Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Bridal Party in Hardanger -- Behavior

The Bridal Party in Hardanger  is an interesting look into family life in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. While the film is accurate in portraying "American Fever" and the role of families in society, the characters also portray some unconventional behaviors for that specific time period.

​American Fever

​In the 1850s, one Norwegian newspaper noted, "In these days, one continually meets the so-called Americans... who are on their way to the Norwegian colonies in the west." This "American fever" and the process of emigration is overall well-portrayed. The film opens with a family stoically rowing to meet a boat in a fjord. This is accurate; often, emigrants would first take a boat sailing through a fjord before arriving at the Norwegian coast. One man, Alexander Kielland, wrote about a German tourist observing this process-- he says that the people had no "joy" or "hope," "only a firm, sorrowed resolution and a heavy pain lay in the depths of these eyes, which wept or were unable to weep."(1) The tears the actors shed or the stoic glances they stole back to their past land is an accurate representation of the pain emigrants felt when leaving their home.

​For most people, the decision to leave for America was a long, ​​carefully researched decision. In the film, it seems as though the character Vigleik makes the decision in only a few hours. This would have been unlikely. Those thinking of emigration read books about emigration to America, had received letters from relatives in new settlements, and talked to ship captains. Often, families would take the winter to arrange their plans and then leave in March, April, or May. Ole Rynning recommended in his book True Accounts of America that settlers leave for America in the spring to still have some time to grow food upon arrival.(2)

Family and Family Roles

In Bridal Party in Hardanger family plays a central role in the activities of the film. This reflects the time period well because family was a central feature of life in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Society revolved around the family unit.(3) Bridal Party began with a family separating, moved on to Marit waiting for Anders, and concluded at the tail end of Marit's life showing the viewer how her choices in life affected her own family.

Separation of families at this time was common. Immigration to the United States resulted in many families being split up for some time. One study found just over half of married couples immigrated at the same time, and in about one-third of couples, the husband went first.(4) The information is based off of the public census data from 1910. The researchers looked at some specific countries, but considered Scandinavia as a whole. Marit’s situation in the film is outside of the norm. Her parents leave her behind after she refuses to board the boat. She indicates no plans to earn money to follow them, instead she promises herself to Anders.

Marit is taken in by Tore and his mother, but leaves their hospitality to work for a county judge. Anders leaves and she continues to work there waiting for him.  Unofficial engagements were possible at this time, though not preferred. They usually involved children or clear, continual relationships, and the couples generally lived together.(5) Today’s viewers may interpret Anders' decision to marry Kari as cruel and wrong, their own nineteenth-century society was viewing Anders and Marit’s unofficial commitment to each other as highly unusual.

Bridal Party transitions into the later years of the main character's life after Marit's husband Tore had died, and shows the aftermath of Anders’ decision to marry Kari. Marit, embittered by Anders choosing someone else over her for money, married Tore shortly after the heartbreak.  They had two children, Vigleik and Eli. Eli married Bern, Anders’ son, and was kicked out of the family as a result.  Generally, women are the most successful in keeping their family together, even after the death of a spouse.(6) Marit felt betrayed by Anders, and refused to support her daughter’s marriage or livelihood. Vigleik stood by his mother and her decisions, until one night, after injuring Anders, he followed in his grandparents’ footsteps and traveled to America himself. When Marit saw Anders again, her bitterness melted away and she cared for Anders for the rest of his life. They fulfilled their unofficial agreement to one another. Throughout the film, Marit acted against social norms and behaviors at the time.  She followed her heart and acted for herself, but her bitterness and heartbreak followed her for almost all of the rest of her life.

​Eli is frequently seen tending to her ill father-in-law. According to historical Ingunn Elstad, in northern Norway in the late nineteenth century, young people were likely and expected to care for the elderly. Hardanger is not in the northern part of the country, but it is likely that customs were similar. In 1865, very few elderly (men and women above 80) lived on their own. It was not just understood that children would take care of their older relatives; neighbors often helped as well. Furthermore, care taking was not only a woman's duty. Both men and women were charged with nursing duties.(7) The film only shows Eli caring for Anders, historically, however, it is likely that Bern helped as well.

​Overall, the film was fairly accurate in portraying the "American fever" some Scandinavians felt and the role of families in traditional Scandinavian culture.

(1) Theodore C. Blegen, Norwegian Immigration to America (Northfield: The Norwegian-American Historical Association, 1940), 3, 9, 4.
​(2) Blegen, Norwegian Immigration, 4-6.
(3) Nathalie Le Bouteillec, Zara Bersbo, and Patrick Festy, "Freedom to Divorce or to Protect Marriage? The Divorce Laws in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in the Early Twentieth Century," Journal of Family History 36, no. 2 (April 2011): 201. DOI: 10.1177/0363199011398433.
(4) Arodys Robles and Susan Cotts Watkins, “Immigration and Family Separation in the US at the turn of the Twentieth Century,” Journal of Family History 18, no. 3 (1993): 203.
(5) Le Bouteillec et al., “Freedom to Divorce,” 200.
(6) John Rogers, “Nordic Family History: Themes and Issues, Old and New,” Journal of Family History 18, no. 4 (1993): 297.
​(7) Ingunn Elstad, "Life Support in High Age: Northern Norway 1865–1900," Journal of Family History 38, no. 2 (April 2013): 142, 144, 146, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed March 20, 2017).

Written and edited by Ali Froslie and Marah Moy.

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