A History of Danish Literature

By Sven H. Rossel | Go to book overview
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From Romanticism to Realism

Sven H. Rossel


When the controversial writer Jens Baggesen decided in 1800 to leave Denmark in order to pursue an international career, the young poet Adam Oehlenschläger arranged a farewell party at the venerable Drejer's Club against the wishes of its members. Consequently, most of them stayed away, but the evening became memorable nevertheless. Baggesen repaid the homage by symbolically bequeathing Oehlenschläger his Danish lyre.

Even though this spontaneous gesture and the celebration itself had no immediate impact on the literary scene--the two writers hardly knew one another and later never reached a level of mutual understanding--the event can be interpreted as a new century's rebellion against the past. Baggesen and Oehlenschläger shared a strong opposition to the conservative, petty- bourgeois views of the club members and their nostalgic, sentimental adherence to eighteenth-century rationalism and utilitarianism. In the final analysis both were revolutionaries: Baggesen, the outsider with a split, almost modernistic philosophical and psychological concept of life, and Oehlenschläger, the first Danish writer to embrace romanticism with cogency and genius and to create a new poetic language. The two were united in their boundless worship of the self and the poetic genius unrestrained by societal chains and guided not by tradition but solely by divine inspiration.

There had been other indications that a new age in Danish literature was coming to the fore, characterized precisely by this new concept of the supremacy of the creative artist. At a memorial ceremony in 1791 for the German writer Friedrich Schiller (who was wrongly thought to have just died), Baggesen himself had enthused his audience by reciting the poem "Die Künstler" ( 1789; The Artists). In this attempt to aestheticize and sublimate


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