Cover of Vol 52 No 2, 2013Vol 52 No 2, 2013


Bethany Howell

(University of Cambridge)

Changing Scripts for Changing Times: Digraphia in Mediaeval Scandinavia


This article examines the interaction of runes and the Latin alphabet in mainland Scandinavia, in the 400-year period from the Church’s introduction of the Latin alphabet in the late tenth century to the disappearance of runes as a living writing system in the early fifteenth century. Drawing on runic and Latin inscriptions primarily from Sweden but with some examples from Norway and Denmark, the article investigates how the two scripts were employed by different social classes and how they influenced each other. The applicability of the concept of digraphia in this historical context is examined via a discussion of levels of literacy and linguality across social classes.


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Julie K. Allen

(University of Wisconsin - Madison)

Strindberg with Brandes in the Red Room: Literature as Radical Politics


While Swedish author August Strindberg used his literary works to critique Swedish society but only occasionally commented explicitly on political systems, his close friend across the Sound, the Danish writer Edvard Brandes, opted to pursue radical political reform through active participation in national politics, both as a member of the Danish parliament and founding member of two of Denmark’s most liberal political parties at the time, as well as through his journalistic work. Drawing on their extensive personal correspondence and Strindberg’s first novel Röda Rummet (The Red Room; 1879), this article examines Strindberg and Brandes’s respective views on how literature and radical politics relate to each other and to their shared historical context. What did the two men have in common? What motivated Strindberg to eschew political activism in favor of scathing literary works? Why did Brandes choose to subordinate his literary production to political office? Which approach to achieving political change was more effective?

Massimo Ciaravolo

(University of Florence)

Stockholm's Archipelago and Strindberg's: Historical Reality and Modern Myth-Making


The Stockholm Archipelago is ubiquitous in the prose, poetry, drama and non-fiction of August Strindberg. This article examines the interaction in Strindberg’s oeuvre between the city of Stockholm as civilized space and the wild space surrounding it, tracing the development of a literary myth of Eden in his work. Strindberg’s representations of the shifting relations between city and nature, it is argued, played (and still play) an important role in the cultural construction of mythologies of the loss of the wild space. The environments described in Strindberg’s texts are subject to changes, shifts and repetitions with variations, such that the archipelago in itself can be read as a mirror of the polyphony of points of view, the variability and the ambiguities we find in his oeuvre at large.

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Jon Stewart (ed.)

The Heibergs and the Theater. Between Vaudeville, Romantic Comedy and National Drama

Museum Tusculanum Press, Copenhagen 2012. Pp. 269.

ISBN: 9788763538978

Reviewed by Suze van der Poll

Although Johan Ludvig Heiberg dominated theatre life in the Danish Golden Age, the theater critic, theorist, essayist and dramatist was seen merely as a footnote to giants like Kierkegaard and H.C. Andersen from the start of the twentieth century. Recently the situation altered; ironical as it may seem, it was Kierkegaard research that triggered the Heiberg renaissance. Initially Heiberg was acknowledged as an important object for both Kierkegaard’s criticism and his admiration. But it was not long before Heiberg became an object for international and interdisciplinary research in his own right, something the present monograph illustrates. The Heibergs and the Theater. Between Vaudeville, Romantic Comedy and National Drama, the seventh volume in Jon Stewart’s series on Golden Age Denmark, sheds light on Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s dramatic oeuvre from three different though closely related perspectives: politics, philosophy and, although less prominent, gender. Most of the contributions centre around Heiberg. For Sohl Jessen (“Kierkegaard’s Hidden Satire on Heiberg’s Poetics of the Vaudeville in Either/Or and Repetition”), Schiedermair (“Theater and Modernity: Thomasine Gyllembourg’s Novella Near and Far”), and Sanders (“The Ethics of Performance in Johanne Luise Heiberg’s Autobiographical Reflections”), however, Heiberg is of secondary importance and functions as a referential ‘footnote’ to the works of (intimate) contemporaries.

Although the table of contents might give the impression that philosophical issues are mainly touched upon in the second part of the volume, philosophy and especially Heiberg’s relation to Hegel functions as one of the leitmotifs in both the first and second section of The Heibergs and the Theater. Finn Hauberg Mortensen shows that Heiberg’s Hegelian breakthrough in 1824 not only has been as important for Danish nineteenth-century intellectual history as Oehlenschläger’s romantic breakthrough and Brandes’ modern breakthrough, he also underlines the fact that the marginalization of Heiberg’s breakthrough was caused rather by strategic-political preferences (his breakthrough didn’t fit the national-historic line in the tradition of Danish literary history), hereby providing an implicit commentary on Danish literary history.

That philosophy and politics are closely intertwined is shown by Lasse Horne Kjældgaard in “An Artist Among Rebels? Johan Ludvig Heiberg and the Political Turn of the Public Sphere”. Kjældgaard convincingly connects Heiberg’s Hegelianism to his reflections on state reformation. By looking closely at three mutually related tendencies in the 1830s, the critique of aesthetization, the pitting of politics against aesthetics, and the fast politization of the press, Kjældgaard shows that Danish literature was quite strongly influenced by the political movement during this period, which has traditionally been characterized as an apolitical and quiet age. Heiberg, whose writings became politically orientated during the 1830s, does not just serve as a random illustration of this development. Kjældgaard underlines that Heiberg, earlier than most of his contemporaries, grasped the scale and importance of the irreversible politization of the public sphere that took place in Denmark after the 1830 July revolution, something which is clearly reflected in the closet drama A Soul after Death which Heiberg published in 1840 and in the journal Intelligensblade he launched in 1842, an example of the fast politization of the press that took place from the 1830s onward.

Wolfgang Behschnitt in a way connects Kjældgaard and Müller-Wille. Like Kjældgaard Behschnitt studies Heiberg’s reflections upon the close relation between art and society in times of change. Behschnitt’s reading of Heiberg’s essay on Hertz’ Svend Dyring’s House examines Heiberg’s thoughts on the way art in times of social change could represent and mould the people. The solution according to Heiberg was found in popular art. Only popular art, when rooted in national heritage and when addressing all social strata, could truly influence the people. Popular art thereby functioned as a kind of national art. The question of the aesthetic and political representation of the national body is also at the core of one of the most interesting contributions to the volume: Klaus Müller-Wille’s “Ghostly Monarchies – Paradoxical Constitutions of the Political in Johan Ludvig Heiberg’s Royal Dramas”. 

By analyzing the structural differences between three of Heiberg’s royal plays Müller-Wille exposes the political implications of these plays in the light of the programme of creating a national culture. As Müller-Wille  shows Heiberg used the plays to reflect upon the representation  and function of the king in the early nineteenth century, and is initially clearly influenced by Hegel’s political-aesthetic reflections. Müller-Wille provides a solid analysis of both Hegel’s thoughts on the function of the monarch in relation to the state and Heiberg’s changing view on this matter. Whereas in Elves’ Hill (1828), a vaudeville functioning as a  national drama, he presents the king both as a real person and as an image of the Danish spirit, Day of the Seven Sleepers (1840) no longer aesthetically legitimizes the monarchy. At least as interesting is Müller-Wille’s conclusion that a reading of Day of the Seven Sleepers shows  that national theatre will take over the symbolic function of ensuring the unity of the state.

The second and third sections of the volume concentrate on different aspects of Heiberg’s dramatic and drama-theoretical works. Joachim Grage (“Heiberg and the Musical Theatre”) comments upon Heiberg’s systematic theory of dramatic art (heavily depending on Hegel), and especially the place of the vaudeville, a genre much loved by Heiberg, within this system. One could argue that the division between the second section and the first is slightly arbitrary, bearing in mind that the aesthetic reflections are partly political as well. Commenting on the educational qualities of theatre, he once again seems to underline – as Kjældgaard and Müller-Wille did too – that the line between politics and aesthetics is a thin one, as is the one between philosophy and theatre, something which is shown in Jon Stewart’s “Heiberg’s Conception of Speculative Drama and the Crisis of the Age: Martensen’s Analysis of Fata Morgana.” In 1838 Heiberg had written a drama which according to his wife was not poetry at all. In Fata Morgana he had tried to put into practice ‘speculative drama’, a genre he had reflected upon five years earlier in On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age.  The experiment failed, but was defended by Heiberg’s friend Martensen who demonstrated that Heiberg in this play diagnosed the crisis of art in the late 1830s and indeed provided something new. Stewart’s re-reading of Martensen’s review does not lead to a revaluation of the aesthetic qualities of Fata Morgana, but Heiberg’s experimental play does illustrate that he was aware of the fact that something had to be done to give a new impulse to the theatrical life of the Golden Age.

Gunilla Hermansson’s analysis of Heiberg’s ‘forgotten’ play Nina signalizes that Heiberg experimented with other genres as well. With Nina, Heiberg was probably attempting to write a sentimental play, concludes Hermansson, because Heiberg, who had seen successful Nina-versions in Paris, dreamt of an aesthetic (and financial) success himself.

In all the present volume, by supplementing traditional aspects of Heiberg research like biography, drama, critical works and aesthetics with studies on his philosophical and socio-political views, Stewart and others have succeeded in providing new insights not only into the many-sided character of Heiberg’s life and writings, but into the cultural life of Golden Age Denmark as well. The first half of the volume is the most consistent one, as all contributors in this part reflect upon the link between the aesthetic, the political and the philosophical. In some cases this unfortunately leads to unnecessary repetitions. Grage’s remarks on Heiberg’s discussion of Holbergian comedy were already and more thoroughly discussed by Müller-Wille. The same can be said about Behschnitt’s reflections on the ‘notions of the national’. But  these are only small editorial imperfections in a stimulating collection  of essays.

Lynn R. Wilkinson

Anne Charlotte Leffler and Modernist Drama

True Women and New Women on the Fin-de-Siecle Scandinavian Stage

Welsh Academic Press: Studies in Nordic Literature and Film, Cardiff 2011. Pp. 322.

ISBN: 978-1-86057-0

Reviewed by Charlotte Purkis

The death of the writer who is the subject of this study in 1892 and only in her early forties could have left Anne Charlotte Leffler and her works in the mists of the nineteenth century, were it not for Lynn Wilkinson’s recent book which makes a determined case for restitution, re-conceptualisation and relevance to understanding the modern European stage. Leffler was clearly an indomitable figure, hugely gifted and totally committed to trying to understand and represent situations in women’s lives in a range of writings, including criticism and novels, which like her plays ranged across genres from tragedy to comedy, socially-committed texts and utopian dream scenarios. In arguing for her status as pioneer of the modern, highlighting female perspectives, Wilkinson seeks to convince readers of connections between Leffler’s achievements and  the myriad ways ‘the modern’ and ‘modernisms’ have been conceived by intellectuals from her time and since. Whilst the plays discussed are undeniably interesting in content and innovative in form, it is difficult to construct a convincing argument that such late nineteenth-century works should really now be designated ‘Modernist’, simply because the concept of the ‘modern’ seemed tired by the century’s end. Perhaps this progressivist tendency denies revaluation of the unique nineteenth-century perspective of her theatre work which then becomes rather too sub-textual.  However, this is the approach that sets Wilkinson’s agenda: to place Leffler alongside Ibsen and Strindberg and to share in perceptions of them as radicals of their age, inspiring to subsequent twentieth-century avant-gardists.

A huge strength of the book is its accessibility to non-Swedish speakers, due to the painstaking translation work Wilkinson has undertaken which has been wisely supported by her publisher.  This means that the impact of this fascinating ‘new woman’ can now lead the way in a larger project concerning the rehabilitation for the history of drama of Leffler and other female figures writing in Europe at the turning point of the ‘modern breakthrough’. It seems unnecessary to use the author’s full name throughout the book; although this may follow a feminist convention, the reason is not explained to the reader and it does rather check the reading flow. Wilkinson’s well-informed close reading of the plays with reference to archival sources is extremely valuable to scholars and potential producers interested in this overlooked and underrated author (as this had not yet been  done comprehensively). Further to this, her approach in reading hostilities from the author’s critical reception against the grain as rather acknowledging the importance of the work is also successful because it enables the challenges Leffler’s plays offered to her time to be better understood in their original context. Whilst the book is densely packed, there is really a great deal of detail worth reading here, especially concerning her travels and encounters in Europe.

It is not only valuable to read about the connections between Anne Charlotte Leffler’s dramas and other plays by more historically established male writers; it is also impressive how Wilkinson analyses identified moments of connection. The final chapter of the book where we are taken through the layering from Ibsen’s Peer Gynt influencing Strindberg’s Lycko-Pers resa (Lucky Peer’s Journey)  into an understanding of Leffler’s Sanningens vägar  (The Ways of Truth)  is a fascinating case study that deserves to be read by theatre studies students as much as by Scandinavian scholars. The methodology used by Wilkinson to bring out the inter-textual aspects in her analyses is thought-provoking as a model because it enables her to identify Leffler’s thinking pointing both forward and sideways, for example, to Schnitzler’s Reigen, a text well known to the contemporary stage through new versions, which can lead readers to re-examine Leffler’s sexualised dance metaphors. It is worth then not only keeping Leffler in context, but also weaving her back in, and ensuring that such resonances of her time and her personal creativity as can be relevant to understanding the rise of Early Modernism are acknowledged.

Because the later nineteenth century is already of such interest due to the persistent popularity on stage and secure place in canonic repertoire world-wide of Ibsen and Strindberg, there is definitely scope for a deeper interest in many of their female contemporary playwrights. Wilkinson argues convincingly for the revaluation of Anne Charlotte Leffler as vitally significant and tries to treat her and her output as self-motivated, and to resist merely reading her texts against the work of her more famous male contemporaries. Yet in this book there remains a sense that Wilkinson’s scholarship is still constrained within the patriarchal ambit constructed for over a century which continues to sideline women who have been too quickly forgotten, because of the reference points to male writers as ‘colleagues’. Perhaps in time, more knowledge of Leffler’s plays might knock these writers from their pedestals?

As European studies broaden with more sharing of knowledge across borders, the theatrical arena could throng with the un-muted voices of other such ‘true women’ as Anne Charlotte Leffler. This is assuming that recognising women’s achievements, and with it the recovery of what has been largely off-stage, can be kept firmly on the agenda of cultural historical studies. With Wilkinson’s admirable advocacy of Anne Charlotte Leffler casting her in a leading role in the continuing and newly fashionable play of understandings about the nature of the modern, she also secures herself a place as an informed and motivated advocate of women theatre-makers’ place in history.




Björn Meidal and Bengt Wanselius

Strindbergs världar

Bokförlaget Max Ström, Stockholm 2012. Pp. 512.

ISBN: 9788171261625

Reviewed by Peter Graves

Björn Meidal and Bengt Wanselius, Translated by Sarah Death

The Worlds of August Strindberg

Stockholm 2012. Pp. 512.

ISBN: 9789171262486

Reviewed by Peter Graves

Of the many works prompted by the 2012 centenary of Strindberg’s death Björn Meidal and Bengt Wanselius’s volume has to be among the biggest in every sense. As the cover blurb tells us, ‘This is the most extensively illustrated biography of Strindberg produced to date’ and at 500+ pages of heavyweight quarto paper the text is best read and the pictures best admired while sitting at a desk. The publisher has also taken the unusual course of publishing an English translation, splendidly done by Sarah Death, simultaneously and in identical format.

I imagine that most readers will start with the illustrations, of which there must be six or seven hundred, sometimes two or three small snapshot portraits of individuals to a page, sometimes large seascapes, landscapes and townscapes spreading across two pages. They are mostly photographs, mostly surprisingly crisp and non-sepia, some of them taken by Strindberg himself, and while some of them are inevitably familiar, by far the majority of them will be new to most readers. And they are a joy; even without Meidal’s text it would be a pleasure and an education to browse this photographic collection. What Wanselius has done is to provide us with the visual context of the literary and cultural history of the latter part of the nineteenth century and, more specifically, to focus it around the many ‘worlds of August Strindberg’, so that there is not an illustration that does not illuminate some aspect of the title figure, his family, his circle and his places. It is a quite stunning achievement.

As is Björn Meidal’s biographical portrait. Given that Meidal edited the last seven volumes of Strindberg’s letters, there are few people who can have the degree of familiarity with Strindberg that he has. In the Foreword to the present book he writes: ‘I had the privilege of completing the major, definitive edition of Strindberg’s letters. In more than 10,000 surviving letters I could follow his life day by day’. (This and other quotations are taken from Sarah Death’s translation.) Meidal’s account tends to focus on the straightforwardly biographical, in so far as anything about Strindberg’s biography can be straightforward, but that does not mean that the works are given short shrift. What brings his portrayal to life, however, is precisely his day-to-day knowledge. The overarching sweep of the life is all there – the marriages, the affairs, the feuds, the ideological inconsistencies, the prejudices, the financial shambles – but it is Meidal’s mastery of the small and telling detail that scores over virtually every other Strindberg biography. Before writing Giftas I (Getting Married 1) Meidal tells us, ‘The time had come for him to send off for his favourite pen nibs, the Sir Joshua Mason 1001s, the medium- and fine-nib varieties, as he had “suffered all winter” from being forced to use inferior Swiss writing implements’; and when Strindberg was alone at Dalarö in the summer of 1891 we learn that he wrote to his cousin Gotthard to send ‘A Dozen Condoms (gutta-percha), Leja’s largest = 10 Kronor per Dozen’. In Meidal’s account there is a refreshing absence of the kind of trite psychologising that bedevils much of what is written about Strindberg. How much more telling of the character of the man is Meidal’s recounting of his reaction to the negative criticism of Svenska folket (The Swedish People) by certain professional historians: one such, Oscar Montelius, is dismissed as a ‘third-hand historian’ and … ‘Where Montelius is concerned, I crap on him. I shall fuck him in the wig until he is bald’.  

At times the treatment of the works has something of the feel of encyclopaedic entries, as is perhaps inevitable in view of Strindberg’s enormous oeuvre, even in a work of 500 pages. A hundred works are mentioned, some in more detail, some in passing – Miss Julie, for instance, gets c.800 words, A Dreamplay c.270 words – but Meidal packs a considerable amount of information and even some analysis into the small compass available. Importantly, Meidal also succeeds in very briefly contextualising works, both in biographical terms and in literary historical terms.

A rewarding volume, then. There are, however, a number of paratextual elements that make the book rather less user-friendly than need be. Firstly there is the complete absence of dates on the contents page: we are given headings such as ‘Germany-Denmark’ or ‘Sweden Again’ without any information as to the years covered by the rubrics. No problem, of course, to the expert already familiar with Strindberg’s biography but inconvenient to others, particularly perhaps to students or to readers of the translation. Nor is the running text itself overgenerous with dates. The illustrations, however, are meticulously dated throughout, which is helpful, and there is a life-and-work timeline  several pages long at the end of the book – although, given the size of the volume, the latter is literally heavy to consult. Secondly, there  is the lack of a proper index – all we are provided with is an index of  persons. In view of Strindberg’s peripatetic life, places would certainly have been a helpful addition, and perhaps even more useful would have been page references to works mentioned – again at the end of  the volume there is a simple list of ‘works referred to in this book’, but it gives neither page numbers nor dates nor, incidentally, is it a  complete bibliography of Strindberg’s works. Thirdly, while there is a bibliography of ‘All works of major importance used in this volume’ provided, there are no numbered references at all, which makes it impossible for the interested reader to follow up specific points. All this makes one wonder a little about what target audience the publishers had in mind.

But these are quibbles. At the end of the Foreword Björn Meidal writes: ‘I have done my best to write without the benefit of hindsight and to take seriously his [Strindberg’s] anxious, surprised questions: ‘Where am I?’, ‘How did I get here?’, ‘Who have I become now?’ and ‘What shall I do?’. In words and in pictures Meidal and Wanselius have made a very fine job of answering those questions.   



Ann Boglind and Anna Nordenstam

Från fabler till manga

Litteraturhistoriska och didaktiska perspektiv på och ungdomslitteratur

Gleerups Utbildning AB, Malmö First edition, second printing, 2011. Pp. 422.

ISBN: 9789140652041

This volume by Ann Boglind and Anna Nordenstam, both at the University of Gothenburg, aims not just to introduce literature for children and young adults but also to outline the major developments in the genre from Aesop onwards, and to enhance the understanding of texts of this kind. Intended for students, teachers, scholars, librarians and others with an interest in literature for children and young adults, the book has a section presenting didactic approaches at the end of each chapter and a comprehensive concluding chapter on didactic perspectives. There are also extensive bibliographies.

The range of texts covered overall is distinctly international, and this perspective along with the wider contextualisation of Nordic and Swedish literature for children and young adults adds to the value of this volume. The opening chapter offers a helpful discussion of the concept of barnlitteratur, children’s literature. Each of the following chapters then takes its starting-point in a genre that plays a central role in the literature for children and young adults, and almost every chapter explores a representative œuvre in some depth. Thus the chapter on fables, myths and sagas has an in-depth section on H. C. Andersen, the one on the classics has one on L. M. Montgomery, the one on picturebooks explores Tove Jansson, the one on thrillers, sport, humour and friendship discusses Astrid Lindgren, the one on poetry has a section on Lennart Hellsing, and the chapter on modern literature for young adults has an in-depth section on Maria Gripe. While this structure is clearly an attempt to balance the very ambitious – too ambitious? – surveys with their huge quantities of material and no more than mentions or very brief summaries even of important texts, it does not strike me as wholly successful. The two and a half pages on H. C. Andersen are distinctly thin, and all the more so in light of the very considerable volume of research available. The remaining in-depth sections draw more constructively on existing research but still lack analytical depth.

In the concluding chapter on didactic perspectives, the authors take issue with the current Swedish school curricula on literature and make a case for the reading of literature for its own sake, for sheer enjoyment as well as for exploration, discovery, and insight. Literature, they emphasise, is far more than a starting-point for other activities; and the riches of their book, covering many cultures and well over two millennia, and further enhanced by illustrations in colour, provide overwhelming backup. The concluding chapter presents helpful strategies for reading and discussing literature, and for engaging with texts by means of writing, re-writing, painting and so on. Quite rightly, the authors underline the role of textual analysis. However, mere lists of points for the analysis of prose fiction and poetry respectively are hardly sufficient. The chapter would have benefited greatly from actual examples of textual analysis, and all the more so in the light of the shortage of literary analyses in the book as a whole.

Needless to say it is essential in a book of this kind to get the details right. Errors such as ‘Hispanolia’ for ‘Hispaniola’ and ‘Dr Livsey’ for ‘Dr Livesey’, both in Treasure Island, and ‘Poros’ for ‘Porthos’ (The Three Musketeers) can possibly be classified as spelling errors, but not so the claim that Selma Lagerlöf, elected to the Swedish Academy in 1914, gave her speech on Zacharias Topelius. As was – and still is – the custom, Lagerlöf spoke on her predecessor, the poet and architect Albert Theodor Gellerstedt. More serious is the claim that Nils Holgersson criss-crossed Sweden on the back of Akka, a wild goose: as readers the world over know he travelled on Mårten, the tame gander, whose safe return is pivotal to the plot of Lagerlöf’s novel.

No doubt these and other errors will be corrected in the next edition. Boglind’s and Nordenstam’s book largely succeeds in its ambitious aims, and Från fabler till manga deserves to be widely read and used.




Contributions to Scandinavian Studies in Periodicals

This bibliography, which appears in full in issue 52-2, has been compiled from information kindly supplied by the following individuals and institutions: Barbara Hawes and the British Library, London; Johan Hermfelt and the Royal Library, Stockholm; Asborg Stenstad and the National Library, Oslo; and Sveinn Yngvi Egilsson and the National and University Library of Iceland, Reykjavík. The overall compilation was by Barbara Hawes, British Library, London. The editors would like to express their gratitude for this help. They would also be grateful for any information about (or offprints of) relevant articles in periodicals in non-Scandinavian countries in order to make this bibliography as complete as possible. For suggestions, please contact Barbara Hawes at barbara.hawes[[at]] Please note that bibliographies are now also available online:

Photo Credits

Cover image: detail from Strandparti by August Strindberg, 1873, oil on canvas, Nordic Museum, Stockholm. Photographer: Esquilo.

Photograph used on cover of 2013-2 issue