About the English edition

It is the museum’s hope that this authorised English translation of a selection of Munch's writings will stimulate new research and increase the exchange of ideas related to the artist and his oeuvre. The digital archive of Munch's writings, eMunch.no, is a unique tool for Munch research and will contribute to disseminating knowledge about Munch's central position within the modernist movement to a broader public.

Munch’s Visual and Written Universe

Munch was a visual artist of great format, and he was the author of texts in a number of genres. His writings – whether literary sketches, aphorisms, letters, newspaper articles or letters to the editor – are of primary interest because they are written by the visual artist Munch. It is the artworks that have earned him world renown. The writings provide us with a wealth of material and an abundant body of resources that render it possible to examine his significant artistic production from many perspectives. The literary journals and notes regarding art in addition have qualities that qualify them as creative works in their own right.

The Selection

The selection consists of 68 separate archive objects from the museum’s collection. Together they contain approximately 1100 manuscript pages. The selection has been taken from the loose notes (the MM N-numbers), from the journals and sketchbooks (the MM T-numbers) and from the texts published in Munch's lifetime (the MM UT-numbers). As for the content, we have concentrated on Munch's literary sketches and his texts related to art.

A major part of the selection consists of the extensive literary notes from the notebooks and loose sheets, written between 1889 and 1892. These contain numerous drafts of autobiographical notes in prose, in the form of fragments for a novel and short stories; a number of prose poems that have parallel motifs in Edvard Munch's imagery; and a number of philosophical reflections related to art. A selection of autobiographical literary notes from around 1902–1906 has also been translated.

Among Munch's many prose poems, the poem that accompanies the Scream motif has gained a broader presentation here in the form of numerous versions, which he composed throughout his entire life. The portfolio “The Tree of Knowledge”, which consists of text, drawings and graphic prints, is a compilation of concentrated and aphoristic variations of earlier prose poems and philosophical texts related to art.

The selection of art-related texts focuses primarily on the concept and development of The Frieze of Life – from the very earliest St. Cloud manifesto of 1889, to the pamphlets The Frieze of Life and The Origins of the Frieze of Life, published in 1919 and 1928 respectively. A number of art-related fragments and aphorisms of a philosophical character are also included in the selection of texts.

Research librarian Lasse Jacobsen is responsible for the selection.

Additional Material

In addition to the translations of Munch's own writings, we have translated secondary information regarding persons, institutions, place names and commentaries that will be of assistance when reading the texts. We have also published a number of articles from the exhibition catalogue eMunch.no – Text and Image. The guidelines regarding the transcription and the photographic digitisation of Munch's writings, as well as texts about the digital archive, the collection and the website have also been translated. Together this should provide a good foundation and helpful support for reading and experiencing Munch's writings in translation.

The Presentation

The translations are presented in view displays that parallel those of the Norwegian texts. The main view display is a facsimile of the original archival object side by side with the English translation. By presenting this parallel display we wish to remind the readers what type of objects and texts are at hand; the archival objects consist of private notebooks, loose sheets of paper, texts from sketchbooks and drafts. There are also some published texts in the selection, but these are few. Many of the texts were incomplete in Munch's original version and it is important that the reader is aware of this.

In addition to the main display, there is a text view without the accompanying facsimile. The text view has retained the page division and general appearance so that the essence of the original is not lost.

How We Have Gone About the Translation Work

Editing

The translations have been made on the basis of the Norwegian transcriptions of Munch’s texts. They were then edited, or vetted, for translation. The editing consisted of eliminating insignificant changes in the originals that are untranslatable (e.g. letters of the alphabet that are written over or deleted, and incomplete words) and changes that have little significance for the meaning and/or content of the text (e.g. changes in word sequence or sentence structure). Some of Munch's lengthier deletions have occasionally been allowed to stand because the editors have determined that they are significant for the text. Added texts are integrated into the main text and are not visually differentiated as in the original manuscript. We have not added punctuation, words or text where they are missing or incomplete from Munch's hand. As mentioned earlier, much of the originality in Munch's texts stems from his process-oriented approach. The texts are not complete; they are fragmentary, they revolve around the same theme over and over again. This is something we wish to retain. The aim of the editing has been to keep the texts as close to Munch's original style of writing as possible. At the same time a certain amount of modification has been necessary for the sake of translation. For a discussion regarding the work of deciphering Munch's often unclear or illegible text, see “General guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch's texts” under Guidelines, and Hilde Bøe, “Edvard Munch's Written Language and Handwriting”, eMunch.no. Text and Image, under Articles in this archive.

In certain cases we have reshuffled the page sequence in order to attain a coherent text. This applies to texts from the notebooks or sketchbooks, where Munch has written both forwards and backwards, as well as over a long period of time, so that one consecutive text may be spread over several pages dispersed throughout the book. In order to compose a cohesive text in such cases, we have focused on the content and the handwriting. The quality and tempo of the handwriting, the colour of the script and the type of writing medium (e.g. ink, pencil) as well as the direction of the script in the book, etc. are all indicators that make it possible to reconstruct the probable sequence of a text.

The printed texts that are included in the selection have not been edited by us. These exist in finalised versions from Munch's hand, as they were published in his lifetime, and it was therefore not necessary to edit them further.

The editing was conducted by Scholarly Editors Hilde Bøe and Åshild Haugsland, Research Librarian Lasse Jacobsen and Museum Secretary Karen E. Lerheim.

The Translation

These translations of Munch's writings have been authorised by the Munch Museum as Phase II of the digital archive eMunch.no, and edited by members of the Munch Museum’s staff. The translations are intended to reflect Munch's peculiar style of writing, which is often fleeting, repetitive and sketch-like – one might even say it resembles stream-of-consciousness. It is often characterised by a lack of attention to grammar, orthography (spelling), and sentence structure, and a habitual lack of punctuation – aside from the dash, which is used instead of a period, or to indicate a pause, yet never consistently. This inconsistency is perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when reading many (but not all of) Munch’s writings; his inconsistency in the use of upper case letters to begin a sentence, in the spelling of proper names or place names, in the use of personal pronouns (he often switches from first to third person in the same text), or even in the names he gives a literary character.

These aspects of his writing have been retained in the translations. No punctuation marks, quotation marks, or other editing have been added. A sentence is left dangling in the English version, if it does so in the original, yet when one or more words are illegible, three dots (…) have been inserted for each of the missing words. In extremely rare cases a word has been inserted in brackets to provide assistance in understanding, and the same applies to footnotes. Munch’s somewhat antiquated language may be seen, among other things, in the upper case letters used for proper nouns, and in an upper case Y in the personal pronoun “You” to indicate the polite form of address (“De” as opposed to “du/you”).

Frustrating though they may seem to begin with, Munch’s writing habits never get in the way of his ability to convey extreme psychological states, erotic scenes, or descriptive passages that range from morbid obsessiveness to gripping pathos and lyrical heights of passion – not to mention his sense of humour.

For a more detailed discussion of Munch's writing habits, see “General guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch's texts” under Guidelines, and Hilde Bøe, “Edvard Munch's Written Language and Handwriting”, eMunch.no. Text and Image, under Articles in this archive.

Proofreading and Compliance with the Original Texts

Once the initial translations of the texts were completed, they were subjected to intensive proofreading and control to insure that they comply with the Norwegian originals. It is the museum’s intention that the translations of the texts are as true to Munch's own style of writing as possible, and for that reason the work involved in this project has been more demanding than is ordinarily the case with translations, where the meaning and content are of primary importance. This work has been carried out jointly by Scholarly Editor Hilde Bøe, Museum Secretary Karen E. Lerheim and Translator Francesca Nichols. When necessary other Munch experts on the museum staff were consulted.

Staff

  • Project Coordinator, Ingebjørg Ydstie, Agency of Cultural Affairs, The Municipality of Oslo
  • Scholarly Editor and Technical Editor, Hilde Bøe, The Munch Museum, hilde.boe@munchmuseet.no
  • Translation, Francesca M. Nichols
  • Editor English Translation, Karen Lerheim, The Munch Museum, karen.lerheim@munchmuseet.no
  • Research Librarian, Lasse Jacobsen, The Munch Museum, lasse.jacobsen@munchmuseet.no
  • Scholarly Editor, Åshild Haugsland, The National Archives of Norway

Many thanks for advice and support from:

  • Curator Mai Britt Guleng, The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design
  • Senior Curator Magne Bruteig, The Munch Museum