flapped paperback

Melancholy I-II

Jon Fosse

Translated by Damion Searls and Grethe Kvernes

Published 8 March 2023
French paperback with flaps, 360 pages


I am lying in bed, dressed in my purple velvet suit, my beautiful, beautiful suit, and I don’t want to meet with Hans Gude. I don’t want to hear Hans Gude say he doesn’t like my painting. I just want to stay in bed. Today I can’t bear to see Hans Gude. Because what if Hans Gude doesn’t like the picture I’m painting, what if he thinks it’s bad, embarrassingly bad, what if it makes him think that I can’t paint after all, what if Hans Gude runs his thin fingers through his beard and looks straight at me with his narrow eyes and says that I can’t paint, that I have no business at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, or any other Academy of Art either as far as he’s concerned, what if Hans Gude says I will never be a painter. I can’t let Hans Gude tell me that. I have to just stay in bed, because Hans Gude is coming to the studio today, the studio in the attic where we stand in perfect rows and columns and we paint, and he’ll go from painting to painting and say what he thinks of each one and then he’ll look at my painting too and say something about it. I don’t want to see Hans Gude. Because I can paint. And Gude can paint. And Tidemann can paint. I can paint. No one can paint like me, just Gude. Tidemann too. And today Gude will look at my painting, but I won’t be there, I’ll be lying in bed, staring straight ahead, at the window, I want to just lie on my bed in my purple suit, my beautiful, beautiful suit, just lie here and listen to the sounds from the street. I don’t want to go to the studio. I just want to lie in bed. I don’t want to see Hans Gude. I am lying on the bed, legs crossed, lying on the bed fully dressed in my purple velvet suit. I am staring straight ahead. I’m not going into the studio today. And in another room here in the apartment is my darling Helene, maybe in her bedroom, maybe in the living room. My darling Helene is in the apartment too. I dragged my bags through the hall and Mrs Winckelmann showed me the room and said that I would live here. And she asked whether I liked the room and I nodded because it was really a very, very nice room, I’ve probably never stayed in such a nice room in my life. And then, there was Helene. Standing there in her white dress. With her pale hair, wavy even though it was tightly pinned up, Helene stood there, stood there with her little mouth above her small chin. Helene stood there with her great big eyes. Helene stood there and beamed at me with her eyes. My darling Helene. I am lying on the bed in my room and somewhere in this very apartment Helene is walking around with her beautiful sparkling eyes. I lie on the bed, I listen, can I maybe hear her footsteps? Or maybe Helene isn’t in the apartment? And your goddamned uncle, Helene. Helene, can you hear me? That goddamned Mr Winckelmann. I was just lying here in bed in my purple velvet suit and there was a knock on my door, I was lying in bed in my purple suit and didn’t even have time to get up and then the door opened and there in the doorway stood Mr Winckelmann, his black beard, those black eyes, that fat belly tightly stuffed into his waistcoat. And Mr Winckelmann just looked at me and didn’t say a word. I got out of bed, stood up, walked across the room. Went up to Mr Winckelmann and held out my hand to him, but he didn’t take my hand. I stood there and held out my hand to Mr Winckelmann but he didn’t take it. I looked down at the floor. And Mr Winckelmann said that he was Mrs Winckelmann’s brother, Mr Winckelmann. And he looked at me with his black eyes. And then he just turned around and left, and shut the door behind him. Your uncle, Helene. I am lying in bed in my purple velvet suit and listening, can I hear you? your footsteps? your breath? can I hear your breath? I’m lying in my room on the bed, fully dressed, legs crossed, and I’m listening, can I hear your footsteps? are you here in the apartment?And my pipe is lying on the nightstand. Where are you, Helene?



Melancholy I-II is a fictional invocation of the nineteenth-century Norwegian artist Lars Hertervig, who painted luminous landscapes, suffered mental illness and died poor in 1902. In this wild, feverish narrative, Jon Fosse delves into Hertervig’s mind as the events of one day precipitate his mental breakdown. A student of Hans Gude at the Academy of Art in Düsseldorf, Hertervig is paralyzed by anxieties about his talent and is overcome with love for Helene Winckelmann, his landlady’s daughter. Marked by inspiring lyrical flights of passion and enraged sexual delusions, Hertervig’s fixation on Helene persuades her family that he must leave. Oppressed by hallucinations and with nowhere to go, Hertervig shuttles between a cafe, where he endures the mockery of his more sophisticated classmates, and the Winckelmann’s apartment, which he desperately tries to re-enter – a limbo state which leads him inexorably into a state of madness. Published here in one volume in English for the first time, Melancholy I-II is a major novel by ‘the Beckett of the twenty-first century’ (Le Monde).

‘Jon Fosse is a major European writer.’
— Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of My Struggle

‘Fosse has been compared to Ibsen and to Beckett, and it is easy to see his work as Ibsen stripped down to its emotional essentials. But it is much more. For one thing, it has a fierce poetic simplicity.’
— New York Times

‘Jon Fosse has managed, like few others, to carve out a literary form of his own.’
— Nordic Council Literary Prize

‘It is desperately poignant…Melancholy I-II is a difficult but deep book…It is essential for understanding his major themes and the evolution of [Fosse’s] technique and artistic vision.’
Rónán Hession, Irish Times

Praise for Septology

‘Fosse has written a strange mystical moebius strip of a novel, in which an artist struggles with faith and loneliness, and watches himself, or versions of himself, fall away into the lower depths. The social world seems distant and foggy in this profound, existential narrative.’
— Hari Kunzru, author of White Tears

‘I hesitate to compare the experience of reading these works to the act of meditation. But that is the closest I can come to describing how something in the critical self is shed in the process of reading Fosse, only to be replaced by something more primal. A mood. An atmosphere. The sound of words moving on a page.’
— Ruth Margalit, New York Review of Books

Septology feels momentous.’
— Catherine Taylor, Guardian

‘Fosse intuitively — and with great artistry — conveys ... a sense of wonder at the unfathomable miracle of life, even in its bleakest and loneliest moments.’
— Bryan Karetnyk, Financial Times

‘The entire septet seems to take place in a state of limbo. ... Though Fosse has largely done away with punctuation altogether, opting instead for sudden line breaks, his dense, sinuous prose is never convoluted, and its effect is mesmerizing.’
— Johanna Elster Hanson, TLS

Jon Fosse was born in 1959 on the west coast of Norway and is the recipient of countless prestigious prizes, both in his native Norway and abroad. Since his 1983 fiction debut, Raudt, svart [Red, Black], Fosse has written prose, poetry, essays, short stories, children’s books, and over forty plays, with more than a thousand productions performed and translations into fifty languages. A Shining is his seventh work of fiction to appear with Fitzcarraldo Editions, after Scenes from a Childhood, The Other Name: Septology I–II, I is Another: Septology III–V, A New Name: Septology VI–VII, Aliss at the Fire and Melancholy I–II.

Damion Searls is a translator from German, Norwegian, French, and Dutch and a writer in English. He has translated seven books and a libretto by Jon Fosse – Melancholy (co-translated with Grethe Kvernes), Aliss at the Fire, Morning and Evening (novel and libretto), Scenes from a ChildhoodThe Other Name: Septology I III is Another: Septology III-V and A New Name: Septology VI-VII – and books by many other classic modern writers.

Grethe Kvernes is a native of Samnanger, Western Norway, one county over from where Fosse grew up. She studied translation with William Weaver at Bard College, and currently lives with her family in upstate New York.