Vol 54 No 2, 2015
This article investigates the process of self-fashioning depicted in the medieval Icelandic text Orkneyinga saga, the ‘Saga of the Orkney Islanders’. It argues that the character of Rǫgnvaldr Kali Kolsson, Earl of Orkney, is shown to fashion himself in the model of previous Scandinavian rulers as a means of asserting his right to govern, and that the relationship between poetry and prose is key to this process. Through the composition and recitation of verse, the character of Rǫgnvaldr asserts the power to craft his own story and thus to fashion his own identity and that of his subjects. In particular, the article demonstrates that Rǫgnvaldr’s expedition to Jerusalem is central to the construction of the earl’s story and of his self. It concludes by suggesting that such a depiction of self-fashioning may have been particularly resonant in medieval Iceland, itself a site of hybrid and shifting identities following Norwegian colonisation.
(Università degli Studi di Firenze)
Between autumn 1883 and the first days of 1884 August Strindberg, at the beginning of his first long stay abroad (1883-89), wrote the long poem Sömngångarnätter på vakna dagar (Sleepwalking Nights in Broad Daylight), published in 1884. The poem is based on a structural interaction between ‘real’ French and Parisian spaces, where the protagonist and narrator is located at present, and ‘imagined’ Stockholm places loaded with memories, controversies and nostalgia. Later in 1884 the writer would also publish his first texts directly written in French, with the intention of establishing himself as a European, transnational writer, thus gaining symbolic capital he could use in the Nordic and Swedish literary field. My article focuses on a hitherto unpublished fragment of a poem written in French by Strindberg, proposes a diplomatic transcription of it, and considers it within the above-mentioned context. Through a comparison with the Swedish text, the French fragment is assessed as a self-translation of the beginning of the third sequence of Sömngångarnätter på vakna dagar, and it is seen as a part of Strindberg’s wider transnational project through French, which involved three different strategies in the years to come: writing original works directly in French; having Swedish original works translated by others; and – as in the case discussed in this article – providing self-translations.
(University of Edinburgh)
Participating in the re-mapping processes that inform the current, spatially inclined theorising of modernism and critiquing a centrist perspective on the development of literary modernism, the article compares the uses of a range of urban environments – from the ‘marginal’ northern Swedish town to the central-European metropolis – as sites for the probing of emerging modern societies and states of mind in Swedish autodidactic author (and later Nobel laureate) Eyvind Johnson’s early urban writing published between 1924 and 1928. The article demonstrates how a polytopic, decentring and locational approach to the understanding of modernist topography, with ‘geomodernism’ as one of its labels, can be utilised to unpack the ambiguous centre-periphery relationships that are operative in and across Johnson’s narratives at both European and local levels. Referencing literary theorists such as Raymond Williams and Frederik Tygstrup, the article argues, moreover, that the town- and cityscapes represented in the narratives may meaningfully be read in the light of a new interest in affectivity as a shared and spatial phenomenon. The article shows how modes of mobility, ‘circulation’, co-ordination and rhythm are of the essence in the narratives, including manifestations and metaphors of mechanised technology. This works to capture new societal and mental states and furthers a sense of dominant affective climates. The article concludes that Johnson’s new urban writing of the 1920s represents a sustained challenge to spatially confining understandings of modernism.
(University of Otago)
In 1956, Swedish writer and Nobel Laureate Harry Martinson published an epic science fiction poem, Aniara, about a spaceship thrown off course and dooming its passengers to an eternity of deep space travel. Aboard was also the Mima, an artificial intelligence that eventually committed suicide out of despair. The Mima is generally perceived to be a mimetic construct, but this article also interprets her in the form of a personified narrative: when the Mima dies, both the community aboard the Aniara, and the structure of the poem itself, breaks down into individualised constituents.
(University of Southern Denmark)
The article explores some aspects of the fiction bestseller phenomenon in Denmark, and thus deals with a literature that is largely neglected by literary research. Initially, it defines some essential features and functions of the bestseller. The bestseller is not merely a mirror of its time but offers a vision of a new order of life as well. The sensational story of Yahya Hassan’s poetry collection Yahya Hassan (2013) shows how a modern bestseller can emerge and operate and how even poetry is able to set a political agenda. Two other examples of the bestseller’s ideological importance are the contribution of women’s literature to the formation of a female self-awareness over the last 30-40 years, and how bestsellers have served as a forum for moral education and political debate. Finally, the article examines the relationship between the local and the exotic in bestselling literature and combines a national and an international perspective.
Comment and Debate
Morkinskinna and Icelandic identity, c. 1220
University Press of Southern Denmark, Odense 2014. Pp. 406.
Reviewed by Rory McTurk
This book is the culmination of Ármann Jakobsson’s work on a relatively neglected kings’ saga, Morkinskinna, work earlier represented by, inter alia, his doctoral thesis Staður í nýjum heimi: konungasagan Morkinskinna (Reykjavík, 2002), and by his two-volume edition of Morkinskinna, done together with Þórður Ingi Guðjónsson, in the Íslenzk fornrit series, vols 23-24 (Reykjavík, 2011). The book under review, aimed at an international audience (see p. 9), is a welcome companion to this edition and also to the English translation of Morkinskinna by Theodore M. Andersson and Kari Ellen Gade, Islandica 51 (Ithaca, NY, 2000).
Morkinskinna, ‘rotten vellum’, is the name given in modern times to the manuscript GKS 1009 fol., dating from c.1275, kept in the Royal Library, Copenhagen, and containing a history of the kings of Norway from the death of St Óláfr (1030) to that of Eysteinn Haraldsson (1157). The name is hardly appropriate, since the manuscript, though it has several lacunae and the end is missing, is in good physical condition. The anonymous work preserved in it, also known as Morkinskinna, is viewed by Ármann as a lengthy, unified saga including many short narratives or þættir (sg. þáttr), and as dating originally from c.1220. Recognising that it influenced both Fagrskinna and Heimskringla (the former anonymous and the latter attributed to Snorri Sturluson), both histories of Norwegian kings from the first half of the thirteenth century, Ármann criticises the view of earlier scholars that because certain episodes in Morkinskinna, frequently of þáttr type, are not present in one or other of those two works, the latter must be indebted to an ‘Oldest’, lost version of Morkinskinna, partly or altogether lacking the þættir, and that these were interpolated in the version which survives in GKS 1009 fol. Ármann argues convincingly that there is no older Morkinskinna than the one surviving in that manuscript, that its þættir, far from being interpolations, are an integral part of Morkinskinna, ‘the core of the saga’, as he puts it (p. 78), and that the absence from Fagrskinna and Heimskringla of episodes present in Morkinskinna is due to ‘the differing attitudes of three individual authors’ (p. 53).
Among the þættir examined in detail may be mentioned, in the order in which they occur in Morkinskinna, the tale of the Icelander Hreiðarr the Simple, who, at the court of King Magnús the Good, talks the king into standing up so that he can walk round him and view him from all sides; the well-known story of how the Icelander Auðun, in Norway en route to Denmark, declines to sell King Haraldr the Severe (harðráði) the polar bear he intends to give Haraldr’s enemy, King Sveinn Úlfsson of Denmark, but is generously allowed to leave for this purpose by Haraldr, to whom Auðun later returns and gives in gratitude the ring he has received from Sveinn in part return for the bear; the story of how the Icelander Sneglu-Halli is accepted at the court of Haraldr the Severe where, as a poet, he incurs the envy of the Icelandic court poet, Þjóðólfr Arnórsson, falls into disfavour with the king but is pardoned after composing, on pain of death, an excellent poem, quarrels with Þjóðólfr, tricks one Einarr the Fly into paying him compensation for the death of a bogus relative, and later, in Denmark, dupes the Danish king into rewarding him for an inferior poem before returning to Norway; and the tale of how Ívarr Ingimundarson, an Icelandic poet at the court of King Eysteinn Magnússon in Norway and disappointed in love, is restored to good spirits by the king.
All these stories illustrate, in one way or another, a major theme of Morkinskinna, ‘the relationship between Icelanders and Norwegian kings’ (p. 14). Ármann sees Hreiðarr walking round King Magnús as symbolic of the way Morkinskinna views kingship from all angles (p. 112), and the story of Sneglu-Halli as ‘a sort of Morkinskinna writ small’ (p. 122). The story of Auðun is as much about relations between kings as about an Icelander doing well abroad (p. 99), and the story of Ívarr focuses more on his relations with King Eysteinn than on those with his beloved in Iceland (pp. 93-94).
Ármann sees Morkinskinna as subject to ‘influences from southern European court culture, including romances’ (p. 327), and analyses its structure in terms of the devices of amplification and interlace favoured by medieval rhetoricians (pp. 80-81). He does not deny its partial debt to oral tradition (p. 298), but could perhaps have given this more emphasis. One writer missing from his very full bibliography is Axel Olrik (referred to once, very briefly, in Ármann’s Staður í nýjum heimi, p. 66). Olrik would no doubt have seen the title Fra Eysteini konvngi oc Ivari (introducing in Morkinskinna the story of Ívarr but mentioning the king first) not, as Ármann sees it (p. 93), as an indication that the king is the main character of the story, but as an example of the laws of oral narrative involving two main characters and final stress, whereby the character who is formally most important is mentioned first, and the character who arouses most sympathy last (Olrik, Principles for oral narrative research, trans. Kirsten Wolf and Jody Jensen (1992), pp. 4950, 52-55). Another writer that I should like to have seen mentioned, given Ármann’s playing down of the ‘pan-Germanic heritage’ of Morkinskinna (p. 338), is Vilhelm Grønbech. It was indeed characteristic of the medieval Christian environment in which Morkinskinna was written that, as Ármann writes, ‘growing interest in the individual was accompanied by increased preoccupation with fraternity’ (pp. 22526), but something like this, according to Grønbech, was already a characteristic of pre-Christian Germanic society: ‘the more the soul is moved, the more the individual personality is lost in the kin’ (Grønbech, The Culture of the Teutons, trans. W.Worster, I (1932), p. 32).
But one can’t have everything. This is an admirable book, with far more to offer than I have been able to indicate here. It has a very full Index, giving the dates not only of medieval kings but also, rather alarmingly, of modern scholars, and is lucidly translated. Ármann Jakobsson, who has written elsewhere (in his Illa fenginn mjöður (2009), p. 97) that the giants of Old Norse mythology should not necessarily be regarded as uncivilised or physically massive, is fast becoming a giant of Old Norse-Icelandic studies.
Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2014. Pp. 384.
Reviewed by Hans Christian Andersen
With his new book, Hans Christian Andersen: European Witness, the author Paul Binding makes a major and welcome contribution to Andersen studies. His thesis is stated on the first page: ‘Europe and Denmark – Andersen’s work is born of the relationship between the two, and his own relationship to both.’ Not a very radical statement, you might think: the author considered in his socio-cultural and historical environment is not a new idea. But Paul Binding’s approach is rewarding to read, as he presents Andersen’s literary art with lines drawn to historical, cultural and literary movements and events in Andersen’s time.
Binding’s book arrives at a good point in time. Ten years have now passed since the Andersen Annus Mirabilis, 2005, when his bicentenary was marked by world-wide celebrations and the publication of major biographies – Alison Prince’s Hans Christian Andersen: The Fan Dancer (1998); Jackie Wullschlager’s Hans Christian Andersen: The Life of a Storyteller (2001); and Jens Andersen’s Andersen (2003) – each of whom re-interpreted and re-presented this artist’s life, as Andersen himself was first to do and many others did after him, often re-phrasing or even just regurgitating Andersen’s own original version of his life as ugly duckling turning into beautiful swan.
These three new biographies presented Andersen to us in the light of new insights and discoveries, discussing his sexuality (such as we know it, which is really very limited) and family origins (was he, perhaps of royal descent?). All three included references to, and interpretations of, his works, since not only is it obvious that you refer to the artist’s works when you discuss the life of an artist; in Andersen’s case he has made particularly sure that we continue to do so since that is the course he himself set out for his critics and biographers. His life was like a fairy tale, a story told by ‘nature’ almost, an ‘ur-narrative’ of his career.
The twentieth century presented a series of theoretical challenges to the biographical approach to an author’s work, and critics observed literature through lenses of sociology, Marxism, reception theory, sexual politics and – as we reached the bicentenary – queer theory. It was almost touching to find a Danish Andersen critic, Niels Kofoed, point out in the foreword to his 1992 study of Andersen’s friendship with B. S. Ingemann, H. C. Andersen og B. S. Ingemann: et livsvarigt venskab, that he had been unable to present his biographical approach to this friendship 30 years earlier because, as he says, ‘research, at that time, was predominantly neo-critical and aesthetic in its orientation, leaving no room for treatments based on biography and historical context’.
Kofoed took Andersen criticism further, as he needed to do. In an important sense, Paul Binding achieves a new synthesis of the very choices Kofoed identified in the 1960s, creating an innovative close reading of themes in Andersen’s work in the context of the history of European ideas and culture. The result is highly successful, as Binding takes his readers through a selection of central themes in Andersen’s work, many – both works and themes – well known to the Andersen researcher, but Binding raises them out of the swamp of the simple, traditional approach and, in particular, justifies taking a fresh approach to reading the novels. His angle – and this is interesting if, for a moment, one keeps Kofoed’s 1960s reference in mind – is almost to become a ‘New Critic’ as defined by Wellek and Warren, and it is pleasing to see Binding confirm that reading is – as critics suspect – not just the business of understanding what the words on the page say: it is also a research technique.
Binding’s clear style of writing is part of the reason for the book’s success. I sometimes felt that he rendered the plots of the novels more clearly than Andersen himself. But he does of course do rather more than that: the clear presentation of story line and detail is supported by interesting and informed commentary. Given Andersen’s own narrative style, a little critical foreshortening and summing-up can be very welcome and one might say that, as literary archaeologist, Binding removes a few layers of topsoil, allowing his readers a clearer view of what lies underneath.
That does not mean that Binding simplifies. On the contrary. In his chapter on Andersen’s novel Kun en Spillemand (‘Only a fiddler’, 1837), Binding mixes approaches to the novel – external: the novel as an event in the author’s life; internal: looking for themes which tie the narrative together – in his own critical narrative so that the novel comes across as readable and interesting but also as a literary work of art. Again, the study of literary works as works of art has been out of fashion for some time, but the value of Binding’s work – his contribution to Andersen studies – lies exactly in his insistence, throughout, that Andersen is a literary artist, not just crafting but creating works which reflect cultural trends in the author’s own age at the same time as they explore existential, aesthetic and cultural trends and themes.
Students of Andersen will inevitably have read his autobiographies where he often seems to list the names of well-known people he meets on his travels in Europe. One frequently has the feeling that Andersen is ‘ticking off’ the names of famous personalities he meets, and he often does not explain what the significance of these meetings are beyond the encounter itself. A quick look at his Albums strongly suggests that at least sometimes he took a trophy-collecting approach to meeting great cultural personalities of this age.
But Binding helps the reader understand the significance of the people Andersen encounters – or the artists who represent trends that Andersen also reflects in his thinking and works – so that we appreciate this Danish author as an international artist not just of ‘fame’ but of true international stature, who is himself on the list of cultural celebrities whom other European artists need to meet: Lamartine, Heine, Honoré de Balzac among many others.
Binding is a writer in his own right, in the best tradition of literary criticism: he is a pleasure to read. He is capable of holding many literary, cultural and historical threads together to create a rich text. His explanation of Andersen’s debt to Walter Scott is a typical example. The lines from Scott to Andersen are drawn and the Andersen scholar will not be surprised here, but Binding then also draws a parallel to Charles Dickens, placing Andersen, Scott and Dickens in the same tradition of the European novel so that we see Andersen as integrated in a European tradition. The fact that he compares Andersen’s novel To Be or Not to Be (1857) with the works of Thackeray and Stendhal is not only flattering to the Danish critic looking for ever further evidence of the author’s international stature: it is also a valid claim, on Andersen’s behalf, supporting that stature. The fact that Binding sees a connection between Andersen’s The Dryad (1868) and T. S. Eliot and Federico Garcia Lorca is only far-fetched if you insist on evidence, detailed in quotations from specific texts. The claim can stand as Binding’s personal view and as an attempt to demonstrate how the nineteenth-century Danish author anticipates themes that also turn up in twentieth-century literature, and the depth of Binding’s analysis and the detailed research he bases it on earns him the right to make that connection.
Working inside the same tradition as Scott and Dickens, Andersen reflects the tradition; but Binding goes further, suggesting that Andersen’s work may also impact directly on the work of his European contemporaries. As he asks: ‘Did Dickens remember Andersen’s Old House [in the tale Det gamle Huus (The Old House), 1847] when, two years later, he described so vividly that of Mr. Wickfield and Agnes, his hero’s wife-to-be, in David Copperfield?’ (p. 278) Now, answering that question is not really possible: the answer would be speculation, there is no specific evidence, but it is the strength of Binding’s approach as the ‘informed reader’ that he can allow himself this kind of speculation (which only on one or two occasions flips over into pure fantasy) and thereby opens up for new thinking about Andersen’s artistic impact. It certainly allows him to compare the works of Dickens and Andersen – and this is sometimes to Andersen’s advantage.
Binding is not the first critic to present Andersen as a ‘European’ artist. But whereas other commentators have sometimes attempted to show Andersen as a representative of a European identity in a modern, twentieth-century sense – in a Europe of common market and union – Binding much more authentically sees Andersen as an artist in a European artistic and literary tradition, working in printed media and in genres that are under development across the continent, as an active contributor to that evolving modern culture and the literary art it produces.
Ultimately, Paul Binding’s book is about Hans Christian Andersen’s significance as a Danish literary artist, working in a European literary tradition but also leading-edge as a member of the literary Parnassus of his own age. This is, in my view, Binding’s simple but effective and innovative approach: to present Andersen’s novels as literary works of art, worthy of our attention, without ignoring their shortcomings but, more importantly, without taking the usual approach of dismissing the novels because they are often artistically uneven, their plots not always under control, their central vision not always carried through consistently. Andersen’s plays suffer the same shortcomings. But, as is the case with Andersen’s drama, Andersen is both ambitious and successful as an artist and thinker, and it is Binding’s achievement that he establishes this firmly and with ample evidence in solid interpretations.
Henrik Ibsens forfatterskap - skykkevis og delt
Acta Ibseniana IX, Senter for Ibsen-studier, University of Oslo, Oslo 2013. Pp. 297.
Reviewed by Marie Wells
The subtitles of these two volumes come from Brand’s famous injunction, ‘det som du er, vær fullt og helt/ og ikke stykkevis og delt’, and in a way the two volumes do fulfil the two parts of the injunction. Haugan’s study looks at all of Ibsen’s plays from a single perspective, while Dingstad looks at Ibsen’s early career and a few plays. Both volumes play down the influence of Brandes on Ibsen, but beyond that they could not be more different.
Dingstad aims to change the image we have of Ibsen, that of a lonely writer struggling against the odds to achieve success. Instead he tries to show him as a writer who had friends and support, won early success and most importantly owes an enormous amount to Holberg. To correct the prevailing view he adopts an historical text-critical approach and re-examines the sources, emphasising those that have been neglected because they did not comply with the prevailing view. The result is fascinating. To take the example of the early biographies, Dingstad shows how Ibsen tried to control the way he was presented in them. Thus in 1869 he writes to Lorentz Dietrichson about a short biography of him that was to appear in connection with a German translation of Brand. He asks Dietrichson: ‘skriv noget sammen, som passer for Tydskerne; skriv det saa velvilligt, som din Samvittighed tillader; nogen Digtermisère gjør ikke Lykke længer’ (p. 33).
Another fascinating example comes from Ibsen’s time in Christiania as a theatre critic for the weekly Manden. In a review from 12 January 1851 Ibsen notes that the audience reaction to a Holberg play on a Sunday when everyone could go to the theatre is different from on a weekday when only the ‘velstående som hadde råd til å ta seg fri midt i uken’ (p. 61) could go. His conclusion is that ‘Holberg ikke lenger har noe hverdagspublikum. Holberg er med hele sin inkluderende holdning, sin humor og sin språkbruk blitt en som ekskluderer de fornemme’ (ibid.). Things were different when he moved to Bergen, for it seems the people of Bergen still felt an affection for Holberg, who after all was born there, and they loved their ‘komisk Holberg med karakterer og situasjoner hentet fra Bergens gateliv’ (p.80). Dingstad believes that it was this Holberg that provided the fertile soil for Ibsen’s later plays and he concludes his section on Holberg by summing up the ways in which he thinks Holberg paved Ibsen’s way to becoming the dramatist he was. Firstly Holberg wrote prose, secondly he was concerned with the present, and thirdly comedy was his medium, all of which leads Dingstad to assert that ‘Ibsens vei til det som er blitt kalt det moderne dramaet, går gjennom komedien’ (p.95).
Skipping to the Modern Breakthrough and 1871, the year that Ibsen and Brandes met for the first time, and the year that the latter gave his famous lectures on Hovedstrømninger, Dingstad argues firstly how little that meeting and the lectures influenced Ibsen’s move to writing modern dramas, because ‘det er en usamtidighet her som ettertiden har visket ut. Tar man den i betraktning, vil man se at Brandes og Ibsen har forbausende lite å gjøre med hverandre i disse årene, og at Ibsens samtidsdramaer skaptes uten forbindelser til Brandes’ forelesninger’ (p.141). Secondly for the next couple of years Ibsen was to be deeply preoccupied with his work on Kejser og Galilæer, which Dingstad believes ‘ble en blindvei for Ibsen’ (p.160), because like Hedda Gabler later, he had problems ‘med å avfinne seg med alt det lave, nedrige og latterlige. Det skulle det senere bli en forandring på’ (ibid.). This last sentence paves the way for Dingstad to write about Ibsen’s first contemporary play Samfunnets støtter which was an immediate success in Germany. Why? Largely it seems because the translation was a reworking which ‘gjorde eksposisjonen begripelig for publikum, mer underholdende’, so it became ‘en publikumsvinner, fylt av spenning og dramatikk med en lykkelig utgang til slutt’ (pp. 174-175).
At this point Dingstad gives a brief introduction to the different theories of comedy and shows how Holberg, Ibsen’s teacher, does not necessarily follow them. After a brief look at Sancthansnatten he moves on to Ibsen’s first declared comedy Kjærlighedens komedie, which so many scholars insist on reading against Ibsen’s definition. Dingstad works hard to reinstate it as a comedy and, pursuing an approach first put forward by Marcus Monrad in his contemporary review of the play, he sees Falk as being as much the butt of Ibsen’s satire as Erasmus Montanus was of Holberg’s. Restating that the aim of his study was to show that ‘det er komediene som legger grunnen for Ibsens ry som samtidsdramatiker’ (p.215), Dingstad then summarizes what is to be the argument for the rest of his study namely that if in Kjærlighedens komedie Ibsen was ‘kvalitativt sett overlegen sin egen samtids diktning og skriver en komedie som etter hvert gjør stor suksess’, in ‘De unges Forbund utvikler han seg rent teknisk til å beherske dialogen uten å ty til monologer’. After that ‘i Samfunnets støtter inkluderer han det politiske og moralske i sin egen samtid’ while finally in En Folkefiende he balances ‘de politiske motsetningene mot hverandre slik at han inkluderer både de konservative og de radikale samtidig som stykket rent teknisk er fremragende, (ibid.).
The final sixty pages of the volume are devoted to highlighting the comedic elements in the final three comedies or ‘lystspill’, (which Dingstad distinguishes from ‘komedie’). Thus although De unges Forbund is about love and politics it is not Stensgaard’s ambition that drives the plot, but the many misunderstandings, and ‘det er ikke den romantiske eller fysiske kjærligheten som dominerer, da mer den holbergske, den avtalte og fornuftige, som like fullt kan bunne i følelser’ (p. 225). Furthermore though ‘alt er tilstede i stykke rent teknisk for bruken av termen realistisk problemdrama’ (p.228-9), the play is not ‘problematiserende’, but simply an example of a comedy that laughs at human folly. It is more difficult to see Samfunnets støtter as a comedy, but Dingstad quoting Holberg sees comedy as means of moral comment, ‘hvad Comædier angaaer, da kand man sige, at ingen kraftigere Skrivemaade er opfunden at moralisere paa’ (p. 233). He suggest that if the reader has a sufficiently ‘distansert blikk’ it can be read as a ‘borgerlig lystspill’, and he highlights the elements of character portrayal and plot development that can support this. Dr Stockmann in En folkefiende Dingstad sees as an Holbergian comic figure like Erasmus Montanus, who knows he is right, but has no regard for the realities of life. He is an ‘ufrivillig narr med altfor stor tro på egen sak, på egne evner’ (p.259). However, he is not a pedant like Montanus, but ‘naiv, distré, forfengelig og livsfjern’ (p. 258).
Dingstad’s conclusion is that the body of scholarship that has grown up round Ibsen’s life and work is so vast, with one scholar building on another, that it in order to see what Ibsen was really like and how to approach his plays we need to go back to the sources. That is commendable, but it is hard to imagine that he will persuade many to see more of Ibsen’s plays as comedies.
Jørgan Haugan’s study is an eccentric one, being a biography of Ibsen where the plays provide the documentation for the biography because Haugan interprets them as ‘aspekter av hans selvbiografi’ (p. 17), which is why he reads them from the first to the last, as Ibsen in his introduction to his collected works asks the reader to do. But the plays do not just reflect Ibsen’s autobiography, they become an expression of his long ‘erkjennelsesreise’ (p.17), a result of his self-analysis and self-interrogation.
There are twin themes: Christianity and vocation, and it is Ibsen’s changing relationship to these that Haugan traces. Ibsen grew up with ‘dype røtter i et kristent univers’ (p.22) where ‘det kristne verdensbildet var det selvfølgelige’ (p.37) in the first half of the nineteenth century. A sense of vocation is there from Catiline onwards, but it is not until Fru Inger til Østeraad (1855) that it acquires a religious perspective. A year later Ibsen met Suzannah Thoresen, and Haugan believes this was the most significant event in his life, because in her he found not ‘en tradisjonell hustru, men mer en muse’ (p.70), whose first incarnation was Hjørdis in Hærmændene på Helgeland and then Svanhild in Kjærlighedens Komedie. But it is here according to Haugan that Ibsen, inspired by Suzannah, made the fatal choice that would determine his path for the rest of his life: the sublimation of physical love into artistic creation. After the birth of Sigurd Haugan argues that the marital relationship became non-sexual and Suzannah became the inspiration for ‘den rene kvinne’ as she appears in Agnes in Brand and Solveig in Peer Gynt. At the point of these two plays Haugan believes the ’sacrifice’ of the women was justified because ‘begge stykkene er bygget opp slik at retningen peker opp mot Gud og frelsen’ (p.140). The price would only been seen in the later plays when the women in whom the natural fulfilment of love was denied turn vengeful, and men who had chosen vocation instead of love gain worldly recognition but lose their souls.
Another significant event was Ibsen’s meeting with Georg Brandes. Yet Haugan does not see Ibsen becoming a supporter of the Modern Breakthrough, but rather an opponent of it. He believes that Kejser og Galilæer, which was the only product of this time, expresses the turning point. He sees Ibsen in the play grappling with the question of what Christianity is, and giving his answer in Part II where Julian persecutes the Christians, with the result that a new form of Christianity emerges with love as its core. This love which Haugan calls ‘evangelisk’, he believes Ibsen recognized as ‘en dyptliggende kraft’, but could only use as a ‘skjult posisjon’ from which he could ‘teste og anklage’ (p.217). This he would do for the remainder of his career. But this is not the only change. Haugan argues that Ibsen had identified with Julian as a poet ‘fordi han representerer den undertrykkelse av sine lidenskaper og avdøen fra all sanselighet med henblikk på åndeliggjøring av eros’ (p.192). But at the end, when Julian suffers defeat and believes he was betrayed by Helios, Haugan reads it as a sign that ‘her kommer for første gang i forfatterskapet en antydning av kallstanken som et bedrag, fordi han [Julian] med sitt høye kall søkte skjønnheten i det metafysiske’ (p. 212).
One of Ibsen’s demands according to Haugan is that of consistency between word and deed, and Haugan sees Ibsen as exploring the widening gap between the two in the second half of his career through the use of ‘det dobbelt motiverte utsagn’ (which Haugan had examined in his earlier work, Ibsens metode from 1977). In the four so-called social plays Haugan believes Ibsen tests all relationships by playing the devil’s advocate and seemingly championing the desire of the protagonists for truth and freedom, but with his new understanding of Christianity as the gospel of love, revealing that what really motivates them are ‘menneskelige interesser, hensikter, lidenskaper’ (p. 322). Thus for example he can suggest that Mrs Alving’s ‘sannhetslidenskap er motivert i hennes kjærlighetssvikt’ (p. 360). In the third phase of his career, Haugan sees Ibsen as wanting to protect his reputation as a ‘forkynner av ideale fordringer’ (p. 331), while at the same time exposing those who proclaim those ideals, for example Gregers and Rosmer. Not only that, having discovered that he made a mistake in his marriage, his writing becomes his ‘livsinnhold og livssurrogat. Lysten til å avsløre andres lykke blir dominant hos den kjærlighetsfrustrerte Ibsen’ (p. 360). In the last four plays Haugan sees Ibsen as holding judgement day over himself, so that in Når vi døde vågner, ‘Irene med “svanedunshetten” peker tilbake til Svanhild som svanen i Falk’s liv. Kunstneren som der løftet seg opp på viddene til Guds lys, har nå endret posisjon fra å være Guds utsendte til å være en utsending fra helvete – og kunsten anskues som en djevlepakt’ (p. 558).
The above quotation can stand for a great deal that is typical of this volume: the inflated language, the turning of Ibsen into player in a sensational morality play, and the rather strained links, which don’t quite convince. An example of this is Haugan’s interpretation of the end of Fruen fra havet where he comments that ‘når Ballestad står i spissen for hornmusikken idet det siste skip forlater stedet og mørket senker seg over fjorden, står vi ved dommens dag. Hornmusikken svarer til de horn som skal gjalle når Kristus vender tilbake, men dommeren her er ikke Kristus, men Ibsen’ (p. 425).
For many of the plays from Kejser og Galilæer onwards lengthy plot analyses are followed by sections entitled ‘Ibsens selvrefleksjon’. Thus of Vildanden he can say that in it ‘Ibsen vender blikket mot sitt eget ekteskap. Hvor sant var det?’ (p. 361). In addition to extreme statements such as that the play Gengangere ‘ tegner et bilde av fru Alving som hjemmets onde ånd’ (p. 286) there are problems of straw arguments, such as ‘en lang idealistisk tradisjon i forskningen har sett Gregers Werle som Ibsens talerør, en velmenende idealist som forårsaker ulykker, men vil sone med sitt liv til sist’ (p.332). It is a long time since anyone thought like that and Haugan himself was one of the iconoclasts in his 1977 study.
Underneath the inflated language one can see a perfectly reasonable study of how Ibsen came to change his view of love from a divine, idealistic imperative to a this-worldly New Testament imperative, and how a sense of vocation that negates that is damaging, but to see Ibsen almost as a participant in a Christian morality play verges on caricature.
Henrik Ibsens forfatterskap - fullt og helt
Gylendal, Oslo 2014. Pp. 608.
Reviewed by Marie Wells
Reviewed with Ståle Dingsdad, Den smilende Ibsen (see above).
Forfatterskabets hidtil ikke optrykte artikler. Vols 1-5
Forlaget Underskoven, Copenhagen 2014.
Reviewed by Sven Hakon Rossel
Danish literature’s bibliographer par excellence, Aage Jørgensen, has single-handed and with his usual patience and diligence managed to collect and edit – as the subtitle of this publication tells – all newspaper and magazine articles by the Danish writer and Nobel Prize-winner Johannes V. Jensen (1873-1950) which have never been reprinted in book form. In addition, Jørgensen has provided each single text with extensive footnotes, each of the five volumes with an index of names and, finally, volume 5 with an extensive and excellent postscript, which is a valuable supplement to Jensen’s biography, based on the published material, as well as a bibliography, a timetable and a subject index. And one is tempted to add: ‘etc. etc.’ It should furthermore be mentioned that the volumes are provided with a number of illustrations, including lesser known photographs of Jensen. The magnitude of this project becomes obvious when one considers that Jensen was active as a writer of these articles from 1898 to 1950; thus the five volumes contain a total of 550 texts which are accompanied by more than 3300 footnotes. And, of course, the inquisitive Jørgensen has unearthed texts which the standard bibliography by Aage Marcus and Fritz Johansen has missed, as well as some articles published after their bibliography was issued in 1951.
Throughout his life Jensen wrote his articles for various newspapers, primarily Politiken – for this newspaper alone 545 articles in all – and magazines, not only in Denmark. A significant number of his articles were also published in Germany during the pre- and inter-war period, such as in the Die Neue Rundschau in Berlin. Many of his articles, of course, Jensen reissued in slightly edited versions in his many essay collections, but, nevertheless, Jørgensen has had plenty of texts left for his five volumes. These texts are printed in chronological order with misprints and wrongly spelled personal names and place names implicitly corrected.
What were the topics of these articles? Jensen was a widely read and immensely knowledgeable and well-informed person, and in addition an excellent journalist and reporter, which is confirmed when perusing Jørgensen’s edition. And, furthermore, Jørgensen has also included a few fictional texts, although these are not unknown to Jensen scholars, for instance the historical dramatic episode ‘Oluf Hunger’ from 1899. Likewise important is the inclusion of two lyrical texts from 1901, printed in prose form, which later were reissued as the two well-known poems ‘Interferens’ and ‘Ved Frokosten’.
And how did Jensen write? He was able to write pedagogical articles about archaeological, historical, zoological and anthropological topics – frequently guided by his strong, almost dogmatic Darwinian orientation – employing a rather dry matter-of-fact style. In addition, he frequently participated in current debates on the same topics, as well as on politics, displaying quite a rhetorical talent. With rapture he could share his impressions and experiences from his many travels as well as writing reviews and portraits of Danish and foreign authors, above all Rudyard Kipling – about whom he also wrote a book in 1912 – Heinrich Heine and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but also of writers from his own time. Thus he seems to have been the first in Scandinavia to draw attention to Bernhard Kellermann and Ernest Hemingway in articles in Politiken from July 21, 1911 and May 30, 1930 respectively. Furthermore, from 1902 we find a laudatory review of a performance at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler with knowledgeable comments on Ibsen’s text.
We find an abundance of enthusiastic descriptions of the flora and fauna of Denmark, but also snappish, polemic and quite spiteful portraits of people Jensen did not appreciate. Of these there is quite a number which are particularly aimed at representatives of the conservative Copenhagen bourgeoisie such as the critics Alfred Ipsen – ‘Ipsens Navn vil blive glemt. Han arbejdede hele sit Liv paa sin egen Glemsel’ (vol.1, p. 57) (Ipsen will be forgotten. All his life he worked at being forgotten), Henning Kehler and the literary historian Hans Brix. But also several writers became the target of Jensen’s venom. Best known is probably his assault on the homosexual Herman Bang: ‘Staklen (...) lider formodentlig i Øjeblikket af platonisk Kærlighed til en Løjtnant’ (vol. 1, p. 222) (For the moment the poor devil is probably suffering from platonic love for a lieutenant). Similarly harsh is Jensen’s characterization of the rather insignificant imitative poet Ernst von der Recke, who is described as an ‘Allemandsnar’ (vol.1, p. 58) (public fool) and ‘latterlig Mandsling’ (vol. 1, p. 59) (ridiculous manikin) – a true fireworks of invectives. In later years Jensen grew somewhat gentler and more tolerant.
In many of the articles the Nobel Prize-winner’s wit and linguistic genius flash, in particular when he depicts animals, nature, wind and weather. Such texts are primarily to be found in the first three volumes up to the year 1933; in these we find Jensen at his best with regard to both content and style. Later on inspiration could run short and many of these articles show strong traces of being pieces of drudgery, written in order to support him and his family financially.
Thus not all texts live up to Jensen’s reputation as one of the greatest Scandinavian stylists, but the reader is nevertheless presented not only with fascinating insights into the way he was able to mould and develop the Danish language but also into the intellectual complexity of a great and many-facetted artist. Thus it is commendable that Jørgensen has included lock, stock and barrel, also the short prose pieces from a newspaper, Pressen, which Jensen produced during a short period in the summer of 1906, before he had to close it down. A typical sample would be his introduction to a strip cartoon from July 2 about ‘Jakob’, in fact the first cartoon in Denmark altogether:
Her er Jakob, en god Dreng. Oprindelig var han Amerikaner, men fra nu af er han altsaa adopteret af Danmark. Hans Navn histovre var Jimmy, og den uendelige Historie om, hvordan han skal gaa Ærinder for sin kedelige Fader og altid indvikler sig i Vidtløftigheder undervejs, takket være sin Sans for Gadens Aktualiteter, har frydet mere end een Million smaa Jimmier hinsides Havet. Nu hedder han Jakob og er vort umistelige Nationaleje. (vol. 1, p. 171)
(Here is Jakob, a good boy. Originally he was American but from now on he is adopted by Denmark. His name over there was Jimmy and the endless story about how he has to run errands for his boring father and always on the way gets involved in escapades owing to his awareness what is happening in the street, has delighted more than one million little Jimmies on the other side of the ocean. Now his name is Jakob and he is our inalienable national treasure.)
Certainly this collection will not find a large audience eagerly devouring its contents. However, Jensen afficionados and scholars all over the world will be extremely grateful to Aage Jørgensen for his five volumes. The result is impressive.
A Cultural History to 1920
Studia Imagologica 23. Rodopi, Amsterdam and New York 2014. Pp. 575.
Reviewed by Andrew Wawn
Early in 2015 the present reviewer caught sight of a press report to the effect that in April that year Canadian government marine archaeologists would begin exploration of the wreck of the ‘Erebus’, Sir John Franklin’s flagship on his ill-fated Northwest Passage expedition in 1845. The vessel was located in September 2014 and the ship’s bell had already been recovered. I would have paid no attention to this story had I not recently finished reading Peter Fjågesund’s remarkable cultural history of ‘the North’ up to 1920, in which the Franklin expedition features as one of several important thematic spines. We learn of the inspection of the ‘Erebus’ (and three other vessels) at the Royal Dockyards in Deptford in the summer of 1818; of the young poet Eleanor Porden’s paean of praise to these ‘adventurous Barks’; of the ship’s reappearance (now with steam engines) as part of Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition; of the subsequent anxieties about its progress; of the organised searches for the missing voyagers; of contact with Inuit informants; of leaked reports of cannibalism among the dying crew; of Lady Franklin’s tireless cultivation of her lost husband’s memory; of Oxbridge prize essays reflecting on the expedition; of the appetite for accounts of such adventures from private lending libraries; and, not least, of the ambiguities and poignancies that find memorable expression in John Everett Millais’ ‘North-West Passage’ painting from 1874.
As noted earlier, the Franklin expedition reaches out beyond the confines of Professor Fjågesund’s volume to present-day marine archaeological investigations – and, we might add, to initiatives from the British Ministry of Defence, the Westminster Abbey authorities and also supporters in Orkney finally to recognise the crucial role of John Rae in investigating Franklin’s disappearance and exploring the Northwest Passage himself. It was because of his association with the cannibalism rumours that Rae became a late Victorian persona non grata amongst those who sought to celebrate Sir John Franklin’s real and imagined achievements.
The importance of the Northwest Passage also reaches back into the early chapters of Professor Fjågesund’s book. The forces that fuelled the Franklin expedition (discussed in detail in Chapter 5) serve as a leitmotif throughout. In Chapter 1 we learn of Henry VIII’s lack of interest in such explorations, of the enthusiasm of the Venetian Giovanni Caboto (John Cabot) and (later) Richard Hakluyt, and of the high hopes invested (literally) in the expedition of Martin Frobisher and the gold-rush that never was. All such expeditions set sail against a background of newly published maps, monographs and scholarly editions (notably the pioneering 1470 edition of Tacitus’s Germania), whose northern perspectives would filter down into art and literature (as, in the early seventeenth century, from Hamlet to John Donne’s ‘Epithalamion’). By Chapter 3 we find Daines Barrington, newly appointed Vice President of the Royal Society, offering enthusiastic support for the highly technologised but ultimately futile Phipps expedition to the Arctic (1773-75), a venture that signalled the British government’s awareness of the strategic importance of the region, whilst also highlighting the absence of judicious scepticism among the participants and their institutional backers. In Chapter 4 we learn that the redoubtable Sir John Barrow, Second Secretary of the Admiralty, may well have been responsible for the sudden republication in 1818 of Barrington’s Tracts on the Probability of Reaching the North Pole (1775), now retitled as The Possibility of Approaching the North Pole Asserted, and we are reminded that immediately before the publication of his 1775 volume Barrington had produced his enterprising The Anglo-Saxon Version from the Historian Orosius, by Alfred the Great, together with an English Translation from the Anglo-Saxon (1773), with its accounts of the early northern voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan. Ultimately, in Chapter 5, it was Barrow, by now an octogenarian, who selected the sixty-year-old Franklin as commander of the 1845 Arctic expedition.
In Professor Fjågesund’s discussion of the Franklin expedition and its antecedents, and indeed throughout the book, we become familiar with the two levels on which the mass of primary material is organised: the surface narrative teems with ships, explorers, expeditions, map-makers, new technologies, travelogues, poetry, paintings and, even, philology; while, as thematic mood-music, we become aware of questions relating to familial, civic, regional and national ‘heritage’, imperial prestige, European geo-politics, Whitehall intrigues, competition for research funding, tensions between science and religion, and much else besides. These twin structural handrails enable the reader to watch safely from the deck as the author navigates potentially unfathomable seas of wide-ranging incident and detailed reference with assurance and clarity.
The book has six lengthy chapters, following a briefer introduction in which key issues (nation building, regionalism, high and low culture, perceptions of nature, the North’s rediscovery of its own roots, the effects of the Reformation) are identified. The author notes in his ‘Postscript’ that ‘since the Second World War, ideas about the North have largely been associated with political ideas on the far right’ (p. 30). This may surprise those readers who have rather tended to associate the North with concerns about global warming, whaling, sustainable fisheries, Alaskan oil spills, native multiculturalism, not to mention photo-opportunities for politicians to ‘hug a husky’ on the polar icecap. Such readers at least will not require the author’s reassurances that the cult of the North delineated in his book offers a ‘wider spectrum of elements’. The chapter titles confirm the volume’s chronological sweep: ‘Finding a footing: The North before 1700’, ‘Preparing for TakeOff: The Early Eighteenth Century’, ‘The Great Watershed: 1750-1790’, ‘Fastening the Grip: 1790-1830’, ‘The Northern Heyday: 1830-1880’, ‘The Closing Circle: 1880-1920’. There follows a 40 page bibliography and 30 page index of names, places and key themes. The volume has been carefully seen through the press; I spotted only one apparent typo (Linnaus for Linnaeus, p. 147).
Readers with a specialist interest in this or that aspect of the vast territory covered by Professor Fjågesund’s study may well miss references to particular individual scholars or volumes or perspectives. However, those same readers are more likely to marvel at the impressive array of primary and secondary literature (including many volumes of very recent vintage) that the author has assembled and absorbed. Amid the broad brush-strokes of the overall account, each chapter offers many moments of arresting detail, as, for example, references to the publication, republication, dedications, patrons and translations of key primary texts. The brief but telling discussion (pp. 171-73) of the pre- and post-Hanoverian succession cultural politics of Sir Richard Blackmore’s now rarely read (to put it mildly) Miltonic ‘heroick epics’ Prince Arthur (1695) and Alfred (1723) caught the present reviewer’s eye, particularly in the context of analysis of the heavily politicised old northern awareness developing throughout Scandinavia at much the same time.
In his ‘Postscript’ Professor Fjågesund notes that in the early stages of his project, ‘the ambition was to take the presentation up to the present time’ (p. 497), before it became clear that the demands on space (and, no doubt, on time and energy) would have been unsustainable. He also observes that with the increase of academic and scientific specialisation, ‘a multi-author format would be more appropriate as a means of charting the complex development of the North, and perhaps especially the Arctic, during this period’. This may well be so, but the present reviewer, no great admirer of inadequately coordinated, minimally edited and soulless multi-author volumes generated by endless conferences, is grateful to have had Professor Fjågesund as his single-handed and insightful guide. In its own way The Dream of the North represents as heroic a trek over (frequently) unfamiliar northern terrain as that of many a frostbitten arctic explorer, and, arguably, is more fruitful than many.
Performance, Intermediality and European Transmissions
Nordic Academic Press, Lund 2014. Pp. 351.
Reviewed by Susan Brantly
Re-Mapping Lagerlöf is the offspring of the Lagerlöf conference held at University College London in 2011. As a major figure of world literature, Lagerlöf certainly deserves the attention. That she has earned the subtitle of the volume, “Performance, Intermediality, and European Transmission,” is indicated by the fate of such texts as Herr Arnes penningar (1903, Lord Arne’s Silver), which was adapted for the stage by Gerhart Hauptmann, as Winterballade (1917, ‘Winter Ballad’), which in turn influenced the silent film, Sir Arne’s Treasure (1919) by Mauritz Stiller, which was sold to 46 countries (p. 108). The volume is indeed interdisciplinary, by necessity it would seem. There is quite a range of scholars with various interests making contributions to Lagerlöf research and it is only natural that the individual reader will find some approaches more interesting than others.
From my perspective, I would never have guessed that one of the more fascinating articles would prove to be the story of Lagerlöf’s reception in Czech. Dagmar Hartlová takes a look at the popularity of Lagerlöf in Czech translation throughout the twentieth century. The stunning tidbit is that ‘in the 1950s, when censorship was at its most effective, Lagerlöf was the only Swedish author deemed acceptable by the powers-that-be’ (p. 245). Lagerlöf’s considerable fan base in that country was able to keep her in print by emphasizing the socialist aspects of her texts, ‘although her concept of socialism was Christian but not religious’, as one reviewer qualified (p. 254). Hartlová notes the perceived synergies between Lagerlöf’s writing and communism: ‘an interest in and a solidarity with hard-working people, a responsibility for higher common goals including a preparedness for self-sacrifice, a sense of social justice, and an engagement for peace’ (p. 253). With regard to the popularity of Lagerlöf in particular and Swedish literature in general, Hartlová argues that as a Czech-language literature developed during the twentieth century it was less threatening for Czechs to be influenced by a small nation ‘with advanced, respected, and progressive literature’, and above all there was a desire to emancipate Czech literature from the German language (p. 258).
With this in mind, Jennifer Watson’s piece about Lagerlöf and Nazi Germany becomes even more interesting. Whereas Lagerlöf was almost treated as an honorary proletarian writer in communist Czechoslovakia, she managed to remain popular in Nazi Germany as well, never being consigned to the ‘Liste des schädlichen und unerwünschten Schrifttums’ (list of detrimental and undesirable books, p. 303). There she was seen as a ‘Nordic roots’ writer. Lord Arne’s Silver was published as a Frontbuch ‘that demonstrated the Germanic mindset of the Scandinavians, proving why Germans should be in Norway’ (p. 313). Taken together, Watson’s and Hartlová’s essays demonstrate with resounding force that translation is about more than merely casting a text into another language (Hear that, Google Translate!?). It is also about preparing it for consumption by another culture and context for perhaps widely different purposes. Now let us add to this already fascinating mix the fact that most Czech translations of Lagerlöf were made from German translations, not the original Swedish. Now that is transnationalism!
Several essays in the volume make the point that Lagerlöf was an early celebrity, whose international fame was enhanced by her Nobel Prize, her involvement in the women’s movement, and the adaptations of her work to film. Film scholars will certainly find the section on ‘Intermediality and Film’ worthwhile. This section includes Astrid Surmatz’s intriguing essay on Nils Holgersson, in which she first makes a post-colonial reading of the Sámi in Lagerlöf’s text, yet moves on to show that in the Japanese animated film based on the same text, the Sámi are oddly conflated with Vikings, making them somehow symbolically Nordic to the Japanese artist’s eye. Christopher Oscarson considers spectatorship and the role of landscape in early Swedish cinema, in particular Ingemarssönerna (1919, Sons of Ingmar, aka Dawn of Love) directed by Victor Sjöström and adapted from Lagerlöf’s novel Jerusalem (1901-2). Ebba Witt-Brattström has stumbled upon a likely intertext for Gösta Berlings saga (1891, Gösta Berling’s Saga): Hundrade minnen från Österbotten (1844-6, One Hundred Memories from Österbotten) by the Finland-Swedish writer, Sara Wacklin. Such things are always interesting, especially when this all-but-forgotten woman writer can be brought back into the light through her connection with this famous piece of canonical Swedish literature. Under the section ‘Readers, Performance, Construction’, Jenny Bergenmar and Maria Karlsson continue to make a valiant effort to interpret parts of the enormous letter archive (over 42,000 letters) relating to Lagerlöf that became available in 1990. That archive, indeed, provides more than enough fuel to justify calling Lagerlöf a celebrity.
Overall, this is a valuable book that will hopefully stimulate even more interest in Lagerlöf. There is something here for everyone.