Taylor Institution Library receives transformative donation of Scandinavian literature

A generous donation of Scandinavian books has been made to the Taylor Institution Library, one of the Bodleian Libraries.

The collection belonged to Dr Marie Wells, who was lecturer in Norwegian at Cambridge and then, after Cambridge closed its Scandinavian Department, WP Ker Lecturer in Norwegian at University College London. Soon after her retirement in 2007, Dr Wells was awarded the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit for her services in promoting Norwegian language and culture in the UK. 

The collection comprises a large number of literary texts and secondary works in Norwegian and a smaller number in Danish. The majority of the books were not previously present in any Oxford library. Among the treasures are a large body of books by and about the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen; works by the Nobel laureates Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun; and books by the pioneering feminist authors Amalie Skram, Camilla Collett, and Cora Sandel. A complete set of The Oxford Ibsen, translated by JW McFarlane, is also included. These works are of both national and international importance. Ritchie Robertson, Emeritus Schwarz-Taylor Professor of German, notes that the donation includes the novels of Alexander Kielland and Jonas Lie, which Thomas Mann drew on when writing Buddenbrooks; and the complete works of Jens Peter Jacobsen, whose Niels Lyhne helped to inspire Rilke’s Malte Laurids Brigge.

The Marie Wells donation comes at a time when the study of comparative literature and of Scandinavian literature, music, and wider culture is thriving at Oxford, largely enabled by TORCH (The Oxford Research Centre in the Humanities) which was established in 2013. Scandinavian-focused research has found a home through TORCH’s generous research networks scheme, first with the Ibsen Phenomenon network and then with the Nordic network, bringing together researchers at all stages of academic careers from the faculties of Music, Modern Languages, and English, as well as invited speakers from many UK universities and cultural institutions and from Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Faroe Islands.  

Professor Dan Grimley, an expert on Scandinavian music and the Head of Oxford’s Humanities Division, welcomes the donation:

The gift of Marie Wells’s extensive collection, encompassing some of the most important works of Nordic culture, significantly enhances the presence of Scandinavian study here at Oxford. It will help us to continue to attract the next generations of scholars in the field.’  

Professor Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, a specialist on the plays of Ibsen who helped to bring the collection to Oxford, notes that:

The Marie Wells gift puts Oxford more firmly on the map as a research centre for Scandinavian studies. It also arrives at a time when interest in Nordic culture more widely has dramatically increased, from ‘Scandi noir’ film and television to major new interpretations of Ibsen’s plays, from the interest in ‘hygge’ to the serious attention to the Nordic socio-economic model and the reasons why Denmark and Finland keep topping the list of “the world’s happiest countries.”

The Marie Wells donation will be transformative for postgraduate students in the field like Tzen Sam, a doctoral student in the Faculty of English who is investigating the first female translators of Ibsen’s plays in English. The presence of this collection will hopefully encourage those with an interest in comparative literature to learn Danish/Norwegian and broaden their interest in European literatures.