Arne Dybfest

Arne Dybfest (1869-1892) was the son of the skipper of a jekt [sailboat used for freight], and grew up in what until recently was the building where Adresseavisen [Trondheim’s largest newspaper] had its headquarters on Nordre gate. At an early age he felt oppressed by the narrow-minded religion in his home. His home town soon became too small for this precocious rebel, and at the age of 16 he left for the USA. Here he came into contact with an active anarchist community. He made a living as a writer and journalist in the Norwegian-American community, and worked for newspapers in the Dakotas and in Minneapolis. In 1887 he witnessed the so-called Haymarket incident in Chicago at close range, where five anarchists were hanged after a very doubtful trial. Dybfest visited the convicted persons in prison, and wrote about his experiences there in the text I Chicago fængsel [In Chicago prison], in the book Blandt Anarkister [Among anarchists] (1890).

Full of impressions and having experienced a great deal in the USA, he returned to Trondheim in 1888. With his childhood friend, Peter Egge, he launched the radical magazine Den nye tid [The new time]. It folded after the first issue, in spite of promising access to material from authors such as Arne Garborg and Herman Bang.

His time in Trondheim was short. In 1890 Dybfest left the town for Kristiania [now Oslo], where he soon joined the counter-culture Bohemian community in the capital. The rebellious anarchist faded into the background at this time, and Dybfest is rather depicted as somebody decadently enjoying life. Under the influence of the prevailing Neo-Romanticism wave, he managed to publish a handful of literary texts. His novel Ira (1891) is the best known of these, a hectic and dream-like story of feverish obsession.

His texts confirm that he was a mature 21-year-old author. But before he managed to prove his talent, he died. Many myths surround his death. During a boating trip in Bergen he fell overboard, and was never found. Whether this was an accident or suicide has never been resolved. The reason why he still has a name in Trondheim more than 100 years after his death is probably due most to the mystery surrounding his rebellious life and his tragic farewell to this world.

Recommended reading: Arne Dybfest: Ira og to noveller (med etterord) [Ira and two short stories (with a postscript)]. Cappelen, 1977.

Author: Einar Rædergård