General guidelines for normalisation in the transcriptions of Edvard Munch’s texts

Hilde Bøe

The following general guidelines pertain to all of Munch’s texts regardless of language. In addition, separate transcription guidelines have been composed for the purely linguistic aspects of Munch’s German and French language texts. Links to these are located on the right.

Inscriptions in the originals

We have differentiated between inscriptions based on their relevance to Edvard Munch’s texts. Only inscriptions that are directly related to the particular text have been transcribed and included with the text.

Unclear or illegible text

Sympathetic reading

When it comes to handwriting that is as illegible as Munch’s often is, it is reasonable to follow the principle of sympathetic reading, i.e. to assume that the word in meaningful. In the transcriptions such a word is spelled in the manner that Munch has customarily spelled it (or as it was commonly spelled in contemporary Norwegian). If the word “comes” is a most likely reading based on the context, but what follows “c” is nothing more than a wavy line, the word is then transcribed as “comes” based on the principle of reading sympathetically.

On the other hand, if it is obvious that a character is missing in a word, such as an “l” in “earlier”, the word is transcribed diplomatically, i.e. exactly as it is written, without the missing letter. Such misspellings in Munch’s writings are not indicated in the texts of the digital archive, but appear as he wrote them.

Unclear text

Unclear (i.e. difficult to read) characters or words are marked with left and right angle brackets (‹ ›), which are placed respectively at the beginning and end of the unclear characters, word or phrase.

Illegible words or passages

Illegible words or passages are marked with … (three dots), the so-called lacuna symbol. A lacuna symbol is inserted for each word when several illegible words appear in a row. Symbols that indicate individual words are placed individually except when they are situated next to punctuation. Symbols that indicate illegible letters in a word are placed next to the other characters in the word, e.g. illegib… characters. Lacunae that are caused by damage to a manuscript, e.g. a torn corner of a folio, are indicated in the same way. In such cases it can be difficult to say how much, if anything, is missing, and we therefore insert only … in order to indicate (possible) lacunae.

Writing habits and mistakes

Munch’s writing is marked by carelessness. The combination of Munch’s peculiar orthography and his radical experimentation result in many words beings difficult to read and transcribe. Below is a list of guidelines related to what we consider mistakes and what we consider writing habits. In cases that are considered as instances of writing habits, we have normalised them to conform to correct spelling in the transcriptions, whereas instances that are considered as incorrect have been transcribed as they are written.

  • Writing habits
    • The letter combinations “e” and “r”, “n”, or “m” create a continuous wavy line in which none of the letters can be distinguished separately. Typical words for Munch are: “…erne”, “…ener
    • The “i” is not visible in “til” and often not in “…lig” or “…dig” either.
    • An “e” at the end of words is often only visible as part of the end of the previous letter, e.g. as a slightly drawn-out k
    • Munch writes both “aa” and “å” [Danish and Norwegian ways of writing this letter of the alphabet]. He very often omits/forgets the ring above the a in “å”, see also the discussion of diacritic signs below
    • The final “r” in the conjugation of verbs in the present tense, for example, (skriver, hopper, danser etc.) often resembles an “s”. Such r’s are transcribed as “r”.
    • An extra “loop” in an introductory “u” for example, (i.e. in “udviklende”), is overlooked
  • Mistakes
    • A missing consonant in words with double consonants, i.e. “eler” for “eller
    • Missing letters that are difficult to distinguish based on a “wavy line”, cf. above regarding sympathetic reading, i.e. “o” or “å”.
    • Words that are missing one or more letters, i.e. “tidigere” for “tidligere”, “landhander” for “landhandler
    • Incorrect letter, “bekynte” for “begynte
    • Reversed letters, “gange” for “gagne

On the other hand, exceptions are made for characters that are not so easy to include, such as “e”, “s”, “i”, and the like, for instance in the form of an extra curl or line in the preceding letter, but which demand more work, such as “o” or “å” do. If these are lacking, we have not transcribed them.

Normalising the transcription

Paragraph indentation

As with an unclear text, when it comes to a text’s structuring into paragraphs by the use of indentation, we have chosen a sympathetic reading. Munch’s left margins swerve and meander so that one is often forced to use one’s own discretion to decide whether or not there is an indentation.


The typographical appearance of dates has not been modernised, so the dates are transcribed as they are written in the text. E.g. a date that is written in the format 29/1 is not reduced to 29/₁.


Munch’s punctuation is ambiguous in many instances, and during the work of transcribing his writings one has often been forced to use discretion and context in order to determine which punctuation mark is intended. This is particularly relevant in the distinction between a period, comma and a dash, and between a colon and an exclamation point.


  • Hyphens placed (arbitrarily) before or after a line break are always transcribed before the line break (after the first half of a word)
  • A missing hyphen by a line break is neither normalised nor commented on
  • Rare. Double hyphen (two in a row); if Munch has placed a hyphen both before and after a line break, we transcribe only the first occurrence and omit the second.
  • Rare. A double hyphen (=) is transcribed as an ordinary hyphen (–)

Quotation marks

We reproduce all quotation marks as ordinary quotations marks in print, in Norwegian texts: «og»

If the beginning or concluding quotation marks are missing, only the quotation marks that are actually there are transcribed, and the mistake is not commented upon.

Check mark or tick

On some of the lists of pictures that are to be exhibited, packaged, etc. Munch makes a mark most probably to indicate that the picture has been included, packaged, etc. These signs often resemble a plus sign, x or asterisk (*). The marks are usually placed above or below (or in between) the lines, most often slightly indented from the start of the line/the margin. In the transcription we normalise all of these and use the same sign: ✓

Repetition/Ditto marks

Repetition symbols are transcribed as they are, and look like this: 〃


Fractions are normalised in keeping with contemporary conventions for printed texts.

Fill-in marks

Fill-in symbols (whether handwritten or typewritten) in lists and tables are included. We reproduce them like this: — — —

Munch’s own changes in the texts


The encoding system differentiates between a text that is crossed-out and a text that is written over. Text that is crossed-out and text that is eradicated but not written over (i.e. faded, dried up or rubbed out), is marked by striking through the text in the display of the digital archive.

            Crossed-out text

A distinction is made between several words that are crossed-out as a whole, which are marked by one continuous strikethrough, and words that are crossed out individually, which are marked with individual strikethroughs in the display of the digital archive.

Detailed guidelines for how we treat parts of words/sentences that are not directly included in the deletion, but which are obviously intended to be crossed out:

  • Only those words/characters that are completely separate and clearly outside the strikethrough are omitted from being crossed out. See example 2 (the letter “v”) in the illustration below.
  • We include parts of words that are not crossed out, and whole words that are not crossed out, when they adjoin the strikethrough. These will be marked as crossed out (by strikethrough) even though they are not in the manuscript. See examples 1 (the letters “tte”), 3 (the word fragment (?) “føl” and 2 (“O”, the very first letter) – all shown in the illustration below.
  • Words/characters that have fallen outside the strikethrough, but which are nevertheless located within the length of the line, i.e. the word “han” in example 2 in the illustration below, are marked as crossed out in the display of the digital archive.

Detaljer i markering av strykninger

If a word is written over (on top of) another word, and both are legible, the overwritten word is placed within a set of braces, and the new word as the subsequent text, like this:

            {original word}new word

If a word is written over another word, and only one is legible, the same procedure is followed, but this time with the symbol … for the word that is illegible.

            {... ...}new word

If a word that is written over has been eradicated in some way (the ink has dried up or been rubbed out), this is not marked in any particular way.

It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between clarification and overwriting, since clarification is also indicated by overwriting a text. In some cases it is a simple decision, while in others the decision involves considerable discretion.

Overwritten texts that are crossed out are indicated by striking out both the text and the brackets:

            {original word}new word


We mark added text and distinguish between those that are in, between, under or over the line; at the bottom of the page; in the left or right margin or at the top of the page. We register line breaks only for additions in the margin and between lines, not for any of the other categories of additions, as it is difficult to reproduce these in a correct manner.


When Munch has underlined a text, we indicate this by underscoring it in the transcription as well. We distinguish between single and double underscoring. We do not distinguish between types of lines, such as thin/thick, wavy/straight, etc.

Handwriting and number of writings

Multiple writings (by Munch), which are visible due to the different writing mediums (ink, pencil), are indicated with the help of different colours.

Missing diacritic sign

  • “ø’s” and “å’s” that lack a diacritic sign (i.e. if “ø” lacks a tilde or slash and “a” lacks a ring), are transcribed as “ø” and “å” just the same.
  • “ö” is transcribed as “ø”, except in Swedish and German quotations or names.
  • “i” without a diacritic sign is always transcribed as “i”, as long as the lack of it does not lead to real doubt about the reading due to a confusion with “e”, as in “din” and “den”.