Wittgenstein was a rich man when he first arrived in Skjolden. He conceived the idea of the building in the winter of 1914 and local labourers built it for him on a craggy hillside overlooking a lake, just inland from the fjord. The Norwegian word "hutte" is misleading: it was a two-storey house with an upstairs balcony across the front facade. The style was Austrian and so the locals called it "Austria" and Wittgenstein himself "the Austrian". You can see the spot labelled like that on older maps. A flagpole was installed but never sported a flag in the philosopher's day. Later the pole was sawn up and made into a flower tub. Today, in order that visitors can pinpoint where the building once stood, local Wittgensteinians have erected a pole and Austrian pennant, just visible across the Eidsvatnet lake, where passing motorists can pause to take a look.
What drew him north was the landscape and the community. Rich and successful, Wittgenstein père had burdened his children with high expectations. Three of Wittgenstein's older brothers committed suicide. A fourth brother, Paul, lost his right arm in the war and became the celebrated left-handed pianist for whom Ravel and Richard Strauss wrote music. Biographers rightly stress the immense influence of Wittgenstein's family background, with its high culture, social importance and strain of psychological distress; an almost quintessential family of fin-de-siècle Vienna and the collapsing Habsburg Empire. He went to Skjolden, situated as it was in sublime and merciless nature, to escape that background.
The village consisted of a handful of farms and a factory, a few families who knew each other, and their employees. Wittgenstein kept his relationships simple. To avoid meeting the grocer he devised a tubular system to haul provisions up from the lake. He had a spectacular view of the village and the fjord. The people of Skjolden apparently in turn could see Wittgenstein pacing up and down on the balcony. Anyone who came too close got short shrift: "Go away! Now it will take me two weeks to get back to where I was when you interrupted me!" Pity the fool tempted to pass the time of day with him. But often enough even he got lonely and left his hideout to lodge instead with the postmaster, and later with a retired English teacher on a local farm. In truth he didn't use the house much.
Contrary to the myth, he never arrived in Skjolden on skis, but he was an adventurous man and liked physical challenges, so perhaps it was to demonstrate his prowess in this terrain, as well as to have company, that now and again he invited selected Cambridge friends to join him. He would charter a boat or take a horse and carriage wherever public transport petered out.
Imagine a friend comes to find you in an out-of-the-way spot. You draw a map with an arrow and write something like "Here I am" or "This is me." But on the sketch he drew for fellow philosopher G.E. Moore, Wittgenstein labelled himself "Dr Wittgenstein". He seems already to have been imagining Moore asking his way in the village. Intensely interested in language as a social game, Wittgenstein, perhaps first in Skjolden, began to consider whether anything could sensibly be called a private language. Several observations from his Norway years are written in a private but easy-to-decipher code, as if "privacy" were just a more complicated social game. In the last decade the Wittgenstein Archives at the University of Bergen have been translating those diaries, among other hitherto unpublished papers, waiting for scholars to make sense of them.
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