Jon Fosse’s Melancholy becomes a much more interesting novel when the reader knows that the main character, Lars Hertervig, actually existed. In fact, Hertervig is considered one of Norway’s leading painters. This book is Fosse’s homage to him.
In 1996 one of Hertervig’s paintings, “Fjord Landscape,” was sold at auction for 3.2 million kroner (equivalent to approximately half a million dollars) and set a record for a Norwegian painting.
Hertervig was born in Hattarvågen on the western coast of Norway, north of Stavanger, in 1830. He came from a family of Quaker farmers. Life for the Quakers at that time was difficult because their beliefs were frequently in conflict with Lutheranism, the state religion.