Cora Sandel has been compared with the likes of Charlotte Brontë, Jean Rhys and Virginia Woolf, and the Alberta novels have been hailed as classics of bildungsroman and feminist literature

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Cora Sandel, Alberta and Jacob, Trans. by Elizabeth Rokkan, Peter Owen, 2003. [1926.]


This is the story of Alberta Selmer, a young woman from a provincial town in the far north of Norway. Here the warm summers thaw the town's social life. Families parade the boulevards and picnic on the hillsides, watching boats of tourists enter the harbour. Young men and women who have moved south return as different people, cultured, emancipated. Then, at the arrival of winter they depart once more, snow and rime settle over the town, and Alberta is left alone to her thoughts, her dim prospects and her family. There is her mother whom she is routinely disappointing. Her father whose ambition has waned and set, and her brother, Jacob, whose recklessness is a constant source of worry. Timid and seemingly without promise, Alberta's destiny is all but written in the long lines on her mother's face. That is, unless she can summon the courage to leave home.
Combining mastery of style and characterization with brilliant descriptive writing, this powerful story of a young woman’s rebellion is universally regarded as one of the greatest novels to come from Scandinavia, and forms part of what is without doubt one of the finest bildungsromans ever written.


Largely autobiographical, Alberta and Jacob describes one year in the life of a young woman coming of age in a small town in northern Norway — unnamed, but clearly Tromso.
Alberta's life lacks manifest excitement, with most of the drama quite local: stealing coal from the household supply to heat her room, for example, or secretly pawning an heirloom to raise money. The real tension is in her internal struggles. Sandel's writing is tremendously atmospheric, conveying something of the cycle of the seasons, of the cold and the dark of the winter and of the long days of the summer and the visitors it brings from the south. There are also evocative descriptions of landscapes, both of the town itself and of its surrounds, which feature in Alberta's probing of the physical constraints of her situation, walking or skiing as far as she can go. Just as limiting are the psychological and social constraints of her life. Alberta's is a respectable bourgeois family, but an old debt means they live in penury, scraping to keep up appearances and unable to heat the house properly. Her father "the Magistrate" and her mother "Mrs Selmer" are at war with one another, a conflict in which she can't avoid being caught up. The confines of Alberta's social circle are depicted through a fine series of character sketches. The more dramatic events in Alberta and Jacob involve attempts at escape: Alberta's brother Jacob succeeds by becoming a sailor (though he hardly has enough of a role to warrant his appearance in the title), but her friend Beda, the most liberated young woman in the town, ends up being forced into conformity. Alberta herself is shy and hampered by social anxiety, but nevertheless driven by an inchoate longing for something more. Alberta and Jacob is one of three autobiographical novels by Cora Sandel, but can stand entirely by itself. It is a superb character study, but almost as memorable for the setting; it is a novel of both place and person. - Danny Yee   http://dannyreviews.com/h/Alberta_Jacob.html


Summer days are long in the North, but unfortunately where there is light there is shadow too. The more reviving and cheerful the warm season may be close to the Arctic Circle the more dazing and depressing the cold and dark winters can be. For the teenage protagonist of Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel the pleasures of summer are few and too quickly past to make her forget the chill and the dimness of winter which use to weigh heavily on her soul. However, it’s not just the inclement climate in one of the northernmost towns of Norway that makes Alberta feel miserable. The always tense atmosphere at home, constant pecuniary troubles and the necessity to keep up the appearance of a happy bourgeois family in a small town add to her increasing desperation that separates her from her family and society altogether. 
Cora Sandel is the pen name of the Norwegian writer and painter Sara Cecilia Görvell Fabricius who was born in Kristiania (today: Oslo), Norway, in December 1880. In 1892 financial problems forced the family to move to Tromsø in northern Norway where she started painting. Early in the new century she moved to Paris where she worked as a painter and supported her family writing short stories for Norwegian magazines. Cora Sandel’s first book, the semi-autobiographical novel Alberta and Jacob (Alberte og Jakob), was published only in 1926, though. It was an immediate and big success in her country and encouraged her to write two sequels, Alberta and Freedom (Alberte og friheten: 1931) and Alberta Alone (Bare Alberte: 1939), forming the so-called Alberta Trilogy. Apart from several short story collections the author wrote two more novels, namely Krane’s Café (Kranes konditori: 1945/46) and The Leech (Kjøp ikke Dondi [Don’t Buy Dondi]: 1958), and translated La Vagabonde by Colette into Norwegian. Cora Sandel died in Uppsala, Sweden, in April 1974.
Already from the beginning it becomes clear that the siblings Alberta and Jacob live in a cold environment in more than just one respect. It’s winter in the unnamed North-Norwegian seaport town – presumably the author’s Tromsø of the late nineteenth century – and teenage Alberta suffers terribly under the cold that makes her body stiff and her mind numb from morning till night when she can finally slip back into her cosy bed. Her greatest pleasure on winter days is to drink boiling hot coffee from the stove to warm her from inside whenever she gets a chance. Her father is the town’s magistrate and expected to cultivate a life-style befitting his station, but behind the façade the family is hard up because of debts that he made long ago when the family was still living in the capital. To her mother she is a big disappointment. Not only is Alberta timid and silent, her mother also reproaches her for her lack of care in making herself up and calls her terribly plain, sometimes even in front of others. In addition, the girl is bored and without perspective being confined to life at home and within the rather restricted limits of her social circle since she has been compelled to leave school when her younger brother Jacob needed expensive tutoring to be promoted. Both siblings suffer under the cold, even hostile relations between their parents which often lead to skirmishes making the mother dissolve in lamentations and tears while the father pours himself a drink from the whisky decanter. Of course, nobody outside the closest family is supposed to know any of this and even Alberta is forced to lead a double life of make believe in public. Only her brother Jacob has the courage to show his true face to the world and to seek a way out from the desultory atmosphere of home. In the end he is even allowed to leave school and to join the merchant navy… while Alberta is doomed to stay behind alone with their parents and without hope of being able to fend off the usual fate of her sex, i.e. of passing her days trapped in the monotony of married life and motherhood.
In Alberta and Jacob a third-person narrator shows the deep emotional struggles of adolescent Alberta who is just coming of age in a bourgeois environment that sets great importance to social conventions at the cost of authenticity and human warmth. The shy girl is a keen observer and becomes ever more aware of the ambiguity and hypocrisy all around. And she feels that she doesn’t fit in, moreover that she doesn’t really wish to fit in, but unlike her younger brother Jacob lacks courage as well as opportunity to follow her own way. Even at home she is always lonely, always cold, and atmospheric as well as meticulous images of Arctic landscape and the small town perfectly mirror her emotional state in the cycle of seasons. Also the fact that father and mother are talked of only as “the Magistrate” and “Mrs. Selmer” (except in direct speech, of course) intensifies the notion of isolation and desolation enveloping the girl. All in all, there doesn’t happen much in the course of this novel, a fact which still more emphasises the monotony of the girl’s life and her hopeless situation. The author tells the semi-autobiographical story of Alberta in a language that is clear and precise even in translation and that often shows subtle irony between the lines. The general tone of the novel is quiet which may make it feel boring to some, but at the same time it’s deeply personal and touching although there is a third-person narrator as a go-between. As for me, I enjoyed the read.
Being in my mid-forties I’m not usually drawn to coming-of-age novels, but I spent some pleasurable, even though also melancholic or at least contemplative hours with Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel. I was surprised to find that the author's work is part of the Scandinavian literary canon since it is virtually unknown in the German-speaking as well as the English-speaking world. Her debut novel definitely deserves more attention… and my recommendation. - Edith LaGraziana  http://edith-lagraziana.blogspot.hr/2015/06/alberta-and-jacob-by-cora-sandel.html
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Cora Sandel, Alberta and Freedom, Trans. by Elizabeth Rokkan, Peter Owen, 2007. [1931.]


Alberta and Freedom is the second volume in her richly acclaimed Alberta Trilogy.Alberta Selmer escapes from her cold suffocating provincial life in Norway to seek out the summer riches in Paris: a city where the bohemians will never die, where there is absinthe and endless talk of Cubism. But Paris is not all she imagined: although she begins to write small pieces for newspapers and periodicals, Alberta's self-esteem is low, and her inexperience makes her prey to the casual approaches of predatory men. Relationships, when they happen, are neither easy nor happy. Feeling her talent beginning to suffer and her freedom stagnating, Alberta faces a struggle to survive.
After its publication in 1931, Alberta and Freedom established itself as an immediate classic and Alberta Selmer as one of the century's great anti-heroines.



“[This] is a masterpiece... As a writer, Miss Sandel is Maugham's superior. She has not his gift of irony, but her emotional depth is far greater... Miss Sandel is a stylist, a writer of marvelous delicacy...To read it is, in part, to relive the painful experience of growing human.” - Saturday Review


“This is a magnificent work of introspection; few women could reveal themselves so completely with such a critical eye and with such understanding of human weakness...The trilogy is a moving story, a familiar classic in Norwegian literature, and a prize to be translated for the American public.” -
Library Journal

Cora Sandel, born Sara Fabricus in 1880, did not publish her first novel until 1926. Alberta and Jacob, first novel of the trilogy, is the story of an adolescent girl’s rebellion against the self–conscious gentility of her family in the far north of Norway during the last years of the nineteenth century. Imaginative and intelligent, Alberta Selmer longs for the knowledge and self fulfillment that her provincial surroundings cannot give her. Against the cold, barren backdrop of arctic Norway, Alberta’s awareness of herself and the world beyond her family and home emerge like the strange, constant daylight of the Nordic summer.
Alberta and Freedom, published in 1931, details Alberta’s life in Paris as an impoverished, struggling writer. Her parents have died and, having escaped her stifling life at home, she faces new conflicts as a woman: between loyalty to women friends and demanding male lovers, between her own timidity and ambition. The novel concludes with Alberta’s acceptance of a permanent relationship with Sivert, the father of her unborn child.
The concluding novel, Alberta Alone, was published in 1939. As a mother, Alberta is torn between commitments to her son and husband and to her unfulfilled yearning for a purposeful, creative life. An affair with a man sensitive to her creative impulse persuades her that she must abandon her marriage and return to Norway to pursue an autonomous existence. As the trilogy concludes, Alberta has determined to renew her writing career both for her own fulfillment and as a means of independence for herself and her son.
Cora Sandel’s trilogy creates an authentic female point of view. Through her focus on Alberta's emotional, sexual, and creative development, Sandel creates a unique portrait of a woman’s search for identity and fulfillment. - http://www.ohioswallow.com/book/Alberta+and+Freedom


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Cora Sandel, Alberta Alone, Trans. by Elizabeth Rokkan, Peter Owen, 2009. [1939.]
The final volume of the Alberta Trilogy finds Alberta, now with a young child, in Paris immediately following the First World War.
Her marriage already failing, Alberta is seduced by a French writer and First World War veteran, sympathetic to her creative needs. Still she finds her life unfulfilling and soon returns to Norway where she hopes to become fully independent. With subtlety and insight, Sandel depicts the corrosion of a relationship against the background of tumultuous events. Sandel has been compared with the likes of Charlotte Brontë, Jean Rhys and Virginia Woolf, and the Alberta novels have been hailed as classics of bildungsroman and feminist literature.


Originally published as a trilogy, Alberta Alone is the work of a leading Norwegian author living in Sweden. It appears here now for the first time in English in translation by Elizabeth Rokkan and in one volume. In part autobiographical, it relates the story of a Norwegian girl, daughter of a magistrate who has been sent up north by his family and has failed to live up to the promise of his youth. Alberta is first seen as an awkward adolescent, miserable in her family group, unsure socially. Her brother Jacob escapes the strictures of the provincial life by taking to the sea; she is free to leave only when her parents die. Following this, she drifts into a hazy life in Paris among artists and after a tragically cut off affair becomes the mistress, then wife, of Sivert, an artist of determination and promise. A child holds them together; even her tentative affair with Pierre, a writer returned from World War I, or her husband's with a Swedish painter, does not drive them apart. Instead, it is Alberta's self realization, reached while they are with his parents, that brings about her decision to leave her son with his grandparents, to leave Sivert as well, and to make her own way as a writer. She departs, ready to ""tell a little of the truth."" It is an aim which is more than met by Cora Sandel in this subtly perceptive, realistic probing and appraisal. She has a sure knowledge of the feminine psyche, of the relationship of man and woman, of her milieus, and applies it with a surgical though compassionate skill to the lives she touches. Out of an earlier era (the volumes were published originally in 1926, 1931, 1936), Alberta Alone can stand on its own today, although popular readership is unlikely. It will be made into a film by Richard Kaplan of The Eleanor Roosevelt Story. - Kirkus Reviews
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Cora Sandel, The Leech, The Women's Press Ltd; Reissue edition, 1986. [1958.]             


I chose to purchase Cora Sandel’s The Leech for my Reading the World project, as she is an author whom has been on my radar for an awfully long time, but whose books appear to be few and far between.  I had originally thought that I would start with the Alberta trilogy which Sandel is arguably most famous for, but  The Leech was the most easily available of her books to me through Abebooks, and so I plumped for it as what I hoped would be a good introduction to her work.  The only other person who has reviewed it on Goodreads also compared it to Virginia Woolf, so of course it was almost inevitable that I was going to begin with this one.
The Leech was first published in Norway in 1958, and in the United Kingdom two years later.  This particular translation has been wonderfully rendered by Elizabeth Rakkan, and printed by The Women’s Press.  Interestingly, we do not meet the woman, Dondi, whom the story revolves around until almost the end of the work.  She is relatively young, and left her home in southern Norway to head to a small town within the Arctic Circle in order to marry.  The Leech begins ten years after Dondi’s decision has been made, and things have not turned out quite as she was expecting them to.  Her writer husband, Gregor, is less than famous, her twin children Bella and Beppo are rebellious, and she is ‘miserable to the point of hysteria’.  Added to this, Gregor’s extended family see Dondi as the reason why he has not quite realised his full potential as a writer; they believe that she has sapped his talent pool dry.
The Leech takes place over two days in Midsummer, and from the beginning, Sandel sets the scene perfectly: ‘The veranda doors were open to the radiant North Norwegian summer: a summer which heaps light upon light, shining and brittle, only to fade too soon’.  The majority of the prose takes place within conversations; it opens with Lagerta speaking to her grandmother, who is berating everything modern, from jazz music to motorcycles.  She is grimly comic and belligerent, most fulfilled when she has something to complain about, and somebody to argue her points against.  She is shrewd, and notices everything, telling her granddaughter the following in the opening passage: ‘”But you Lagerta, are over-nervous, my dear.  You must have something in your hands all the time.  You can’t rest any more, don’t think I haven’t noticed it.  One can simply get too tired.”‘
Gregor’s brother, Jonas, acts with his aunt Lagerta and his great-grandmother as a voice of reason in the novel.  We learn an awful lot about Dondi, and her relationship with Gregor, but our view of her is always through their disapproving eyes until she appears in the flesh.  She has very little agency; until she is given a voice of her own, our interpretation of her is negatively biased, and when she is allowed her say, she is forever being fussed over and ordered around somewhat by those around her.  Whilst Dondi is always the focus of their speech, the characters do become protagonists in the piece through Sandel’s clever and effective prose techniques.  Lagerta particularly describes how she has had to live through and adapt to a changing world; she is a thoroughly three-dimensional being, and the most realistic character in the book.
The geographical isolation of the family is best described by Lagerta, when she states: ‘”Coming up here was a violent experience…  I don’t know what to compare it with – being killed and slowly coming alive again.  I was not myself for a while…”‘.  The relationships which Sandel draws are complex and interesting, and the homestead in the middle of nowhere exacerbates the fact that they have few other people for company outside of the familial base.
Sadly, and undeservedly, The Leech has fallen by the wayside.  Using Goodreads as a marker, it has had only a few ratings, and one review other than mine.  There is a marvellous flow to the whole thanks to Rakkan’s translation.  The Leech is a wonderful read, full of interesting and important points about the state of the world and a woman’s place within it, and great writing.  If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s a book which I would certainly recommend. - https://theliterarysisters.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/reading-the-world-2017-the-leech-by-cora-sandel/




Cora Sandel (20 December 1880, Oslo — 3 April 1974, Uppsala) was the pen name of Sara Cecilia Görvell Fabricius, a Norwegian writer and painter who lived most of her adult life abroad. Her most famous works are the novels now known as the Alberta Trilogy.
Sara Cecilia Görvell Fabricius was born in Kristiania (now Oslo). Her parents were Jens Schow Fabricius (1839–1910) and Anna Margareta Greger (1858–1903). When she was 12 years old, financial difficulties forced her family to move to Tromsø where her father was appointed a naval commander. She started painting under the tutelage of Harriet Backer, and at 25 years of age moved to Paris to paint. In 1913, she married the Swedish sculptor Anders Jönsson (1883–1965). In 1921, they returned to Sweden. The couple separated in 1922. Their divorce was finalized in 1926, the same year "Albert and Jacob" published.
During her years in Paris, Sandel helped support the family with short stories and sketches published in Norway. However, her first novel and first tome in the trilogy, Alberte and Jakob, was not published until 1926 when Sandel was 46 years of age. This began the semi-autobiographical Alberta trilogy. Sandel used many elements from her own life and experiences in her stories, which often centre on the spiritual and societal struggles women marginalized by the strict confines of 19th century society.
The Alberta trilogy traced the protaginist's emotional development juxtaposed with the men in her social circle: as a child, her brother Jacob, and lovers and fellow artists as a young woman in Paris. These novels earned her an immediate place in the Scandinavian canon, but it was not until the 1960s that Sandel, then living quietly in Sweden, was discovered by the English-speaking world.
Despite her great literary success, she remained hidden behind her pseudonym and lived a rather secluded life. She was decorated with the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1957. Her home in Tromsø, built in 1838, now houses the Perspektivet Museum. - wikipedia

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