When Christian Krohg defended his book to the government after it was banned the day
after it was published, he stated that it was three parts of the book that were really important to him and had changed him. The first was the initial fear of ending up as a prostitute that the main character Albertine feels, and the event that pushes her into prostitution. The second was the treatment she experienced by the government that stopped her being ashamed of being a prostitute. The third was how Albertine had ended up. The way Krohg described these events and how they moved him made me think this wasn’t completely made up. Not that it is based on a true story, but more inspired and meshed together by many true stories.
Krohg was a part of the Christiana-Bohemian. A movement created by the Hans Jæger and were different kind of artist, like the painter Oda Krogh (Christian Krogh’s wife), the painter Edvard Munch, the writer Arne Garborg and the writer Jon Flatabø, that criticised the government and the middle-class, bourgeoisie. Krogh wanted with the book and the pictures he painted based on the same story, to discuss prostitution, a common theme for the Christiana-Bohemian. As a part of the Christiana-Bohemian Krogh would have been in contact and talked to a lot of prostitutes.
The story starts with Albertine, a poor seamstress. She describes her sister Oline, condemning her sisters history as a prostitute. While in the talk about her sister you see how Albertine is now tainted by assosiation. Her sister isn’t talked about any more because she is married and “proper”. Albertine is still feeling the eyes of the people in the neighbourhood and how people are expecting her to become a prostitute herself. This asks the question if Albertine would have condemned her sister so much, if Albertine hadn’t been punished by society purely for being her sister. Because of this judgement Albertine tries her best to not be seen as improper, even when she gets sick because of these actions. She is talked into going out by a friend, whom we later find out were a prostitute. Even without this Albertine find it hard because the bourgeoisie men recognise her has Oline’s sister and start prepositioning her. While I don’t want to spoil what happens she does become a prostitute, but the reason she does lies with actions taken by people working for the government against prostitutions.
This contradiction with the bourgeois condemning prostitution, at the same time using them privately, were a very common theme with the Christiana-Bohemian writers. I also think this might be one of the main reasons the book was banned. If she was just a “common hussy”, this book could have been preconceived as a moral tale to scare and warn. That it was the system that works against prostitution that created it was probably a bit too close for comfort.
“No, I thought Thou were like the other gentlemen, I, whom always go after the girls and make them unhappy [i.e. pregnant] – at least the nice gentlemen with top hats and nice clothes that walk on Karl Johan – because they are the worst, and you are the prettiest and best clothes of them all.” (Albertine – my translation)
Because there really isn’t much else to judge this book on. A lot of the artist at the time that defended the book called it “one of the cleanest books of all time”, and it is. It has one scene describing anything sexual and it’s not described very sexy nor smutty, nor graphic. My book was about 124 pages, including the defence speech Christian Krohg had in court to defend the book. Which is also an interesting read. Here he points to the constitution whom at the time did have a paragraph given people a right to free speech. He asks why people should have free speech if they can’t talk about the things that are important to them. That who he is now is because of the story surrounding these women, how then can he be asked to the silent.
Prostitutes had to visit the police doctor to make sure they didn’t have any STD’s that could infect their bourgeiose clients.
My only complaint is that the book was so short. I felt like he just jumped from plot point to plot point, showing the consequence and not the process. After the first act, the first plot point, she just just, boom, prostitute. I would have loved him do dwell more on the inner feelings of Albertine around these things. Especially since his writing style is very stream – of-consciousness and practically demands that. But he wanted to show how a person can be victim of a hypercritical system, and he managed this very well.