O. E. Rolvaag Letters
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- 1927-1928 and undated
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An uncle who had immigrated to America sent him a ticket in the summer of 1896, and Pedersen traveled to Elk Point, South Dakota to work as a farmhand. Encouraged by a local pastor, he left his farm job in November 1898 and entered Augustana Academy in Canton. At that time he replaced his patronymic, Pedersen, with the name of the town of his birth. Upon his graduation in 1901, Rolvaag entered St. Olaf, a Norwegian Lutheran college in Northfield, Minnesota. There he studied Latin, Greek, German, English composition, mathematics, church history, and Norwegian language and literature.
By this time Rolvaag had decided to marry Jennie Berdahl, whom he had met at Augustana, and he decided that a teaching career would offer stability. When he was offered a teaching position at St. Olaf on the condition that he spend a year studying at the University of Christiana (now Oslo) in Norway, he eagerly accepted. Rolvaag returned to St. Olaf in the Fall of 1906; he and Berdahl were married on July 9, 1908; and that same year he was naturalized as an American citizen.
Rolvaag's literary works are largely autobiographical in nature, and explore the themes of Norwegian adaptation to American life and the problems of adjusting to the American focus on practical and materialistic concerns. His first novel, Amerika-Breve (Letters From America), published in Norwegian under the pseudonym Paul Morck, was finally translated into English and published in 1971 as The Third Life of Per Smevik. His second novel, Paa Glemte Veie (On Forgotten Paths), was published in 1914 also under the Morck pseudonym and has never been published in English. Rolvaag used the pseudonym because he felt his works were too personal to risk using his real name. Rolvaag's fifth novel, I de Dage (published 1924-1925 in two parts) was translated by Rolvaag and Lincoln Colcord as Giants in the Earth (New York: Harper, 1927), and is the story of Norwegian settlers in the West. He chose South Dakota for the setting because he had lived there for several years; in addition, his wife's father, Andrew Berdahl, had moved his family from Minnesota to Garretson, South Dakota. Berdahl proved to be an invaluable source of information on the pioneer experience throughout Rolvaag's writing of the novel. Outside the Norwegian American community, Rolvaag is perhaps best known today for this work.
Rolvaag died November 5, 1931, shortly after his seventh and last novel, Their Father's God, was published.
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