True drama about Gudbrandsdøler

(Norwegian version) Knut Selsjord with ancestry from the farm of the same name in Bredebygden in the Sel municipality has written a book about what it was like to live in Gudbrandsdalen during the last couple of hundred years. There is a lot to recognize in the book, for people both in and outside the valley.

By Kjell Arne Bakke, editor of www.selhistorie.no

In 2016, Knut Selsjord (b. 1949) sat down to read the letters after his grandmother Inga Selsjord (b. Eide) – a letter that his father had taken care of, and which was in Inga's old mahogany storage box at Knut's attic in Oslo. There it were piles of small envelopes with 5- and 10-øre stamps.

The old letters contained correspondence from over a hundred years ago between relatives, friends and girlfriends, and Knut quickly understood that he had to dig further into this.

A dramatic time

The author, Knut Selsjord (the image to the right), writes about the time before and after Stor-Ofsen, the flood that hit large parts of the Inland from 1 July 1789. The catastrophe affected the lives of people for a long time, not only on Selsjord, but throughout Sel and Gudbrandsdalen.

It was a dramatic time, both before and after Ofsen. Knut Selsjord takes us straight into people's lives at that time, not least what it was like to be a woman. He writes that Gudbrandsdalen changed from an agricultural society to a modern industrial society, and that the changes did something for everyone.

People got new ideals and views on life. They began to behave in new ways socially, thinking and feeling differently. They made choices in their lives that their grandparents could never have taken on, which they were also sometimes forced into – in the span between freedom and coercion.

Watch the video in full screen below the article:
Why did Norwegians go to America?
The video is based on the book by Knut Selsjord.


A variety of  sources

It is not just the letters and what he has heard from the relatives that Selsjord bases his book on. No, he has taken the stories of the people, the families and the villages from a number of other solid sources, such as archives, libraries and museums.

He has put this in the context of general Norwegian political, economic and cultural history – but not least the letters out of Inga’s collection also made it possible for him to give the readers a glipse of  the ideas and conceptions which people themselves had on life, love and work.

Selsjord also writes about impossible dilemmas and conflicts, about hopes, dreams and secrets.

The book is a documentary, and by no means a novel, Selsjord has documented everything he writes through solid source material and with references to all facts, but he is also a seasoned journalist who knows how to put his story into a historical context.
 

A journey into time

Knut Selsjord takes us on a time travel in Gudbrandsdalen and the Norwegian inland society, from the 1600s – 1700s on to the post-2. world war years. The main characters in the book come from his own family and the environment they lived in – not least in Bredebygden, but also from the rest of Sel, Sjoa, Heidal, Vågå and Fron. Many became entrenched in their home village, while others sold their belongings and went to America, most out of need, some out of a desire for adventure.

The author describes life in the Norwegian farming community for better or worse. Many in the valley, not least from Sel, will probably recognize themselves in the book, but the spirit of the time it describes is basically about Norway described through his family.

The book is a whole lot more than a good family history for Selsjord and a valuable rural history from Bredebygden and Sel, it has transfer and recognition value throughout inland Norway.
 

Women in leading roles

Women had weaker and lesser legal rights, this was a man’s world, nontheless crucial in farm and farm life. Selsjord describes grandmother Inga as a typical example of women of that time. The farm Søre Eide just north of Sjoa, where she came from, had a large number of goats and large ranching, and the girls in the family played a big role in the farm economy through ranching. Butter produced on the farm provided money and was used, among other things, to pay taxes.

Most startling in terms of professional history science are Selsjord’s findings on what he terms «the new intelligentsia in Vågå and Sel in the period 1867–1948». A cornerstone in the findings is a political campaign instigated by Norwegian Women’s Rights Association, founded i 1984, in the capital Kristiania (Oslo). By the year 1890, 55 women from Sel, including some from the far north in Fron, and as many as 33 from the narrow area of Bredebygden, signed a petition for women's suffrage fronted by the leader of the Association, Gina Krog. This showed a massive and astonishing campaign support at that time. Selsjord makes an effort lining out the reasons and preconditions for what happened.

Along with this extraordinary collective political move in North Gudbrandsdal rural areas, Selsjord also points to rapid development of early educational institutions (folkehøgskoler, among them), a previously non-existing wide range of organisational activity, particularely among young people, and the birth of a consumer market for newspapers and books which was booming.
 

Currently only in Norwegian

The book is basically produced for the Norwegian market, and is therefore only available in Norwegian. The author is, however, open to preparing for an English lingual edition, provided funding.

Knut Selsjord signed his book in the bookstore during Ottamartnan 2 October 2021. All photos: Kjell Arne Bakke

 

Video about Gudbrandsdøler

Why did Norwegians go to America? – video conversation about the book "Gudbrandsdal – tales of land, money and womenfolk" with emphasis on emigration to America.

For 150 år tilbake pakka opptil halvparten av innbyggerne i enkelte norske bygder alt de hadde og flytta til Amerika. Av nød? Eller var det eventyrlyst som tok dem? I dokumentarboka "Gudbrandsdøler - fortellinger om jord, penger og kjerringbragder" av Knut Selsjord forteller folk som selv deltok i dramaet med egne ord via brev.