuorto, 1957)
  • Dukketeater!, 1956 (with Jane Mykle)
  • Sangen om den røde rubin, 1956
    - The Song of the Red Ruby (translated by Maurice Michael, 1961)
    - Laulu punaisesta rubiinista (suomentanut Olli Nuorto, 1995)
    - film: Sangen om den røde rubin, filmed in Denmark in 1970, prod. Palladium Film, dir. Annelise Meineche, screenplay John Hilbard, Annelise Meineche, starring Ole Søltoft, Elin Reimer, Paul Hagen, Bjørn Møller, Ghita Nørby
  • Kors på halsen, 1958 (Cross My Heart)
  • jeg forstår meg på mirakler, 1958
    - Enkeli ja aamurusko (suom. Caius Kajanti, 1958)
  • Rubicon, 1965
    - Rubicon (translated by Maurice Michael, 1967)
  • Largo, 1967
  • A Man and His Sink and Other Stories, 1968 (translated by Maurice Michael)
  • Samlede verker, 1994 (7 vols.)
  • Brev og annen prosa. 1: Mannen fra Atlantis, 1997 (foreword by Gordon Hølmebakk) 
  • Brev og annen prosa. 2: Alter og disk, 1998 (foreword by Gordon Hølmebakk )
  • Brev og annen prosa. 3: En flodhest på parnasset, 1998 (foreword by Gordon Hølmebakk)
  • Kjære lille Moff: reisebrev fra Amerika, 2001 (edited by Arne Bust Mykle) 

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