Karin Michaelis: Kaleidoskop Des Herzens. eine Biographie

Article excerpt

Karin Michaelis: Kaleidoskop des Herzens. Eine Biographie. By BEVERLEY DRIVER EDDY. Trans. by and JORG ZELLER. (Wiener Studien zur Skandinavistik, 7)Vienna: Edition Praesens. 2003. 350 pp. 35[euro]. ISBN3-7069-0188-9.

Karin Michaelis: Incest as Metaphor and the Illusion of Romantic Love. By MERETE. VON EYBEN. (Studies on Themes and Motifs in Literature, 65) New York, Bern, and Berlin: Peter Lang. 2003. 144 pp. SwF 89; 37[pounds sterling]. ISBN 0-8204-5834-1.

The Danish writer Karin Michaelis (1872-1950), internationally probably one of the best-known Danish authors of her time, seems largely forgotten half a century after her death. Although she wrote hundreds of stories and novels, journalistic articles, film scripts, and translations, and played a pivotal role in supporting German and Austrian emigrants who were persecuted by the Nazis, neither her literary production nor her humanitarian efforts have received much attention from scholars concerned with Scandinavian literature in recent decades.

Two books published in 2003, one in German and one in English, attempt to put Michaelis's name back on the map. Each has a completely different focus. Beverley Driver Eddy's Kaleidoskop des Herzens is a biography that traces Michaelis's life from her childhood in the Danish provincial town of Randers to her death in Copenhagen. Eddy bases her book on an abundance of mainly unpublished letters and other writings by Michaelis herself and by people she was in contact with. In addition she uses Michaelis's literary aeuvre as a biographical source, frequently commenting on the blurred borderline between autobiography and fiction both in those works which Michaelis conceived as autobiographical texts (such as the five volumes of Traeet paa godt og ondt [The Tree, for Better or for Worse], 1924-30) and in her stories and novels, which often reflect her actual experiences and encounters. In the first half of the volume the main focus is on Michaelis's development as a writer. Some of the features of Michaelis's career that Eddy discusses are early literary successes at the side of her first husband, the Danish poet Sophus Michaelis; her first major breakthroughwith the novel Barnet [The Child] (1902) and increasing literary fame; controversies surrounding her work Den farlige Alder [The Dangerous Age] (1910), in which she scandalously addressed the topic of menopause; her successes as an author of children's books with her popular series of Bibi novels; her status as respected author and critic with a broad Danish and international-particularly German-audience ; and later her desperate and ultimately unsuccessful attempts to break into the American book market. The impression emerges of a somewhat uneven literary output, which has as its common denominator Michaelis's willingness to approach controversial topics, especially in connection with women's rights and the physical and psychological aspects of female experience. She addressed topics such as divorce and abortion not only in her fictional works but also in lectures and articles throughout Europe and America. Apart from feminist issues, Michaelis represented various other causes, such as prison reform and campaigns against animal experiments. The second and arguably more interesting half of Eddy's study concentrates more on Michaelis's humanitarian efforts and on her connections with intellectual circles in Austria, which she maintained throughout both world wars. After staying fiercely loyal to Germany and Austria through the First World War, and initially being reluctant to be too explicit in her criticism of the emerging Nazi regime, Michaelis became more and more openly opposed to Nazi politics and increasingly proactive in offering her many Jewish and non-Jewish friends who were forced to flee Nazi Germany and Austria (among them the family of Bertolt Brecht) a sanctuary on the Danish island of Thuro. …