Early and personal life
Bull was born in Kristiania, as a son of medical doctor Edvard Isak Hambro Bull (1845–1925) and Ida Marie Sofie Paludan (1861–1957). He was a brother of theatre director Johan Peter Bull, historian and politician Edvard Bull and genealogist Theodor Bull. Through Edvard Bull he was the uncle of historian Edvard Bull. He was also a nephew of military officer Karl Sigwald Johannes Bull, grandnephew of Anders Sandøe Ørsted Bull, great-grandson of Georg Jacob Bull and great-great-grandson of Chief Justice Johan Randulf Bull.
In June 1924 he married Ingrid Berntsen (1896–1976).
Bull finished his secondary education, and enrolled at the University of Oslo, mainly being tutored by Gerhard Gran. As a student Bull wrote the monographies Conrad Nicolai Schwach (1908) and Bjørnson og Sverige (issued 1911). The last work earned him the cand.philol. degree. His doctoral dissertation of 1916 was titled Fra Holberg til Nordahl Brun.
Bull was appointed professor in Nordic literature at the University of Oslo in 1920, succeeding the aging Gerhard Gran. In addition to lecturing he co-edited the literary history Norsk litteraturhistorie (four volumes, 1924–1937). He worked on Norsk litteraturhistorie for many years, and as a byproduct of this endeavor he wrote hundreds of entries in the biographical dictionary Norsk biografisk leksikon, of which Gerhard Gran and Edvard Bull were two of the editors-in-chief.
Bull was editor-in-chief of the journal Edda from 1925 to 1960. He was chairman of the board of Gyldendal Norsk Forlag from 1925 to 1968, and a board member of the National Theatre from 1922 to 1956, with the exception of the years 1941 to 1945. Norway was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940, and because the National Theatre board did not abide by the directions from the Nazi government, Bull, along with board members publisher Harald Grieg and banker Johannes Sejersted Bødtker, was arrested in 1941. Bull spent three years in a concentration camp, Grini. As he had an excellent memory, he was able to continue his lecturing in prison, by holding secret lectures for co-prisoners. Due to this, Grini was nicknamed "the People's University" by some. A collection of these lectures were published as Tretten taler på Grini in 1945. Bull won recognition for this, and was a popular public speaker and lecturer after the war.
Bull was a praeces in the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters several times between 1941 and 1957, again except for 1941–1945. He held an honorary degree at Aarhus University from 1946, and was decorated as a Commander with Star of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav in 1957. He retired as a professor in 1957, and died in July 1974 in Hørsholm, Denmark.
- Helle, Knut (ed.). "Francis Bull". Norsk biografisk leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
- Bratberg, Terje (2007). "Den trønderske slekten Bull". In Henriksen, Petter. Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
- Beyer, Edvard (2007). "Francis Bull". In Henriksen, Petter. Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian). Oslo: Kunnskapsforlaget. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
- Ringdal, Nils Johan (1995). "Bull, Francis". In Dahl, Hans Fredrik. Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-45. Oslo: Cappelen. Retrieved 7 April 2009.
- Ringdal, Nils Johan (1995). "Grieg, Harald". In Dahl, Hans Fredrik. Norsk krigsleksikon 1940-45. Oslo: Cappelen. Retrieved 10 April 2009.
- Rønneberg, Anton (1949). Nationaltheatret gjennom femti år (in Norwegian). Oslo: Gyldendal. pp. 384–386.