Reel Norden : Nordic Film & History

Bridal Party in Hardanger -- Chronology & Events

The film Bridal Party in Hardanger is based on both the book Marit Skjølte by Kristofer Janson and the famous painting by Tidemand and Gude called Brudeferden i Hardanger from 1848. Since the film is based on this book and painting it does not depict an actual historical event. Even though the film does not portray an actual historical event, it does illustrate broad historical topics prevalent in Norway during the nineteenth century. These topics include emigration, wedding celebrations, working-class Norwegians, and the development of women's rights.


Emigration was demonstrated at the start of the film when Marit's entire family boarded a ship for America. This activity was common during the middle of the nineteenth century. Many Norwegians emigrated for a number of reasons. During the beginning of the nineteenth century, Norway saw a drastic rise in population growth rate due to better health care and more resource availability, but this growth occurred too rapidly for Norway's economy to handle. Due to the diversified class system in which approximately two-thirds of the population consisted of farmers, there was not enough land to support this larger population.(1) This made traveling to America appealing as it was a chance to acquire land for one's family due to the 1862 Homestead Act. This act gave people, including Scandinavian immigrants, the opportunity to obtain their own land, which was nearly impossible within Scandinavia. From 1820 to 1920 over 800,000 Norwegians traveled to the United States.(2) 

"American fever" was a term used often to describe the growing popularity of emigration to the United States. It did not mean that people literally had a fever, but rather that the idea of emigrating spread like one.  In Norway and much of Europe at the time people started looking towards America for a brighter future. In the mid-nineteenth century most of the men who lived in the mountains traveled a lot and by doing so they had created century-old hiking paths of Norway. The America fever therefore spread along the hiking paths in the mountains of Norway, however neighborhoods in the lowland were not connected with hiking paths, they were more settled and therefore less influenced by the "American fever."(3) 


The scene for the bridal party sailing out on the boat was based on the painting depicted on the right. It was painted in 1848 by Adolph Tidemand and Hans Gude. Given this information, the image is a reliable source to describe cultural norms of the time. The film captured many aspects of this painting including the type of boat that was used in the painting, as well as the clothing of the bride and groom, and the scenery and landscape of the country. The wedding of Anders to Kari was also an example of two social norms of the time period. The first is that Anders chose to marry for assets over love. As stated above, there was a shortage of land and marrying a woman who had property to offer was his best chance of acquiring wealth. The scene also showed how wealthier members of society celebrated weddings.

Working Class Norwegians

For the working class in Norway prior to 1851, farmhands were bound to their employers by the debts they had. Then in 1851 the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, passed several laws that favored the working class. These laws gave Norwegians more freedom to get new and better-paying jobs.(4) In the film Marit was shown in different jobs that were available to women at the time. The first job she held was working at the home of the county judge.  While working there she did work around the house like dusting and cleaning, she also would set the table for the family and would serve the family. They also had her working outside in the field.  After Anders was married Marit left the judge's house and went to work for an old cotter up in the mountains. Then when Tore, a previous suitor, came to ask her to marry him and she accepted, Marit was rude to the old cotter who was her master and left without telling him anything.

Women's Rights

During the nineteenth century in Norway significant changes were happening with regard to women's rights. The century began with women having limited job opportunities, minimal property rights, receiving little inheritance, and usually only working in the homes of their family. By the middle of the nineteenth century much of this had changed. More women were finding work as domestics, this brought women further from their family home.(4) 

In 1854 Norwegian women obtained equal rights in regards to inheritance, and in 1863 there was a new law that made it so that women had the same rights as their brothers until they were married. This made it easier for women to live on their own before they were married.(5) Women's economic struggles were depicted at the end of the film when Marit spoke to Kari (the formerly wealthy woman that her love Anders had married) lost her money and became a beggar woman.  When Marit's husband Tore died, Marit became the wealthiest woman in the town.  

Through the analysis of key historical topics portrayed in the film, it was possible to confirm that the film did a good job of accurately portraying Norway in the mid-nineteenth century. The filmmakers were made this fictional story an accurate historical reference.

(1) Ingrid Gaustad Semmingsen, "Norwegian Emigration to America during the Nineteenth Century," NAHA online, accessed March 16, 2017,
(2) Marianne Tønnessen, "Utvandring - Store norske leksikon," accessed March 17, 2017.
(3) Ingrid Semmingsen, Norway to America: a history of the migration (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1991) 33-34. 
(4) Inger Furseth, A Comparative Study of Social and Religious Movements in Norway 1780-1905 (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002), 194.
(5) Betty A. Bergland and Lori Ann Lahlum, Norwegian American women: migration communities, and identities (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2011) 29-31.

Written and edited by Rachel Olson, Ulrik Sagbakken, Jacob Aberle and Tim Carlson.

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