Ostenso, Martha

Martha Ostenso, novelist (b near Bergen, Norway 6 Sept 1900; d at Seattle, Wash 1963). Ostenso's family immigrated to the midwestern US in 1902, then to Brandon, Manitoba, and later to Winnipeg, where Ostenso completed high school. Before attending University of Manitoba, she taught briefly in Hayland, Manitoba, which she drew upon for the setting of her novel Wild Geese (1925). Ostenso worked briefly as a reporter, but then moved to the US in 1921. She studied the novel with the Canadian Douglas DURKIN (who had taught in Brandon and Winnipeg) at Columbia University in New York, and did social work in Brooklyn for several years before moving with Durkin to Gull Lake, Minn, in 1931. The couple married in 1944, following the death of Durkin's first wife, and retired to Seattle in 1963.

Ostenso's major achievement, Wild Geese, was her only novel set in Canada. A compelling romance, it realistically explores the strange unity between man and nature, and the spareness of both physical and spiritual life in a pioneering farm community. Originally titled The Passionate Flight, it won the lucrative first-novel prize offered by The Pictorial Review, the Famous Players-Lasky Corporation and Dodd, Mead & Co. It has recently come to light, however, that Durkin collaborated extensively with Ostenso on the novel, but because he had already published, it was submitted only under her name. (Ostenso had published In a Far Land, a volume of poetry, in 1924.) In spite of their continued co-operative efforts, none of Ostenso's subsequent dozen works of fiction, including The Dark Dawn (1926) and The Mad Carews (1927), achieved the power and insight of Wild Geese.