Cover of Vol 56 No 1, 2017Vol 56 No 1, 2017

Peripheral Figures: British and Irish Receptions of Nordic Literature and Culture


Timothy Saunders

(Volda University College)


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Peter Fjågesund

(University College of Southeast Norway)

British Perceptions of Nordic Peripheries: An Historical Survey


This article offers an historical overview of the various stages and varying significance of the impact of Nordic literature in Britain, from the late 1500s up to Modernism, and a tentative evaluation of the situation over the last hundred years. It focuses especially on the revival of the ancient literature of the North, and how this came to be adopted within the British literary tradition, in, for instance, such genres as the Gothic and the historical novel. The article also emphasises how British travel in the nineteenth century renewed this interest, but created a sentimental perception of the Nordic countries that caused considerable problems the moment these countries, while being perceived as a periphery, brought out a new and avant-garde literature in the late nineteenth century. The focus is thus on British-Nordic literary relations as an interesting example of the tensions between stereotyped ideas of centre and periphery.


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Silke Reeploeg

(Karlstad University)

Peripheral Visions: Engaging Nordic Literary Traditions on Orkney and Shetland


This article examines the reception of Old Norse literature and culture in the literatures of the Scottish islands of Orkney and Shetland. It compares in particular the work of Shetland author James John Haldane Burgess (1862-1927) and the Orcadian author George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) and it evaluates the ways in which these two figures use their geographically peripheral positions as unique vantage points from which to reframe Nordic identity in their writing. By re-orientating the Scottish Islands from the periphery of Britain to the centre of important scenes in Nordic history, Haldane Burgess and Mackay Brown each construct a distinctive sense of geographical and cultural place. This approach allows the boundaries of the Nordic cultural sphere to be extended, and for a new and complex third space to emerge, in which the islands connect the Nordic and Anglo-Celtic realms and situate them within world literature


Timothy Saunders

(Volda University College)

Peripheries of Space, Self and Literary Style in R. S. Thomas's Readings of Søren Kierkegaard


One question that has dominated discussion of Søren Kierkegaard’s writings is how to take account of their literary form when determining their meaning and purpose. This article contends that by paying greater attention to the reception of Kierkegaard’s writings in works of creative literature we can learn a significant amount about the interaction of aesthetic form and theological content within them. To demonstrate this, it conducts a close reading of seven poems about Kierkegaard by the twentieth-century Welsh poet and priest R. S. Thomas (1913-2000).

Each of Thomas’s poems situates the experience of writing and reading Kierkegaard’s works on a sequence of spatial, psychological and literary peripheries. By doing this, they illustrate how those works decentre and destabilise the single individual reader aesthetically in a manner that correlates with the necessary decentring and destabilising of the individual self before God. They illustrate, too, a correspondence between the sensation of aesthetic collapse that accompanies the ultimate incommensurability of form and content in Kierkegaard’s writings and the sensation of spiritual collapse that accompanies a recognition of the incommensurable paradox at the heart of Christian faith.

Giuliano D'Amico

(Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Henrietta Frances Lord: Translating Ibsen for the Theosophical Movement


This article focuses on the English translations of, and especially the introductions to, Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and Ghosts by Henrietta Frances Lord (1848-1923). Lord was a British women’s rights activist and Theosophist and her translations epitomise an integrated system of Theosophical, feminist and socialist thought which arose in Britain during the 1880s. Treating Theosophy as a peripheral discourse of ‘rejected knowledge’ that stands in opposition to mainstream culture, the article discusses how Lord’s distinctive reading of Ibsen reflects its grounding in this social and intellectual periphery. It argues that such a reading demonstrates the value of re-assessing receptions of Ibsen which have taken place outside the mainstream and which – like the spiritual and social movements of which Lord’s translations are an expression – have continued to be sidelined by the classic Ibsen reception narrative.


Juan Christian Pellicer

(University of Oslo)

A Region in the Mind: Heaney's Jutland and the Circumference of Nordic Literature


Focusing on three poems on the Tollund Man, this article considers how Seamus Heaney’s (1939-2013) poetic responses to the Danish bog bodies and the Jutland landscapes he first encountered in P. V. Glob’s Mosefolket (The Bog People) turn the Danish bog into a site that expands the notional boundaries of the North and Nordic literature, and tests – sometimes controversially – the political implications of universalising the local and the (apparently) peripheral.


Photo Credits

Matthew Kane, 2016,

Photograph used on cover of 2017-1 issue