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Ian Giles, University of Edinburgh

"The greatest writer in the world"

- Agnar Mykle – Scandalous Rogue or Man of Letters?

  • Name: Ian Giles
  • Academic credentials: PhD candidate in Scandinavian Studies at the University of Edinburgh

Abstract: Norwegian writer Agnar Mykle (1915-1994) infamously declared himself to be ‘the greatest writer in the world’ and stated that he would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. However, Mykle failed to live up to his own hype – at least in publication – and following the tumultuous reception of his third novel, The Song of the Red Ruby, originally published in 1956, he barely lifted his pen again, stopping altogether almost the final three decades of his life.

The Song of the Red Ruby is supposedly the best-selling Norwegian novel in English translation ever released. Mykle’s obscenity trial in Norway left him a marked man: wealthy upon acquittal, the accompanying limelight was not one that suited him and the furore had a significant and negative impact on the Scandinavian critical response to Mykle in the decades that followed, which has only truly been overcome in more recent years. However, the response to him and his work abroad differed markedly: English-language critics took to Mykle and the book enjoyed a sales bonanza that arguably marked a shift in literary trends. This paper compares and contrasts the reception of Mykle domestically in Norway to that in the Anglophone world, reflecting on the contemporary responses to the writer and the position of Mykle in the respective literary canons today.

Theme: Scandinavia in the Eyes of the World