Cover of Vol 56 No 2, 2017Vol 56 No 2, 2017


László Gergye

(Eötvös Loránd University Budapest)

The Spoken and the Written Word in Hans Christian Andersen's Improvisatoren


The study focuses on the first artist’s novel in Danish literature, Hans Christian Andersen’s Improvisatoren (1835), primarily on the relationship between speech and writing. Romantic artistry, as such, rests on the spoken word: the sound of a word usually has priority over the letters that comprise it. Accordingly, Andersen’s protagonist, the poet Antonio, tries to find a form of artistic self-expression which gives full weight to the living, breathing personality. Thus, we see Antonio’s performances gradually having less and less in common with the conventions of public/dramatic readings, with their heavy reliance on textuality. More and more, his preferred direction is the exploitation of the possibilities inherent in the rhetoric of conversational language. All this seems to indicate that a Romanticism manifest in the symbiosis of poetry and music will be prone to see the secret of inspired art in its spontaneity, in the unrepeatable uniqueness of improvisation.


Mitsuya Mori

(Professor Emeritus, Seijo University)

Ibsen's An Enemy of the People: An Inter-sociocultural Perspective


Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People is frequently performed worldwide today. Its popularity must be due to the relevance of the problems depicted therein to the current global context, such as extreme individualism, democracy vs. mobocracy, environmental pollution, manipulation of information, and the conservative education system. An Enemy of the People was the first Ibsen play to be staged in Japan, although it was adapted for the Japanese setting. At the time of its staging, it reflected the then much-debated issue of copper mine pollution in central Japan. Norway and Japan underwent similar processes of modernization in the second half of the nineteenth century, although with a certain time lag. Therefore, in order to properly appreciate An Enemy of the People today, this article examines the play from an inter-sociocultural perspective. Adopting this perspective allows us to demonstrate the continued relevance of Ibsen to our post-modern world.


Charlotte Berry

(Magdalen College, University of Oxford)

Nordic literature for adults and children in the United Kingdom, 1950-2010: a bibliographical survey


Nordic Noir is now an established British literary genre, fuelled by numerous Nordic TV series shown on terrestrial and internet networks and more recently supplemented by British enthusiasm for Nordic design, food and history. This article examines the extent and depth of Nordic fiction for adults and children published prior to this point of popularity. Firstly, relevant bibliographical sources and extant bibliographical research are both identified. Through detailed analysis of the British National Bibliography for the period 1950-2010, the precise parameters of the translated corpus are then revealed, including the distribution of translations within each Nordic country for adult and children’s fiction. The most popular authors, titles and series for both genres are highlighted. Also explored across the time frame are the British publishing houses producing Nordic literature in translation as well as the translators themselves. Finally, publishing trends across the sixty year period are identified, with peaks and troughs clearly evident but contrasting sharply when adult and children’s fiction are compared.


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Comment and Debate

Janet Garton

(Emeritus Professor, University of East Anglia)

Scandinavian Studies in 1977: A Retrospective


Marianne E Kalinke (ed.)

The Arthur of the North: The Arthurian Legend in the Norse and Rus' Realms.

Arthurian Literature of the Middle Ages V.

University of Wales Press in cooperation with The Vinaver Trust, Cardiff 2015. ix, 223.

ISBN: 9781783167876

Reviewed by Rory McTurk

This book traces, in nine out of its ten chapters, the literary reception of the matière de Bretagne in medieval and medieval-to-modern Scandinavia; the tenth chapter (by Susana Torres Prieto) deals with Czech and Belarusian treatments of the Tristan story dating respectively from the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The medieval reception in Scandinavia begins in c.1200 in Iceland, with Merlínusspá, Gunnlaugr Leifsson’s translation into verse of the prose Prophetiae Merlini, and with Breta sögur, a prose translation, possibly also by Gunnlaugr, of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia regum Britianniae, itself a prose narrative of which the Prophetiae form part (treated in ch. 3, by Stefanie Gropper). The reception continues in Norway at the court of King Hákon Hákonarson (r. 1217-63), with prose translations of metrical romances and lais in French and Anglo-Norman: Brother Robert’s Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar (an important source for its fragmentarily preserved original, Thomas de Bretagne’s Tristan) (see ch. 4, by Geraldine Barnes); the anonymous Strengleikar, a translation of twenty-one lais (eleven of them attributable to Marie de France), and Möttuls saga, a translation of the Lai du cort mantel (ch. 5, by Carolyne Larrington); anonymous translations of Chrétien de Troyes’s Yvain (Ívens saga), Erec et Enide (Erex saga) and Perceval (Parcevals saga) (ch. 6, by Claudia Bornholdt); and finally, with a departure from West Norse to East Norse, the anonymous Old Swedish translation, this time into verse, of Chrétien’s Yvain (Hærra Ivan), commissioned at the Norwegian court of Hákon Magnússon (r. 1299-1319) by his German wife Eufemia, and forming with two other translated romances the threesome known as Eufemiavisor (ch. 7, by William Layher).

These five chapters (3-7) are preceded by an Introduction and two chapters by the editor, Marianne Kalinke, first setting the scene in general terms and then, in ch. 2, emphasising that, with the exception of the Strengleikar, preserved in the Norwegian manuscript De la Gardie 4-7 (c.1270), the West Norse translations are preserved in relatively late Icelandic manuscripts, raising the question of how far in their preserved form they reflect the work of the original translators and/or adaptation by Icelandic copyists. This chapter includes an account of the ‘courtly style’, the alliterative and rhythmical prose characteristic of many of the translations. Kalinke also contributes a chapter (8) on Arthurian echoes in the indigenous Icelandic sagas (see further below).

In the ‘medieval-to-modern’ category belong Skikkju rímur, a metrical reworking of Möttuls saga from the fourteenth or fifteenth century (see pp. 16, 90) discussed by Larrington in ch. 5, and the items treated by M.J. Driscoll in ch. 9, which include Icelandic, Danish and Faroese ballads of Tristan, an Icelandic folktale of Tristan, and the Danish chapbook Tistrand og Indiana, published in 1775, which gave rise in Iceland to prose translations and metrical versions, the latter including Rímur af Tístrani og Indiönu by the poet Sigurður Breiðfjörð (1798-1846).

There is very little to criticise here. Ch. 4, on the Tristan legend, could profitably have given a straight summary of Tristrams saga ok Ísöndar (rather than concentrating specifically on its references to King Arthur), so that the marked differences between it and the fourteenth-century Icelandic Saga af Tristram ok Ísodd, also treated in ch. 4 and arguably a burlesque response to Tristrams saga, could be fully appreciated; this would also have assisted comparison (and contrast) of Tristrams saga with the Danish Tistrand og Indiana and the Belarussian Trysčan, summarised in chs 9 and 10 respectively. Fuller accounts than are given of fornyrðislag, the alliterative metre of Merlínusspá, and of knittelvers, the rhyming metre of the Eufemiavisor, and also of rímur (though see pp. 16, 79) would have been helpful; and given Gropper’s view (p. 58) that the Latin exemplar of Breta sögur was related to the one used by Wace in his Roman de Brut (cf. also p. 25), a work mentioned in passing several times in the book, a succinct account of this ‘French translation’ (see pp. 25, 42) in relation to its original would have been welcome. In general, though, this volume is a fine contribution to the series to which it belongs, providing within its Northern compass (to quote the words of the General Editor, Ad Putter, p. ix) ‘a comprehensive and reliable survey of Arthurian writings in all their cultural and generic variety’.

As this book first appeared six years ago, it is worth mentioning that it has received deservedly favourable reviews from Shaun F.D. Hughes (in Arthuriana, 22.1 (2012), 136-42), from Sif Ríkharðsdóttir (in The medieval review, 7 December, 2012), and from David Elton Gay (in Fabula 54 (2013), 339-41). Hughes makes a number of additions to its bibliographies (of which each chapter has one; there is also a General Bibliography, pp. 209-11), and I would offer two further additions here. The book’s one mention of Hrólfs saga kraka (on p. 9) seems to call for a reference to Foster W. Blaisdell’s separately paginated paper ‘The figure of the king: Arthur vs. Hrólf’, published only, as far as I know, in the typewritten Summaries and Papers of the Fourth International Saga Conference held in Munich 30 July-4 August, 1979, but readily accessible on the internet. My second addition, which I make more diffidently, is to an article of my own, first published in Icelandic under the title ‘Hetjan sem vingull’ in the short-lived Icelandic journal Skáldskaparmál 4 (1997), 40-49 (alongside an article by Marianne Kalinke!) and now published in updated and revised form in English, with the title ‘Wavering heroes in the Icelandic sagas’, in Ollam: studies in Gaelic and related traditions in honor of Tomás Ó Cathasaigh, ed. by Matthieu Boyd (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, Madison 2016), 79-93. In this article I argue against Bjarni Einarsson’s view (in his Skáldasögur, Bókaútgáfa Menningarsjóðs, Reykjavík 1961), touched on by Kalinke on p. 151, that the story of Tristan influenced four of the Icelandic skáldasögur ‘sagas of poets’. I argue that the story of Sigurðr Völsungr, reflected in Völsunga saga and the poetic and prose Eddas, is in fact more likely to have influenced the sagas in question, but I acknowledge the case for the influence of the Tristan story on three of them, namely Kormáks saga, Hallfreðar saga, and Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa (the fourth is Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu). Of these Kalinke mentions only the first two. A reference to the 1997 version of the article might reasonably have found a place, I submit, in  Kalinke’s discussion (in ch. 8), of Arthurian echoes in the sagas.

Jón Karl Helgason

Echoes of Valhalla

The Afterlife of the Eddas and Sagas

Reaktion books, London 2017. Pp. 240.

ISBN: 9781780237152

Reviewed by Martin Arnold

Recent years have seen increasing scholarly interest in the reception history of Old Norse mythology and the Icelandic sagas. This is a field of research that tells us as much about post-medieval cultural values and the stereotypification of the past as it does about the eddaic and saga ‘pre-texts’, as Jón Karl Helgason prefers to call them. Indeed, Jón Karl’s insightful and often highly entertaining contribution to that which he rightly calls ‘this dauntingly wide-ranging topic’ (p. 224) opens up new avenues of research that other, particularly up-and-coming, scholars are very likely to explore further.

The strategy for the main part of Echoes of Valhalla is to examine key figures of the mythico-literary past chapter by chapter, rather than attempting the virtually impossible task of delivering a world history of ideas about what can broadly be called ‘Viking’ culture. Beginning with the refashioning of Thor in the cartoons of Peter Madsen, Marvel comics and Japanese manga, Jón Karl identifies the mythological sources and analyses how they have been presented to suit contemporary tastes. Yet Jón Karl is not satisfied with keeping matters quite that straightforward, for in the next chapter (Ch. 2) he raises important questions about common assumptions concerning medieval Icelandic authorship, in this case the author of the Snorra Edda. Whether Snorri Sturluson was actually the author of this work or more accurately the compiler of it may seem like a rather fine-point academic controversy, not unlike whether someone called Shakespeare was really the author of the plays credited to him; yet the point here is that modern reworkings, adaptations and embellishments of Norse myth are not a new thing but something that was typical in the transmissions processes of the medieval period.

Following this are two chapters which examine the influence of the Icelandic sagas. In the first of these (Ch. 3), the conniving Hallgerd of Njáls saga is subjected to detailed examination in the rather free  adaptations of this and other sagas by authors of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Most notable here are Henrik Ibsen’s Hærmændene paa Helgeland (1858), Gordon Bottomley’s The Riding to Lithend (1909) and Thit Jensen’s little known and seemingly never staged Nial den Vise (1934). In this last case certain fascinating insights are offered into Jensen’s personal love-life and how that is also reflected in her work. In the next chapter (Ch. 4), it is the saga landscape ‘pilgrims’ of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that take centre stage. Perhaps not surprisingly, it is the ‘colonial’ prejudices that are apparent in these visitors’ travelogues that are, in many ways, most telling.

Jón Karl’s attention then turns to Old Norse influences on musicians and composers (Ch. 5), most notably Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, and on through to rock music of the present times, particularly that of Viking Metal. Hereafter, in the concluding chapter (Ch. 6), the spotlight falls on Ottilie Liljencrantz’s early twentieth-century novel The Thrall of Leif the Lucky (1902), an adventure yarn which is loosely based on the two so-called Vinland sagas.  Beyond this is an examination of the influence of Liljencrantz’s novel on early films featuring Vikings, and how, as a result, ideas about the Vikings developed in subsequent films. There is, therefore, much consideration of literary and cinematic intertextuality, all of which is illuminating and thought-provoking.

What it is that makes Echoes of Valhalla such an intriguing study is not only the depth of the research and clarity of the argument but also the nationality of the author. This is given full attention in the book’s Epilogue, where Jón Karl reflects on what it is to be an Icelander in modern times. The insight offered here is fascinating and, in certain senses, highly significant, for the apparent shift in the attitude of Icelanders toward their extraordinary literary heritage and, thus their cultural identity could well be seen as, in itself, a landmark moment in the afterlife of the eddas and sagas.

Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen

Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Bloomsbury, London and New York 2017. Pp. 241.

ISBN: 978-1-4725-27

Reviewed by Kerstin Bergman

The last few years have brought a number of books in English about Scandinavian, Swedish, and Nordic crime fiction, books aimed at different reader groups and of varying quality and content. The latest addition is Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen’s Scandinavian Crime Fiction, which covers crime fiction from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, starting with Swedish Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in the late 1960s and with a main focus on the last decades of the twentieth century. 

Stougaard-Nielsen has selected a number of novels and/or authors of which he makes more or less close readings of varying depth. There is a clear thematic focus throughout the book on how the novels (and a couple of television series) mirror, portray and critique the Scandinavian welfare states and their development. It can even be argued that the readers of Stougaard-Nielsen will learn more about the welfare states than about crime fiction. The inclusion of a vampire novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist further suggests that Stougaard-Nielsen’s primary interest is in the portrayal of the welfare states, rather than in crime fiction per se. The efficient and inclusive title of the book is probably chosen for marketing purposes; a title more closely mirroring the content would have been something along the lines of ‘the disintegrating Scandinavian welfare states as portrayed in Scandinavian crime fiction from the last decades of the twentieth century’.

After an introduction to the welfare states and the role of Scandinavian crime fiction, Stougaard-Nielsen analyzes Danish Anders Bodelsen’s Think of a number (1968), Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Novel of a Crime, and Norwegian Gunnar Staalesen’s Varg Veum series (mainly focusing on novels from the 1970s and 80s). These three examples then work as reference points throughout the rest of the book, as Stougaard-Nielsen continues to examine, in turn: Henning Mankell’s Faceless Killers (1991); Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005); (briefly) Arne Dahl’s Misterioso (1999); John Arvijde Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In (2004, a vampire novel, not crime fiction); Peter Høeg’s  Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow (1992); Kerstin Ekman’s Blackwater (1993); (briefly) Liza Marklund’s The Bomber (1998); (even more briefly) Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess (2003) and Sissel-Jo Gazan’s The Dinosaur Feather (2008); the television series The Killing (2007, 2009, 2012) and The Bridge (2011, 2013, 2015); and finally Anne Holt’s novel What Dark Clouds Hide (2012). Additionally, a handful more novels are mentioned as examples here and there. The selection thus reflects a well-established (with the exception of Gazan), primarily male, canon, and with the exception of Larsson and Holt everything analyzed at length is from before the turn of the Millennium.

In general Stougaard-Nielsen’s readings are convincing, well argued, and based on a wide range of sources. Nevertheless, his selection of previous research on Scandinavian crime fiction sometimes seems a bit random, as articles by well-established scholars on some of the authors and books are missing. The readings are heavily reliant on studies by in particular Michael Tapper and Andrew Nestingen. Not least the inspiration from Tapper can probably to some degree explain both the (male-oriented) canon presented and parts of the political perspective applied in the reading of the portrayal of the welfare states. Despite the dominance of male authors, however, Stougaard-Nielsen does discuss many women detective characters, but it is not until in the reading of motherhood in Holt’s novel that he goes into any depth in terms of gender analysis. The Holt chapter is also one of the strongest in the book.

Furthermore, there is sometimes a shortage of crime fiction genre perspectives applied, something that becomes especially obvious in the reading of Larsson, in whose novel the application of different genre elements plays such an essential part in the shaping of the narrative. Stougaard-Nielsen’s study would also have benefitted from a more thorough discussion of how the Scandinavian authors use and develop the crime genre. Similarly, the use of Mankell’s Wallander novels to exemplify the use of rural, local settings – something that is so central to a large proportion of the Scandinavian novels – is not really representative. It would have made more sense to use Läckberg’s novel as the main example for that purpose. In terms of formal aspects, there are a few inconsistencies (for example, Håkan Nesser is sometimes also spelled Haakan Nesser), some names that ought to have been there for consistency are lacking from the index, and so on, but these are all trivialities. Overall, despite my minor criticisms, it is important to stress that Stougaard-Nilsen provides insightful analysis and that Scandinavian Crime Fiction is an important addition to the knowledge about and scholarship on the selected texts.

Despite the attractive cover that includes a presentation mentioning readers, viewers, and fans, as well as the affordable paperback format of the book, this is a book for scholars rather than for general crime fiction readers. The language is academic, making it a somewhat slow read, and close readings of selected books as opposed to a survey or overview of themes and trends also somewhat limits the likely readership. Furthermore, the title and presentation of the book made me expect to learn more about the new authors who have emerged in Scandinavia after Stieg Larsson, but that did not happen. Nevertheless, for anyone interested in exploring the work of those authors who dominate Scandinavian crime fiction today, Stougaard-Nielsen’s study will provide excellent background and references. Also the book will provide many insights for readers interested in the Scandinavian welfare states in the late 1900s, whether they are interested in crime fiction per se or not.  ​

Mette Hjort and Ursula Lindqvist (eds.)

A Companion to Nordic Cinema

Wiley Blackwell, Chichester and Maiden 2016. Pp. 614.

ISBN: 9781118475256

Reviewed by Emil Stjernholm

From the earliest days of the medium until today, Nordic cinema has had a strong global presence. Despite paradigmatic shifts in the way that films are produced and consumed, these ‘small nation cinemas’ continuously produce auteurs (from Carl Th. Dreyer to Aki Kaurismäki), film stars (from Asta Nielsen to Alicia Vikander) and traditions (from Nordic silent cinema to Dogme 95) that spark international attention, not least from a scholarly point of view. The main challenge for the editors Mette Hjort and Ursula Lindqvist, it seems to me, is to create a reference work that approaches these topics with fresh perspectives. One of the main aims of A Companion to Nordic Cinema is to identify the specificities of the region’s film culture using a transnational starting point. The volume, which contains 26 original contributions by a variety of scholars, indeed situates Nordic cinema in a wider, global context, and, in this sense, it constitutes a welcome addition to scholarship in the field.

The ambition, Hjort and Lindqvist state, has been to produce ‘a comprehensive scholarly volume that not only provides a rich history of the Nordic cinematic traditions, from their origins to the new millennium, but also links already well-known names and titles to the practices and forms of institutional creativity that facilitated their emergence’ (p. 7). The book is divided into six different sections: ‘States of Cinema: Nordic Film Policy’, ‘Making Filmmakers: Models and Values’, ‘Reeling ’Em In: Spectatorship and Cinephilia’, Reinventing the Reel: Transitions and Triumphs’, ‘Connecting Points: Global Intersections’ and ‘The Eye of the Industry: Practitioner’s Agency’. On the one hand, the order of these sections seems natural, beginning with investigations into mostly top-down state initiatives and institutions and ending, via sections on audiences, revisited traditions and global connections respectively, in a section where the practitioners’ own reflections take center stage. On the other hand, there is no apparent logical flow within the sections, and the editors do not spell out the reasoning behind the order of the individual papers.

The emphasis on the Nordic in relation to the global, which is consistent throughout the volume, ensures a fruitful revision of film historiography in the region. While it is impossible to account for every essay in this context, some contributions stood out in terms of originality. Laura Horak’s exploration of the global distribution of Swedish silent films before the so-called Golden Age, for instance, pokes holes in many narratives associated with the period in question. In ‘The Art of Creating an Appetite for Nordic Cinematic Spaces’, Maaret Koskinen eloquently delineates the appeal of real and imaginary landscapes/cityscapes of Scandinavia, a much discussed but generally under-theorized topic when it comes to ‘Nordic Noir’. Moreover, the easy access to practitioners and policy-makers in Scandinavia, highlighted by both editors and authors, makes for several thought-provoking papers, especially in the final section on practitioner’s agency. For example, drawing on observational studies and interviews, Eva Novrup Redvall is able to open up a ‘black box’ and offer an insight into television drama writing in Denmark.

Additionally, one should note that the editors have been careful not to omit minor cinemas within the region. In fact the anthology includes chapters on both Icelandic and Sami cinema, bolstering the claim that their collection contributes to the understanding of the heterogeneity of Nordic cinema. While the volume provides much information on the historical and contemporary connections between the Nordic cinemas, for instance with regard to funding mechanisms and aesthetic tendencies, less emphasis is placed on cases of failed transnational exchange. One such problem, which Ib Bondebjerg mentions in his paper on regional and global dimensions of Danish film policy, is that films rarely travel well between the Scandinavian countries. In a volume firmly grounded in its transnational approach, I believe this issue should have been addressed more in-depth.

This collection would serve excellently as assigned reading in courses on Nordic cinema or the countries’ respective national cinemas. The editors underscore this ambition when stating that the Companion has been designed partially with ‘the needs of the classroom’ in mind (p. 7). Although the ambition to put together a more comprehensive and less fragmented volume on Nordic cinema is praiseworthy, the retail price (£120) will certainly act as a deterrent to many students. In relation to the hefty price tag, one could also note that images are few and far between, something which, given the visual nature of the medium, strikes me as unfortunate.

A Companion to Nordic Cinema provides much information on the historical and contemporary connections between the Nordic cinemas and the rest of the world. Bringing together an international array of high-pedigree scholars, whose entries complement each other excellently, the volume serves as a scholarly benchmark in the field of Nordic film studies. All academic libraries catering to students in Scandinavian Studies (as well as Film Studies more broadly) should ensure that this reference work is available. 

Anne-Marie Mai

Galleri 66. En historie om nyere dansk litteratur.

Gyldendal, Copenhagen 2016. Pp. 396.

ISBN: 9788702209686

Reviewed by Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen

Anne-Marie Mai is a prolific historiographer of Danish and Nordic literature. In the early 2000s she edited the three-volume Danske digtere i det 20. århundrede. As the recent Editor in Chief of the expansive, multilingual and now digital The History of Nordic Women’s Literature, Mai has promoted a more inclusive literary history and helped canonize the work of women writers; and in the monumental three-volume Hvor litteraturen finder sted (2010-12) Mai explored the long history of Danish literature centring on the actual places where literature has been written, read and preserved from Medieval cathedrals to YouTube.

With Galleri 66, Mai’s aim is similarly to find a new way to engage in literary historiography, which, she admits, is a discipline that has had difficulty attracting new readers; partly, she suggests, because we have become suspicious of narrow national and chronological histories, and partly because the traditional historiographic division of literary history into decades, movements and -isms, as it has been drilled into generations of students, results in simplistic and distorted views of literature. Instead, Mai proposes to capture the recent 50 years of Danish literature as refracted through the year 1966 – a major year for literary debuts (e.g. Henrik Nordbrandt, Dan Turèll, Klaus Høeck, Vagn Lundbye and Peer Hultberg), but also a year where literary and social upheavals materialized.

In the introductory chapter, Mai explains that her ‘literary historiographic experiment’ to transcend traditional chronological methods draws on Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s hypertextual history writing, his ‘essayistic time machine’ In 1926. Living at the Edge of Time (1997). Mai does not subsume the 1960s and the decade’s literary aftermath under the banner of postmodernism. Although she does not subscribe to Gumbrecht’s radical encyclopaedic and anecdotal approach, her use of the year 1966 as a ‘portal’ to tell literary histories through various contexts, authorships and their constellations is, first and foremost, an attempt to avoid monolithic constructions, such as postmodernism, and to capture a period which begins with the death of H.C. Branner, and with him the end to a particular cultural-radical high-modernist author figure, the expansion of the welfare state into the cultural life of the nation, through a period of rapid globalization ending with the arrival of cyberspace.

The dramatic changes that the portal of 1966 led to are explored in the next chapter, which refers to Bob Dylan’s song ‘the times they are a changin’’ from 1964 in its title. Dylan is a significant figure in Mai’s stories about the 66-generation and its significance in late-modern Danish literature. Mai has been an advocate for Dylan as a worthy recipient of the Nobel Prize at least since 2009, and with his award of the prize in 2016, Gallery 66, which was published the same year, appears almost prophetic, even if Mai must note that ‘Bob Dylan still has to be awarded the prize’ (p. 60). Mai traces Dylan’s influence in how Danish authors opened up to musical influences in the 60s, to popular culture, a new media society, a new political consciousness and a postcolonial, global world full of new opportunities and audiences but also vulnerable to Americanization and appalled by atrocities such as the Vietnam War.

A significant contribution of Mai’s historiography is its narrative about how Danish literature grew up with and into a wider world of literature. Here Mai is informed by critical world literature perspectives, which she introduces briefly. The concerns and aesthetic innovations of writers around the world contextualize Mai’s national history through discussions of a range of significant post-War writers including V.S. Naipaul, Solzhenitsyn, Nadine Gordimer, Thomas Pynchon and Mario Vargas Llosa.

However, it remains an open question in Mai’s conclusion as to why the Danish authors of the ’66-generation’, although they have absorbed global trends, have not been more successful in translation: ‘We haven’t had a breakthrough of a significant Danish author in one of the world languages, and Denmark has not been able to give authors a chance to break through the walls of large-nation media. It would have taken a sustained economic investment from public and private funders if Danish literature were to have made a real impact aside from sporadic drops in a vast sea of literature’ (p. 101, my translation). There is no doubt that several of the authors writing in the 60s and 70s deserved more international attention (e.g. Turèll, Thorup, Brøgger, Svend Aage Madsen), but the cursory attention Mai pays to Danish literature in translation – and its social-institutional contexts – does not do the topic full justice. In fact, Mai does not venture much further than Georg Brandes did with his assessment that writers in ‘small-languages’ lack ‘the weapon’, the language, of anglophone or francophone writers to reach the wider world. On the other hand, Mai suggests a more productive line of inquiry, which could have led to interesting insights, namely that success in translation necessitates sustained public and private investments, i.e. the backing of the Danish welfare state. It would, therefore, have made sense to unfold the institutional and political history of state support for translations in the wider context of cultural export and nation branding in diplomacy (soft power) and trade in the same period.

A particularly strong chapter in Galleri 66 is where Mai explores the intimate relationship between the post-60s ‘dethroned’ author figure and the welfare state’s institutionalization of financial support for artists and authors, and how the state investments in literature have been negotiated variously by authors as either a welcome invitation to work from within the conditions of the welfare consumer society (as argued by the neo-realist Anders Bodelsen) or a suffocating embrace of state power, as the Maoist author Ebbe Kløvedahl Reich would have it; however, Reich himself, like a vast number of the 66-authors, became a recipient of state support.

Mai adds significant knowledge to our understanding of the political, institutional and, not least, the aesthetic and existential dialogue (and battle) between the welfare state and Danish literature since the 1960s. In that sense, a significant trend in Danish literature over the past half century, whether realist fiction or avant-garde concrete poetry, is that literature has been put to ‘use’ as a social seismograph, as social critique, and as a form through which to explore identities and life in and outside the ever-present welfare society. Such perspectives open up the history of Danish literature to ‘new’ voices, and allow Mai to pay particular attention to authors such as Kirsten Thorup, Jette Drewsen and Vibeke Grønfeldt, whose works are analysed convincingly as central if not to world literature then at least to Danish welfare literature.

Galleri 66 is not only a sweeping and purposefully digressive story about what happened to Danish literature when viewed through the wide portal of 1966. It is also an intriguing view into Mai’s sustained and passionate preoccupation with her own generation’s literature, and her understanding of how literature responds to and takes part in a changing society.

Dan Ringgaard and Mads Rosendahl Thomsen

Danish Literature as World Literature

Bloomsbury, London and New York 2017. Pp. 286.

ISBN: ISBN 97815013

Reviewed by Mads Bunch

Let me start by stating: this is an impressive collection of articles on Danish literature of a very high scholarly quality, and a must for everyone interested in Danish literary history, whether they live, teach or study in Denmark or abroad. The authors are all leading experts in their fields, the book is very well written, and even though the topics are very varied the book presents itself as a homogeneous and well thought-through piece of literary history. It is an impressive effort by the two editors.

The book consists of an introduction with a short summary of each article followed by ten articles about specific writers, periods or genres from Saxo to contemporary Nordic Noir. The common denominator is that the various examples of Danish literature presented in the book have all played a special role as ‘world literature’ defined as works that circulate ‘beyond their culture of origin’ (p. 143) and/or literature that has been ‘received in a foreign cultural situation and has become an interactive space between different cultures’ (p. 12) in line with the main ideas of David Damrosch. The book can, however, as the editors state themselves, also be read as a short history of Danish literature written in English, and at this point the book is incomparably the best ‘crash course’ on the topic a student or scholar can get. I am not able to mention all the major points and insights of the articles, so here is just a selection in order to give some examples of the interesting observations the book delivers about Danish literature as world literature. 

It is surprising to realize the scope of the impact the Danish folk ballads had on German romanticism. Through H. W. von Gerstenberg, who was a poet and held a military position in Denmark in the 1760s, the ballads caught Johann Gottfried Herder’s attention and he published four of them in his Volkslieder in 1778-79 – one of which even inspired Goethe’s poem ‘Der Erlkönig’ (1782). In 1811 one of the Grimm brothers, however, topped this effort and translated 130 Danish folk ballads from Peder Syv’s collection into German, even though he wrongly believed them to be from the fifth and sixth centuries. It is illuminating to realize that H. C. Andersen’s first three novels, most often considered to be failures in Danish literary history (partly because of Kierkegaard’s harsh critique), on the contrary were huge successes outside the borders of Denmark and that Andersen even published the novel The Two Baronesses (1848) in English first, subsequently in Danish the following year.

It is exciting to imagine the winter of 1917-1918 when the reception of Kierkegaard became a collective endeavour of a small group of Jewish writers and intellectuals, including Franz Kafka, Max Brod, the novelist Oscar Baum and philosopher Felix Weltsch. It even seems very plausible that Kafka’s reading of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and selected passages from his diary was instrumental in shaping his own poetics and writing style. 

It is almost unbelievable these days that the death of a literary scholar, Georg Brandes, in 1927 could make headlines on the front pages of most newspapers around the globe, but so it was. Brandes’ success and impact as a scholar keep expanding, and so does recognition of the originality and influence of J. P. Jacobsen and Herman Bang. The article also points out how J. P. Jacobsen’s Niels Lyhne (1882) was in the reception process rightly transformed from a socio-critical atheist novel into an arabesque work that had more in common with symbolism, decadence and art nouveau when viewed from the perspective of aesthetics and style, and was thus devoured and admired by world class writers such as Hofmannstal, Rilke and Musil. We also discover that Thomas Mann was inspired by Pontoppidan and saluted him on his seventieth birthday (1927) as a ‘full-blooded story teller, a critic of life and society of completely European importance’ (p. 169).  And that Lukács sees Pontoppidan’s Lucky Per as the only heir to Don Quixote, the epitome of ‘abstract idealism’ – one of two novelistic reactions to the abandonment of the world by God, the other being ‘The romanticism of disillusionment’. Aside from the connections to literature outside Denmark, each article also offers comprehensive analyses of the works being read on their terms and conditions. Of particular interest to Danish literary history is the article on Danish 1960s poetry and modernism/postmodernism that rightfully relocates postmodernism to a current in Danish 1960s poetry (introduced first and foremost by Per Højholt) rather than a current that did not reach Denmark until the 1980s.

So why does some Danish literature become world literature – and the rest not?  This book implicitly provides most of the answers to this big question. First of all quality is essential, but also a foreign agent, often in the shape of an influential writer and/or scholar from Europe making an effort to promote the work or the writer. This is made clear in most of the articles. So even though St. St. Blicher’s short stories in terms of quality definitely belong to the finest of their kind in the world, nobody discovered him or ‘fought’ for his claim to fame, whereas Lukács wrote an influential essay on Pontoppidan’s Lykke Per, giving it high praise and bringing it to international attention, which ultimately means that Pontoppidan is in this book about Danish literature as world literature and Blicher is not. It was also significant to what extent the writers themselves had an international outlook (travelling, promoting their books, making an effort to get them translated), thus securing circulation outside Denmark. The two most prominent examples are H. C. Andersen and Karen Blixen, the latter of whom who even wrote some of her tales in English and later translated them back into Danish. One final common trait to be found in most of the articles – which, however, seems to get little attention in the introduction – is the exotic allure that Scandinavia/the North/Denmark often inspires in people looking at the North from the South, or another part of the world. All the way from Saxo to Nordic Noir this seems to have played a role as regards the interest and fascination inspired by Danish and Scandinavian literature (even though in many cases it might just be an ‘imagined Scandinavia’).

Erasmus of Rotterdam was stunned as to how Saxo, a man from ‘such a remote place in the world’, could write ‘such an eloquent language’ (p. 24), the German romanticists favoured the supernatural folk ballads for translation because one could feel ‘the magic of light and warm Nordic summer nights’ (p. 39), the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning had an idea of Andersen as a man of ‘the sunless plain’ and the South as in need of a cool, ‘strong mind, a “seer”’ (p. 93). The most recent example is the current international attraction of Nordic Noir, where the Scandinavian ‘hygge’ is spoiled by murders and intruders from the outside world lurking in the dark, cold and gloomy natural settings of the High North. But even though some of these examples of Danish literature are viewed from the outside as literature from an ‘exotic’ periphery, they would not have made it out into the world if it were not for their universal qualities, from the folk ballads, over Andersen’s fairy-tales and the modernity struggles of the fin-de-siècle novel to the existential anxieties of Nordic Noir. To conclude: this book offers an excellent collection of articles about great Danish literature and it should be on everyone’s bookshelves.

Ann-Sofie Lönngren, Heidi Grönstad, Dag Heede and Anne Heith (eds.)

Rethinking National Literatures and the Literary Canon in Scandinavia

Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle 2015. Pp. 237.

ISBN: 9781443878388

Reviewed by Mads Rosendahl Thomsen

The very ambitious title of this collection of nine articles may have set the bar high for itself in terms of rethinking Scandinavia’s national literature and literary canons, but it constitutes a good and well-edited contribution. The first section’s three articles offer a useful conceptual foundation with three relevant cases. The six-author article ‘National, Transnational and Entangled Literatures’ considers the institutions (in the broadest sense) of nation building and highlights the complicated affiliations of one of the most prominent younger writers, Sofi Oksanen, whose Estonian roots make it difficult, as with many other authors, to see her as exclusively Finnish. Annika Olsson’s ‘Challenging the Bodies and Borders of Literature in Scandinavia’ provides a comparative overview of the different strategies that have been implemented in writing national literary histories in Scandinavia, while Olli Löytty’s ‘Immigrant Literature in Finland’ digs deeper into the important question of how immigrant writers are received in their new homelands. Löytty’s article introduces a number of key positions in the field of criticism of migrant writing as well as showcasing a number of not just Finnish but Nordic immigrant writers.

The second part of the book consists of more focused readings of writers who challenge traditional narratives of national identity. Helena Bodin’s ‘Sophie Elkan’s Ambiguous Dream of the Orient’ traces the importance of the Swedish nineteenth and early twentiethcentury writer’s international outlook and oriental themes, while Kaisa Ahvenjärvi presents two contemporary Sámi poets and their poetry’s close connection with Sámi language, history and culture, which produces a unique expression. Finally, in ‘Religion and Revolt in Colonial Scandinavia’, Margareta Petersson compares three novels by William Heinesen, Kim Leine and Hanne Ørstavik that all deal with Scandinavian colonization, which in many respects is an underrepresented facet of Nordic history with a somewhat marginalized position in literary history. Petersson’s readings are to the point and rich in inspired comparisons, concluding that the novels ‘show the false and oppressive political representation through the colonial administrators; they give the oppressed voices by writing down their testimonies, by creating a fictive collection of letters or by weaving together stories in such a manner as to make their voices emerge implicitly from the silence of the documents’ (p. 153).

The final part ‘Queering the “Nordic”’ begins with Dag Heede’s spirited reflections on how a queer perspective would open up to Nordic literature, and he convincingly shows how this would shed new light on key figures such as Hans Christian Andersen and Karen Blixen. In ‘Cross-Dressing Mysteries and Monsters’, Moa Sam Holmqvist traces the motif of cross-dressing in nineteenth-century Swedish suspense fiction, both showing how this connects with contemporary notions of the queer but also making sure to underline that the cultural condition for being a transgender individual in the nineteenth century was first and foremost marked by shamefulness. The final article by Ann-Sofie Lönngren has a somewhat different take on the queer, and focuses on the long tradition of writing about trolls, whose human-like but not quite human appearance makes them surprisingly relevant in an era where posthumanist thinking has been established.

All in all, this is a stimulating volume, if at times uneven and with some distance between the overarching ambition of contributing to the general debate and the sometimes very specific case studies. Interestingly, the question of bringing the Nordic countries closer together or accepting that national identities still dominate the field, and that the world rather than the region is the most meaningful context, does not take up much space, neither as a problem nor as a project. However, the volume is rich enough already, and it would be hard to think of a reader who could not learn something from this book.

Photo Credits

Eugenio Mazzone, 2017,

Photograph used on cover of 2017-2 issue