Vol 52 No 1, 2013
(Australian National University)
This essay, first presented as a paper at the 2009 Saga Conference, proposes a comparative study of two modern treatments of early Scandinavian material: Tegnér’s Frithjofs Saga (completed 1825) and Frans G. Bengtsson’s Röde Orm series (1941-45). The article provides an outline of the origins, plot and style of both works, identifying their similarities and differences in regard to adaptation of Viking-era tales and traditions for the era in which they were published. These two texts, it is observed, are amongst the very few modern Scandinavian literary treatments of the Viking Age to achieve worldwide success.
Gabriel Scott’s comedy Babels taarn (Babel Tower), first performed at the National Theatre in Kristiania in 1911, satirises the language controversy that was raging in Norway at the time. The play is regarded as important in linguistic and literary terms, but has been largely forgotten. This article argues that Scott was disillusioned by the politicisation of the language controversy and regarded the advance of landsmål as an artificial and unwelcome phenomenon in the unfolding of Norwegian culture which failed to understand the complexities of inevitable cultural syncretism. Babels taarn is discussed as a means by which Scott critiqued the defenders of riksmål for their passivity. Finally, it is argued that Babels taarn is a scathing indictment of what Scott perceived as misdirected and shallow nationalism.
(Brigham Young University)
Hans Christian Andersen’s tale Nattergalen (‘The Nightingale’) has most often been understood in terms of Romanticism. Such a view, however, underestimates the ambiguity of the nightingale, especially its offer to become an imperial informant. This article takes as its point of departure the troubling inscrutability of the nightingale as located in its operations as voice. One of the ways this manifests itself in the tale is the constant tension between the nightingale’s body as a material thing and its voice as a non-material object. Hence Jacques Lacan’s theory of the voice as object cause becomes especially relevant in considering the disruptive effects the nightingale has on virtually all who come in contact with it. Furthermore, Lacan’s theory of the voice object as tied to desire and loss is helpful in articulating the tensions that manifest themselves throughout the tale. In the conclusion, I argue for a closer association between Andersen’s 1844 tale ‘The Shadow’ and ‘The Nightingale’ than one might initially suspect, given that both tales rest on a certain logic of spectrality.
Frederick Delius’ two settings of Ibsen’s poem Paa Vidderne (On the Heights) are early compositions; they have received relatively little attention from scholars and have rarely been performed. They are however interesting to consider in relation both to the ideology explored in the poem, and to the landscape in which they are set. Delius had both personal experience of and a deeply held affection for this landscape. Considering the expression of locale in these compositions as experience of place and of subjective perspective adds to the understanding of landscape as both a generic and specific entity, and the role(s) it plays in Delius’ musical narrations. The article offers a detailed musicological reading of the two compositions, revealing the symbolic and phenomenological aspects of experience of place that are encoded in the music.
(Høgskolen i Volda)
In Henrik Ibsen’s play Little Eyolf (Lille Eyolf, 1894), it is rather unclear who desires whom and in what way. This article argues that this messiness does not make the play weak, as has often been claimed, but that the play thematises the ambiguity of desire and identity. A main line of argument is to show how the name Eyolf circulates in the family, and that the symbolic and metaphorical elements of the text – the bizarre Ratwife, little Eyolf’s grotesque eyes at the bottom of the sea and Allmers’ experience of having death as a travel mate – seem likewise to point towards how Allmers’ plans to be a father cover up the undermining and decline of fatherhood which Allmers pretends to restore. The article also discusses the development of Ibsen’s poem ‘Water-lillies’ and its intertextual relationship with Little Eyolf and with Ibsen’s life.
This article provides the first extensive scholarly analysis of Dimension, a film project started by the Danish director Lars von Trier in 1991, but never completed. Dimension was planned to stretch over three decades, shooting three minutes of film per year and premiering in 2024. Von Trier shelved the project in the late 1990s, but the fragments which have survived stand as something of a lodestone in his developing relationship with time and its representation. This article argues that Dimension comments not only on individual and cultural ‘aging’, but also on the foundations of cinema and its complex temporality.
Comment and Debate
Skåneförlaget, Språk- och litteraturcentrum, Lunds universitet 2011. Pp. 536.
Reviewed by Helena Forsås-Scott
Which Swedish poet wrote in five languages, was regarded as in the same league as Georg Stiernhielm and Lasse Lucidor, and gained an international reputation in her lifetime? The answer is Sophia Elisabet Brenner, née Weber (1659-1730), arguably also the first writer in Sweden to express explicitly feminist ideas. Married to Elias Brenner, an expert on antiquities and especially coins, Sophia Elisabet Brenner gave birth to fifteen children.
As Valborg Lindgärde shows in one of her four contributions to this volume, changes in the discourses on gender were affecting Brenner’s reputation as early as the 1790s, when she was criticised for neglecting her household duties for the sake of her writing. Two centuries of decline were to follow: as Carina Burman points out, her decision, taken in 1994, to make Brenner the focal point of a novel was partly inspired by the fact that Brenner was still comparatively unknown. The reasons for the relative lack of scholarly interest in Brenner’s work were often blatantly sexist.
The rehabilitation of Brenner had in fact been initiated by Karin Westman Berg in 1977, and she also wrote, with Valborg Lindgärde and Marianne Alenius, the substantial chapter on Brenner in Nordisk kvindelitteraturhistorie(1993). With the publication of the current volume there can be no mistaking – or denying – Brenner’s importance in Swedish literature and culture. Originating in a symposium on Brenner at the University of Lund in 2009, this ground-breaking volume not only investigates Brenner’s work from a range of different angles but also relates it to a wide variety of contexts, thus effectively presenting the outline of a cultural history of a period which, in more traditional history-writing, often seems overshadowed by Karl XII’s wars. The contributors to this volume, then, are not just specialists on literature: they also include experts on art history, classics, philology, book history, the history of ideas, music, numismatics, and so on. The value of the book is enhanced by a wealth of illustrations, most of them in colour. Brenner wrote poetry in Swedish, German, Latin, French and Italian, usually for special occasions such as weddings and funerals. While her Swedish is scrutinised from a range of perspectives in this volume, there are also chapters on her poetry in German and in Latin which highlight her skill in combining linguistic ability (she was bilingual, having grown up speaking German) with erudition and extensive reading. The fact that she wrote mostly for special occasions permitted her, as Lindgärde points out, to move relatively freely in a society that was strictly hierarchical, and her social network consisted not just of family and friends but also of members of the nobility and the royal family as well as learned men, both in Sweden and abroad. Infant and childhood mortality was extremely high in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and Brenner’s children almost all predeceased her. Kristiina Savin highlights two maternal elegies by Brenner, sonnets written on the deaths of Mårten, aged six months, in 1688, and Isak, aged two years and ten months, in 1689. Drawing on these and other related poems, Savin demonstrates the extent to which Brenner’s treatment of grief has been read through the discourses of later periods; and she concludes that Brenner’s command of what was traditionally a male sub-genre was such that she was able to renew it, and often for purposes favourable to her own gender. The equivalent radicalism is foregrounded in Stina Hansson’s chapter on the poems written for weddings which, in addition to celebrating the couple, treat issues to do with contemporary gender politics. Yet Brenner, as Mats Malm shows, had to relate to the notions of gender morality embedded in the understanding of language and poetry current at the time. While Swedish was regarded as pure and manly and languages such as French and Italian were associated with immorality, the sheer pleasure of poetry invariably created a sense of moral ambivalence. According to Malm the word dygd, virtue, is more frequent and prominent in the tributes to Brenner than would have been required in tributes to contemporary male poets -evidence, he argues, of the need to emphasise that she, a female poet writing mainly in Swedish, still remained in control of sensuality and pleasure. Brenner quickly achieved international fame, and some of the many fascinating chapters in this volume explore the paths of communication that made this possible, including the role of the international distribution of her husband's major work on numismatics, published in 1691 and used also as a vehicle for spreading the word about her poetry.
At once well-researched and beautiful, this volume is not just welcome: it will be essential to research into Brenner's work for years to come.
Makadam förlag, Göteborg, Stockholm 2012. Pp. 399.
Reviewed by Helena Forsås-Scott
Över alla gränser is a study of masculinity and Christianity in three Swedish works of prose fiction: Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s Drottningens juvelsmycke (1834), August Strindberg’s I havsbandet (1890), and Selma Lagerlöf’s Löwensköld trilogy, especially Charlotte Löwensköld (1925) and Anna Svärd (1928). The study was carried out as part of an interdisciplinary project, ‘Kristen manlighet – en modernitetens paradox: män och religion i en nordeuropeisk kontext 1840-1940’ (Christian masculinity – a paradox in modernity: men and religion in a northern European context), with Littberger Caisou-Rousseau opting to focus on three literary characters: Azouras Lazuli Tintomara, Axel Borg, and Karl-Artur Ekenstedt. Her analyses, in three separate sections, of these characters in relation to masculinity and Christianity, lead to the conclusion, in her English summary, that there is ‘little doubt that literary texts can illustrate the full complexity of both masculinity and Christian faith’.
This is a well-written study, and Littberger Caisou-Rousseau explores her chosen texts in considerable detail. Her analyses benefit from extensive and useful contextualisations – historical, cultural, ideological – and from a wide range of theoretical material on theology and on gender studies, the latter category including works by Judith Butler, R.W. Connell, Thomas Lacqueur, George L. Mosse and Peter N. Stearns. She also draws on a very wide range of existing studies of her three texts and their authors. Littberger Caisou-Rousseau’s boldest analysis is that of Tintomara, whose androgynous characteristics are read in the context of Almqvist’s notion of an alternative Christian society, with Tintomara ultimately positioned above or beyond the conventional gender categorisations thanks to her/his ‘divine dimension’. In Strindberg’s novel with its prominent foregrounding of masculinity and denial of Christianity, the text about the atheist Axel Borg is found effectively to undermine masculinity while providing increasing space for biblical narratives and elements of Christian faith, with the central character eventually emerging as having much in common with Jesus Christ. Karl-Artur Ekenstedt in Lagerlöf’s two novels is found to be trapped in an infantilising relationship with his parents and especially his mother, while his efforts to assert his independence by means of his mission as a Christian, first within the state Lutheran Church and then outside it, are repeatedly thwarted, notably by the novels’ female characters; and so it is only towards the very end of Anna Svärd that Karl-Artur, reduced to an impoverished anti-hero, achieves similarities with Christ.
While there are interesting and rewarding sections in Littberger Caisou-Rousseau’s study, I am puzzled by her overall approach. How can literary characters, decades after ‘the linguistic turn’, be extracted from their texts, discussed separately and, moreover, treated as if they were full-scale human beings? Surely, in this day and age, it is generally accepted that characters in a novel are verbal constructs whose functions and implications we cannot begin to understand unless we assess how they are narrated, who narrates and for whom? While Littberger Caisou-Rousseau makes occasional references to berättaren, ‘the narrator’, this narrator appears to be synonymous with Almqvist, Strindberg and Lagerlöf respectively, as a phrase such as ‘Lagerlöfs berättarröst’ (Lagerlöf’s narrative voice) would seem to confirm. Consequently she also analyses gender without taking into account the destabilisation of the notion of identity fundamental to poststructuralism. Littberger Caisou-Rousseau’s reluctance to develop a clear and firm line of argument is also troubling. In its efforts to pay attention to everything written about these four novels (as emphasised by the excessive footnotes), her discussion frequently becomes woolly and lacking in direction; it is symptomatic that it is also marred by extensive plot summaries. Interesting and relevant though the subject matter may be, Littberger Caisou-Rousseau’s study leaves much to be desired.
Forlaget Oktober, Oslo 2009. Pp. 667.
Reviewed by Janet Garton
Confronted by multiple bulky tomes, the reviewer is tempted to begin by counting: four volumes, 2704 pages, 77 years – an average of 35 pages for each year of Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s life. Only a very remarkable man could merit such intense and dedicated scrutiny.
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson was a very remarkable man. As Hoem says in his summing up at the end of the final volume, no other Norwegian author had anywhere near as much influence on the development of Norway during the second half of the nineteenth century – and that, in a country where authors have traditionally been seen as pioneers and prophets, is to say quite a lot. Bjørnson was a man of enormous energy and drive, fascinated by all aspects of politics, culture and society, brimming over with enthusiasm and commitment. He had a finger in every pie, an opinion about every topic, a conviction that his was the correct way of seeing things and a zeal to convert others to his view which led to a continuous torrent of letters, articles and speeches as well as the poems, plays, novels and short stories for which he is remembered in literary histories. Living at the same time as Henrik Ibsen, and linked to him by lifelong literary rivalry as well as by family connections (his daughter Bergljot married Ibsen’s son Sigurd), he loomed larger in the national consciousness than did his subsequently more famous fellow playwright. It was Bjørnson who won the Nobel prize, not Ibsen. Yet there are few today who read his novels or stage his plays. He was fundamentally a man of his time, and with the passing of that time the general public’s interest in him has faded. But the pivotal role he played in a turbulent era means that he remains a central figure in any attempt to chart the political, social or cultural history of the period. One cannot but be grateful to Edvard Hoem for taking on the enormous task of sifting the mountains of material which document the life and activities of this man, and presenting the first comprehensive account of all of his many sides.
Tradition has placed Bjørnson on a pedestal, says Hoem – and one thinks automatically of Stephan Sinding’s statue outside the National Theatre in Oslo, where he stands four-square and bombastic beside the contrastingly introverted figure of Ibsen. Hoem’s declared aim is to take him down from that pedestal, to show him as an ordinary man with all his faults. And faults he certainly had. He acted first and thought afterwards. For all his perspicacity and his generosity, he could be both obtuse and callous. His long-suffering wife Karoline was made ill by his behaviour on more than one occasion; when he fell in love, he did so with a passion which swept aside all other concerns. He treated his children unequally; Hoem examines particularly his unfair treatment of his oldest son Bjørn, the most loyal and considerate of his sons, who supported him both personally and professionally in his role as theatre director, and whom his father continually complained about and would not listen to. His other sons Erling and Einar wasted large amounts of their father’s money, and yet he continued to support and excuse them. He was a great seducer – yet he claimed that he had never seduced anyone. He maintained that he had always respected his children’s wishes and never interfered in their lives – yet he did little else. ‘På enkelte punkt må ein tilstå at sjølvinnsikta hans ikkje er overtydande’ (At certain points one must concede that his self
knowledge leaves something to be desired, Vol. III, p. 222) Hoem remarks drily at one point.
In politics Bjørnson often misjudged the situation, particularly in the long-drawn-out battle over the dissolution of Norway’s union with Sweden. He was phenomenally tactless, often damaging his own cause because he could not stop himself from wading in when it would have been better to keep quiet. He went his own way in the language debate, using an orthography which was different from anyone else’s. And – a heinous act in the eyes of this particular biographer – he was a virulent opponent of landsmål (nynorsk), describing it as a crime against his native land. It is Bjørnson’s fault, says Hoem with feeling, that there is still today an argument about the legitimacy of Norway’s second language.
No cause was too great for Bjørnson, explains his biographer, and no cause was too small. He was as exercized about the optimal placing of letter boxes in apartment blocks in Kristiania as he was about the cause of Italian independence. What is more problematic is that the same can be said of this biography. We follow Bjørnson through all his many great and small causes with an attention to detail which can become wearying. There are too many long quotations from material which is available elsewhere. Potted summaries of all of Bjørnson’s works are provided as they are mentioned. The narrative is a chronological one, which at times becomes pedestrian, and there are repetitions of information and arguments. And there is a feeling of imbalance throughout. In the first volume Hoem announces that this is to be a two-volume work, with the first volume covering the first 43 years of Bjørnson’s life, and the second the final 35 years. The Afterword to the second volume confesses that he was forced to change his plan after realizing how much material remained, and announces that there will be a third volume; the Afterword to the third volume throws up its hands in despair and begs the reader’s indulgence to wait for a fourth. All this argues a certain lack of planning, to put it mildly.
The feeling of imbalance intensifies during the reading of the first volume. We meet Bjørnson when he is fifteen years old and proceed from there. There is little mention of his parents and his early childhood, and his siblings are mentioned only incidentally. One hesitates to ask for more information in this mammoth work, but this does seem unduly sketchy. It may have happened because Hoem’s previous book focused on Bjørnson’s father, but that does not help the reader of this biography. Bjørnson’s first 25 years are dealt with in 190 pages – which leaves 2554 pages for the rest, or 49 pages for each year of the life. The last volume has 68 pages per year. It seems Hoem has been increasingly overwhelmed by his material; if only it had all been digested first. There is a marvellous story here, but it is struggling to get out. With modern technology some of the supporting documentation could have been provided for researchers online, and a good editor could have helped to shape and organize the narrative.
With such an enormous subject, and trying to do justice to half a century of Norwegian cultural, social and political history as well as the life of an extraordinary individual, it is almost inevitable that there will be some inaccuracies. Let me take one example where I have the research at hand to check on Hoem’s account in detail: the relationship between Bjørnson and Amalie Skram. In broad outline Hoem gives an accurate picture of their tempestuous history, and it is gratifying to read an account of Bjørnson’s life in which Skram takes her rightful place as an important actor. Initially dismissive of her work, Bjørnson came in time to recognize and celebrate Skram as a major author. Hoem sums up their significance for each other in a striking paragraph: ‘Dei tok vare på det som gjekk føre seg mellom dei, og slik gav dei, hundrevis av mil frå kvarandre, ei gave til oss som lever sidan, ved at vi kan kjenne i sjela korleis dei var dregne mot kvarandre, også no da den første ungdommen var forbi. ... tilhøvet hans til Amalie Skram, det var eit vennskap som på ein måte var meir enn kjærleik. Ho var likeverdig med han, i tankekraft og emosjonell kraft.’ (They preserved the communications between them, and in this way, although they were hundreds of miles apart, they gave those of us who live later a gift which speaks to our hearts of how they were drawn to each other, even after their first youth was past … his relationship with Amalie Skram was a friendship which in a way was more than love. She was his equal in intellectual and emotional power. Vol. III, p. 522.)
However, there are unnecessary errors in this story which undermine the authority of the narrative. When describing the final communications between the two of them, Hoem states that Bjørnstjerne and Karoline made a surprise visit to Amalie Skram in February 1904, when they did not see her because she was out. She wrote to them afterwards to regret missing them and to say she was not coming to dinner at the Hegels to meet them. They never met again, and Amalie died on 13th March in hospital in Copenhagen after a short illness (Vol. IV, p. 280). The facts are these: Amalie was not out when the Bjørnsons called, but was upset that they had not warned her in advance, because she was in the middle of spring cleaning. She wrote the note to them ‘immediately after you left’ to regret the mess. She did say that she would not go to the Hegels, but wrote two days later to Julie Hegel to say she would try to come, although she had said she would not – ‘but that was of course nonsense’. So this may not have been the last time she saw the Bjørnsons. The date of her death was 15th March, and she did not die in hospital, but at home; her daughter Johanne came home from school to find her mother dying. (All these events are related in my biography of Amalie Skram, which is included in Hoem’s bibliography, but has not, it seems, actually been consulted.)
In the English-speaking world Bjørnson’s name is practically unknown; there is no biography of him, and there have been few recent translations of his works. Yet some of his poems and some of his short stories remain masterpieces of their genre, and his influence can still be felt in many areas of Norwegian life today. Now that all the spadework has been done, it would be good to have a much reduced English version of the biography, along the lines of Ingar Sletten Kolloen’s Hamsun biography, which might provide the essence rather than the substance of the man.
Forlaget Oktober, Oslo 2010. Pp. 621.
Reviewed by Janet Garton
Reviewed above (see review of Villskapens år. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson 1832-1875)
Forlaget Oktober, Oslo 2011. Pp. 669.
Reviewed by Janet Garton
Reviewed above (see review of Villskapens år. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson 1832-1875)
Forlaget Oktober, Oslo 2013. Pp. 747.
Reviewed by Janet Garton
Reviewed above (see review of Villskapens år. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson 1832-1875)
Norstedts, Stockholm 2012.
Reviewed by Peter Graves
Ockulta dagboken was the diary Strindberg kept from February 1896 through to the summer of 1908. When the diary opens he is moving into the Hôtel Orfila in Paris; the final entry but one finds him moving house from Karlavägen to the apartment in Drottninggatan 85 that was to be the last home of what was by any standards a peripatetic life. The twelve years that intervene are filled with occult interpretations of everyday incidents, mysterious knockings on walls, proofs of the existence of the unseen powers, mystic numbers and colours, alchemy and dreams, as well as some of the ordinary stuff of diaries. And then there is Harriet Bosse, his third wife: ‘När jag såg Harriets skönhet, som ibland kunde vara “överjordisk”, så bävade jag’ (When I saw Harriet’s beauty, which could sometimes be “out of this world”, I trembled). His relationship with her, both the real one and his later dreams/delusions, is central, a centrality made clear by the number of entries she has in the index: twice as many as almost everyone else with the exception of Anne-Marie (Lillan), the daughter Harriet had with Strindberg.
The original in which all this is found consists of a folder of 282 hand-numbered loose sheets, some eighty drawings and doodles and a hundred or so pasted-in newspaper cuttings, all of which Strindberg kept in a paper bag on which he had written: ‘Ockulta Dagboken 1896-1908. Bör icke utlånas; icke tryckas; icke deponeras i offentligt Bibliotek’ (The Occult Diary 1896-1908. Not to be lent out; not to be printed; not to be deposited in a public library). He changed his mind about that at least once when short of money, but ultimately the diary did remain out of the public eye for fifty years until 1962. The parts of the diary that deal with his marriage with Harriet Bosse were published as long ago as 1963 and a black and white facsimile was published in 1977, but now we have the whole thing. It would be hard to overstate the skill and erudition – not to mention the tenacity and patience – brought to the task of establishing and editing this strange hotchpotch of a text by its two editors, Göran Stockenström and the late and sadly missed Karin Petherick.
Ockulta dagboken, together with Hemsöborna, brings to a close the great thirty-year project to produce the seventy-two volumes of the National Edition of Strindberg’s works. What a worthwhile project it has proved to be, with excellent texts, along with commentaries and notes by leading scholars, appearing in uniform and elegantly simple volumes. All of this makes the choice of publication method for Ockulta dagboken all the more peculiar. It comes in a three-volume boxed set, consisting of volume 59.1 (the established text), 59.2 (a coloured facsimile of the original notebook), both of these volumes being folio sized to match the original, and volume 60 (commentaries), this volume being in the same octavo size as the rest of the National Edition and containing a long essay by Göran Stockenström and copious and essential notes by Karin Petherick. So far so good. But only 999 volumes were printed and, as is almost unnecessary to say, they have already sold out. Of these the first 99 were a numbered and leatherbound collectors’ edition selling at SEK 9999. The final touch was to auction the volume numbered ‘1’ – it achieved SEK 20,000, the money thus raised being donated by Norstedts to the good cause Lawyers without Borders. All this was no doubt excellent publicity but has left the majority of potential readers, reviewers included, reliant on the electronic version that has been made available via Litteraturbanken. Electronic reading may be fine much of the time but proves to be less than convenient when what the reader wants/needs is to have all three volumes open on the desk simultaneously in order to move back and forth between them.
It is, of course, easy to smile at the occult beliefs that inform the diary from start to finish, to dismiss the whole thing as an example of that stew of Swedenborgianism, occultism, theosophy and oriental mysticism so popular as the nineteenth century became the twentieth. In his lengthy and stimulating essay Stockenström suggests that perhaps the best way for us to approach Ockulta dagboken is in the spirit of the quotation from the Talmud that Strindberg places on the title page: ‘Om Du vill lära känna det osynliga, så iakttag med öppen blick det Synliga’. ‘The invisible’ is the symmetry, the meaning or purpose, the linking element, that lies behind and binds the seeming disorder of existence. It is this search that in its own strange way makes Strindberg’s occultism scientific; it is part of the urge to find a synthesis between natural science and religion.
Inevitably, though, we do have to ask the question whether the publication of Ockulta dagboken adds much to our knowledge of Strindberg the man or Strindberg the writer; is there much point to it, that is, beyond the completion of the National Edition and an act of piety to the great writer? As one reads the diary initial doubts that these jottings, however meaningful they may have been to Strindberg, have anything to give to anyone else gradually fade as the reader becomes aware of something too easily forgotten: that this diary runs parallel with the writing of twenty or so plays, including the greatest, as well as a dozen or more prose works, and acts as a kind of subconscious commentary on that creative process. And that the diary also lays bare the story of a man who has fallen disastrously and inappropriately in love – and lost. The final entries in the diary in June, July and August 1908 have an utterly poignant sense of loneliness. He complains of unbearable stomach pains (the cancer that killed him a few years later), wants to die, notes his move from Karlavägen to Drottninggatan 85 and the writing of Siste Riddaren for Dramaten. Then he dreams of Harriet: ‘Fasans dag! … Med fasans natt! Plågades i fem timmar! Drömde om H – t, ärbart, vackert; såsom när hon en gång knöt på mig en halsduk och efteråt kysste mig på munnen som sitt barn’ (Horrendous day! … And a horrendous night! Tormented for five hours! Dreamt about H – t, honourably, beautifully; like when she once wrapped a scarf around me and then kissed me on the mouth like her child).
Åbo Akademis Förlag - Åbo Akademi University Press, Åbo 2011. Pp. 516.
Reviewed by Petra Broomans
Hagar Olsson (1893-1978) was a multifaceted woman; a woman of letters, writer, translator and an important cultural transmitter. She was a central figure in the literary debate in Finland, a leading critic à la Georg Brandes in Finland’s literary history. Olsson had alarge network and she corresponded with many other writers and scholars in the Nordic countries as well as other West European countries. In the 1920s many Swedish modernist writers such as Artur Lundkvist (1906-1991) and Stina Aronson (1892-1956) were inspired by the Finland-Swedish modernists. Aronson was eager to meet Hagar Olsson, and she regarded Olsson together with Edith Södergran (1892-1923) as her kindred spirits, ‘syskonsjälar’. In fact, it was as a close friend of Edith Södergran that Olsson first became famous outside Scandinavia. Students usually read Ediths brev. Brev från Edith Södergran till Hagar Olsson med kommentar av Hagar Olsson (1945) and then possibly go on to Olsson’s own writings. Scholars such as Roger Holmström have shown that Olsson’s literary work deserves to be studied in its own right. In her dissertation about utopian thoughts in the works of Hagar Olsson, Judith Meurer-Bongardt demonstrates how important Olsson was as a cultural transmitter of ideas. Thisstudy is a thoroughly researched piece of work, and it is impressive to see a PhD student who has managed to complete the task within the four years which are so often exceeded. The book is also well written (in German) and gives us a good overview of Olsson’s work as a critic and as an artist. Meurer-Bongardt is an author of wide reading, and her book illustrates one of the advantages of globalisation in the academic world; she is able to combine her expertise in German history and philosophy with her knowledge of Finland’s (literary) history. The study not only contains observations of Olsson’s work as a critic, but also provides us with good analyses of her literary works.
The aim of the study is to focus on the literary works of Hagar Olsson in the period 1920-1950. Meurer-Bongardt focuses especially on Olsson’s ‘new realism’ and her strategy of reclaiming utopia from a faraway island to being the inner self of the people. After the introduction, with a full overview of previous research on Hagar Olsson, Meurer-Bongardt explores in Chapter Two the concept of ‘Utopisches Denken’ (Utopian thought) and outlines the most relevant theories. The point of departure, however, is Ernst Bloch’s notion of utopia, called by Klaus L. Berghahn ‘the utopian function’. Meurer-Bongardt links this to Olsson’s ‘new realism’. Another scholar frequently referred to is Erich Fromm. The word utopia, probably a combination of ‘ou’ (= not) and ‘topos’ (= place), comes from Thomas More’s novel Utopia (1516). It is unclear whether the place concerned is a happy one or a terrible one. More could also have been referring to the best possible place that does not exist in reality (Meurer-Bongardt: 37). According to Meurer-Bongardt, Bloch’s utopia is associated not with perfect state organisation but with the human condition. The concept of ‘the utopian function’ is crucial to Meurer-Bongardt’s study and her interpretation of Olsson’s utopian thoughts.
Soll die Utopie konkret werden, so muss sie von einem Bewusstsein geleitet werden, das sich auf das “Real-Mögliche” bezieht. Dies bedeutet, dass konkrete Möglichkeiten und Tendenzen der Vergangenheit und der Gegenwart, von Bloch auch als Noch-Nicht-Gewordene bezeichnet, aufgespürt werden müssen, um ihr utopisches Potenzial zu nutzen und so eine tatsächliche Veränderung der gesellschaftlichen Umstände möglich zu machen. (Meurer-Bongardt: 57).
By adapting the concept of the utopian function to Olsson’s new realism, Meurer-Bongardt places Olsson and her work in the context of a quest for a better world, and shows how literature functions in this quest. In the next chapter Meurer-Bongardt elaborates the concept of utopia as a basic category in the arts and literature, and as a utopian place. She analyses Hagar Olsson’s novel Chitambo (1933) as an example of a utopian novel in order to demonstrate Olsson’s utopian way of thinking and writing. The feeling of doom and of being in a period of transition goes hand in hand in Olsson’s texts with the possibility of renewal and a new future. In this chapter it becomes clear how Olsson’s new realism should be defined: literature that shows us a changed view of reality and at the same time questions it.
In the following chapters Meurer-Bongardt discusses utopia and politics, utopia and youth, as well utopia and gender in Olsson’s work. The fourth chapter starts with an overview of the literary field in Finland in the interwar period. Works of Olsson are placed in the context of utopian literature and political engagement, amongst others Det blåser upp till storm (1930, There’s a Storm Brewing). This novel is a fine example of how Olsson sees literature as a Trojan horse that is intended to change society from within and give it a new future. In the next chapter about youth, politics and utopia the same novel is analyzed.
The last chapter is about gender aspects and the ‘new woman’ in Olsson’s work. An intriguing question from the perspective of cultural transfer and transmission studies is Olsson’s fascination with the Dutch writer and socialist Henriette Roland Holst-Van der Schalk (1869-1952). There are indeed some similarities between the two women. Though Meurer-Bongardt does not mention how and when Olsson became acquainted with Roland Holst’s poems and political ideas, it was probably through an article by Martha A. Muusses in the Swedish journal Ord & Bild in 1937, which presents Roland Holst’s literary and political work. The article is followed by some poems translated by Muusses from Dutch into Swedish. Some striking details are for example that Roland Holst in 1912 published a lyrical drama entitled Thomas More,in which the protagonist More proclaims that communism will be the future. In the same year her collection of poems De vrouw in het woud (The woman in the wood) was published. The poems deal with themes such as the lost land, and the strength to continue and start a new life. These kind of similarities could be studied in more depth, but that must wait for another article or book.
Instead of the traditional summary, this study of Hagar Olsson ends with a epilogue in which the essay Jag lever (I exist) (1948) is analysed. Meurer-Bongardt regards this essay as a text in which all utopian elements in Olsson’s work come together. Jag lever is a manifesto for the utopian potential of human beings.
The overall conclusion after reading this doctoral thesis is that it is an important work in the reading and further study of Hagar Olsson and her importance for Finland-Swedish literary, historical and ideological development in the twentieth century.
Translated by John Irons
Museum Tusculanum Press / University of Washington Press, Copenhagen / Seattle 2011. Pp. 368.
Reviewed by Tom Lundskær-Nielsen
This hefty volume contains a selection of 100 Danish poems in English translation from the late seventeenth century until 2009, with the addition of two medieval ballads. All but the last six poems also appear in the larger collection (in Danish) entitled 1000 danske digte (1000 Danish Poems), edited by the same two scholars (Rosinante, 2000), though only the last two poems in the present volume (by Naja Marie Aidt) are written after 2000.
The poems are preceded by a long introduction (pp. 11-54) by Anne-Marie Mai (also translated by John Irons), which not only offers brief information about the poets included but also places them in a wider literary context.
This is a very welcome and fairly representative introduction to Danish poetry for an English-speaking readership, which presents 1-3 poems by most of the prominent poets of the last three centuries or so. The choice of writers/poems is of course always a matter of taste and personal preference, and in the present case one suspects that sometimes other considerations than tradition or quality have played a part. For example, the earlier female poets from the twentieth century included here (Bodil Bech, Hulda Lütken, Tove Meyer) are arguably not household names in the same sense as some of the later ones (Tove Ditlevsen, Inger Christensen, Pia Tafdrup, etc.), but no less welcome for that. These and other choices come at a price, though, since it seems to be to the exclusion of a number of important poets from the last two centuries, such as Poul Martin Møller, Christian Winter, Johannes Jørgensen, Hans Hartvig Seedorff, Per Lange, Ole Wivel and Jørgen Sonne, to mention some of the more obvious ones. Some might also find it a little disappointing that, for instance, Hans Christian Andersen and J.P. Jacobsen are only represented by one poem each, when lesser known practitioners of the art form appear with at least two. But selections of this kind will never please everybody, and the two editors have ranged widely and on the whole not sprung many surprises. As far as presentation is concerned, it is very helpful and pleasing to the eye that the Danish version appears on the left page and the English one opposite on the right side, thus allowing easy comparison between original and translation.
Of all the literary genres, poetry – especially of the more traditional kind with rhymes, etc. – is usually considered the most challenging for a translator, who will need to make some conscious choices from the outset. John Irons has elected to go down the now rather unfashionable road of translating the rhymes as rhymes. Although one may feel some intuitive sympathy for this brave decision, it is fraught with danger; at least if one expects the result to match the language of the calibre of, say, a Keats or a Tennyson. And I fear that these misgivings are all too often justified. There is no room here for extensive examples, but the poem ‘Sne’ (Snow) by Helge Rode (pp. 202-203) displays some of the problems. Here (in stanza 1) ‘take’ is made to rhyme with ‘makes’ and (in stanza 3) ‘fine’ with ‘sublime’. It does not take a phonetician to spot the flaws, and if this is the outcome, why do it? Furthermore, natural English syntax is quite often stretched beyond what is acceptable to a modern reader; a favourite ploy seems to be to place the direct object before the finite verb, which even in poetry is somewhat clumsier in English than in Danish. Again, the Rode poem provides us with an example: ‘… makes / quiet the voices that the air are rending’. Similar examples are legion throughout the collection.
It would be a shame, though, to dwell too much on such linguistic infelicities when this publication can no doubt serve as a very valuable introduction to, and overview of, Danish poetry, which at its best can compare with that of any nation. It is therefore to be hoped that this volume will find its way to as wide an audience as possible. The poets and the editors deserve nothing less, and so – despite the problems mentioned above – does the translator for the vast majority of the poems and for the sheer scale of the undertaking.
Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab, Syddansk Universitetsforlag, Odense 2011. Pp. 1842.
Reviewed by Tom Lundskær-Nielsen
Grammatik over det Danske Sprog (GDS) completes the ‘project’ in recent decades of producing a modern comprehensive ‘reference grammar’ for each of the mainland Scandinavian languages (Danish, Norwegian and Swedish), written in the native languages. The Norwegian and Swedish grammars appeared at the end of the 1990s, while grammatical enthusiasts had to wait more than a decade longer for the Danish contribution. In terms of length, it slots in neatly between the shorter, one-volume Norsk referansegrammatikk (1997) with its ca. 1200 pages and the enormous Svenska Akademiens grammatik (1999) in four volumes, covering ca. 2800 pages. According to the authors, it was written over a 12-year period between 1992 and 2007 (GDS I:12). So there were a few lacunae in the composition – and there is also a considerable gap between the alleged completion date and the publication of the work in 2011; the date of the ‘forord’ (preface) is given as ‘June 2009’ (GDSI:13).
There is no doubt that this Danish grammar is an impressive achievement. The presentation is extremely attractive, with a plethora of examples and figures clearly set out, though resulting in little actual text on the average page, and both paragraph and sub-paragraph headings appear in red. There is every reason to congratulate both the authors and the publishers on this feat. Hansen and Heltoft (H&H) place their work in the tradition of ‘four predecessors’ (Høysgaard, Mikkelsen, Wiwel and Diderichsen), whereas Aage Hansen’s 3-volume work Moderne dansk (1967), specifically mentioned in DSL’s Preface to GDS as the last comprehensive treatment of Danish grammar in Danish before the present work (GDS I:9), is somewhat surprisingly excluded from this ‘tradition’, though there are a number of references to it along the way. Presumably, H&H did not find anything of theoretical inspiration in it.
GDS is intended as both a theoretical and a descriptive work; the former because it aims to provide a ‘coherent and novel description [!] of Danish on a functional and largely semantic foundation’, and the latter because it is also meant to be a reference work (GDS I:11). This dual purpose is not unproblematic (see below), and H&H are forced to admit that they have prioritised a coherent theoretical approach over the more practical exemplification and the philological aspects (ibid.). One consequence of this is that the division into three volumes does not represent a consecutive treatment.
In Vol. I (pp. 1-416) H&H introduce the key elements of the terminology and the various topics that are expanded and exemplified in the last two volumes. Thus in Ch. I ‘Sprogvidenskabelig indledning’ (Linguistic introduction) (pp. 15-150) they explain the theoretical underpinning of the grammar, and in Ch. II ‘Morfologisk og syntaktisk oversigt’ (Morphological and syntactic overview) (pp. 153-342) they present a range of grammatical topics, such as word classes, inflections, word-formation, syntactic constructions, word order phenomena and syntactic stress, which are analysed in much greater detail in Vols. II and III.
Vol. II (the longest, pp. 417-1168) deals primarily with nominal and verbal constructions, but there are also chapters on the function and syntax of minor word categories, while Vol. III (pp. 1169-1842) focuses on the sentence, including types of construction, clause types and topology (word order), offering a new and more elaborate version of the kind of sentence schema originally conceived by Paul Diderichsen.
It is obviously impossible to give more than a vague flavour of a work of this magnitude and complexity in a short review, and the selection of material for this will always be subjective. One can easily lose oneself (also in the sense of getting lost) in the myriad of details and examples. This can indeed be very rewarding since there is much new material to admire and come to grips with and many fresh angles to view it from, but when one goes on to study aspects of Vols. II and III it is necessary to be constantly mindful of the terms and definitions introduced in Vol. I, and that is asking a lot even of specialists, never mind the general reader.
Among the fundamental principles of this grammar the following ones should be mentioned. First, it is a descriptive, not a normative grammar. This may be a view held in principle by the vast majority of linguists nowadays, if not always acted on in practice, but it is not uncontroversial in a work of this kind. Thus the norm of Danish championed here is characterised by H&H themselves as comprising ‘alt nutidigt dansk’ (all contemporary Danish) (GDS I:22), and they stress that only practicalities prevent them from including dialect material everywhere in their treatment. This ‘norm’ is even extended to the dialectal varieties found among second generation immigrants, without any reservation. That is rather a broad canvas which strongly implies that the notion of ‘correctness’ is not relevant for a grammatical description. It would be difficult to uphold that view in grammars aimed at foreign learners, and it is significant that many examples in H&H are marked with an asterisk as being ungrammatical, irrespective of whether someone might have uttered them.
Another basic structural approach in H&H is that all syntactic structures must be analysed at two levels: form (expression) and content (meaning). This is notthe norm in grammars generally, but here it is done consistently (perhaps it should not surprise us too much; it is after all Hjelmslev’s homeland). This frequently leads to two different analyses of the same example, but there are undeniably some gains along the way.
H&H further claim that the grammar is functional and has a pragmatic basis so that, unlike most others, it makes explicit fundamental pragmatic distinctions such as types of speech acts, deixis, relevance and other concepts usually dealt with in pragmatics.
When one adds to this H&H’s penchant for using new terminology, it can easily lead readers to the conclusion that the authors may have bitten off more than they can chew and that they have been a little too ambitious in their aims. I must confess that I find some of the terminology introduced by H&H simultaneously challenging and exasperating. Unlike their Norwegian and Swedish counterparts, who adopt a fairly traditional terminology, the two Danish authors almost go out of their way to be different and, I suppose, ‘innovative’ (to use this dreadful but sadly fashionable term). In their defence, they usually explain and argue for the new terms they employ, and at the end of each section there is a brief passage called ‘Forudsætninger’ (Prerequisites) in which they inform the reader of writers and works that have influenced them.
It is important to stress that this is first and foremost a theoretical work rather than a reference grammar. Indeed, to call it a reference grammar at all is close to being a breach of the trades description act. It is certainly not for the faint-hearted, and even professional linguists may at times struggle to grasp the points made while checking back to Vol. I. Previous reviewers1 have pointed to flaws and inconsistencies, e.g. in the treatment of the genitive (which for H&H is not a grammatical case) (cf. Therkelsen in NyS2011:126-9), or the desirability of certain analyses such as the double analysis of prepositional phrases (PPs), on the one hand as a ‘katatagme’ when the PP is an ‘object’ but on the other hand as a ‘hypotagme’ when it is a locative (adverbial) (GDS I:272-3, 280; cf. Platzack in NyS 2011:109-10). I share these and other misgivings and have also found some (though not many) typological and other errors. For example, the term ‘syntagme’ appears on p. 85 and again on pp. 93ff, but without any definition (unlike ‘katatagme’ and ‘hypotagme’, which are defined on pp. 93-4, respectively), and it does not even appear in the Index at the end of Vol. I. Are all readers supposed to know this term?
However, no work of this magnitude can be perfect or satisfy everybody. This is unquestionably the most comprehensive treatment of Danish grammar for more than a generation and, not least because of its novel approach, it will almost certainly remain so for decades to come. It has already made itself indispensable for anyone with a keen interest in this subject, but it does require a very good knowledge of Danish to benefit from it as well as some familiarity with linguistic terminology, even if that is often challenged along the way. But it is not for the general reader without any familiarity with grammatical concepts or understanding of linguistic analysis at a fairly advanced level, and it is of course confined to people who can read Danish.
1 See, for example, the reviews of different parts of GDSby four Scandinavian linguists in NyS [Nydanske Sprogstudier] 41, 2011: 93-177. It should be mentioned that these reviews are written in Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.
Detail from Midsummer Music, 2012, Carolina Romare/imagebank.sweden.se