Conradine Dunker 1780-1866

Conradine Birgitte Dunker was born in Christiania [now Oslo]. Her father's surname was Hansteen, whilst her mother Anne Cathrine's maiden name was Treschow. Conradine first married an artillery captain twice her age! After he died, she married the German-born mining engineer Wilhelm Dunker. From 1807 to 1810 they lived in Germany, but then they returned to the Norwegian capital. Her husband's mining business went poorly, so she helped the family economy by renting rooms and operating a well-reputed school for girls in their house. From an early age Conradine had been schooled in languages and cultural activities, and she was a driving force in the emerging thespian community in Christiania.

In 1831 the family moved to Trondhjem where Wilhelm Dunker was to be the manager of the newly established Leren Kromfabrik at Nedre Leirfoss. Here he also had some ownership interests, but this enterprise was not a flourishing successful business for the family.

Conradine remained in Trondheim for more than 25 years. Widowed in 1844, she later lived with her daughter Jacobine, who ran a popular school for girls until she died in 1857, and Conradine also took part in this enterprise. The mother and daughter were active in the urban social life, particularly in connection with cultural events and get-togethers.

She maintained contact with her adult children, relatives and friends in southern Norway through comprehensive correspondence. Some of these letters been published, testifying to a narrative skill beyond the ordinary. They frequently give us insight into big and small events in contemporary Trondheim. In 1852 Conradine started to write her recollections, published posthumously (Gamle dage; Erindringer og tidsbilleder [The old days: Recollections and pictures of the time]. 1st edition published 1877, facsimile edition of an expanded edition from 1909 published in 1985).

Gamle dage is in the form of letters, often with a short-story feel to them. With an appealing narrative flow and impressively rich detail, she relates in particular about her remembrances from Christiania. But there are more contemporary observations from Trondheim as well. Of special interest, the book also includes her small play Scener af Livet i Trondhjem [Scenes from life in Trondheim], 1793. Conradine Dunker's letters and recollections are an important pioneering work in this genre in Norway. She returned to Christiania in 1857, and died there in 1866. Several of her children made names for themselves in the public affairs of the times.

Recommended reading: Astrid Lorenz: Forstandens lys og hjertets varme: Conradine Dunker og Vilhelmine Ullman [The light of reason and the warmth of the heart: Conradine Dunker and Vilhelmine Ullman]. Aschehoug, 1996

Author: Einar Rædergård