A History of Danish Literature

By P. M. Mitchell; Mogens Haugsted | Go to book overview

PREFACE

There is something artificial about limiting one's view to the literature of a single country or a single language. No literature develops in splendid isolation; on the contrary, ideological and formalistic movements cut across national boundaries. The literature of Denmark or of any other Western nation should be seen against a general European background. The literary fashions of France, Germany, England, and Italy have in varying degrees regularly made their way to Denmark.

What is more, Denmark has shared a common heritage with the other Scandinavian countries, a heritage which not only is ethnic, linguistic, and political, but has roots that extend back into an indigenous culture which flourished prior to the introduction of Christianity. Noteworthy is the fact that, since the beginning of the historical era, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway have spoken mutually intelligible dialects or languages.

While the country has enjoyed political independence from the earliest times, the possibilities of an independent cultural development in small, flat, peninsular Denmark have been fewer than in the rougher and more expansive landscapes of Norway and Sweden, not to speak of the insular character of Iceland.

Denmark is nevertheless more than a European state or a part of Scandinavia, and Danish literature is more than a conglomeration of external associations. A small country with a high culture, Denmark constitutes neither an arbitrary political division nor a heterogeneous domain. Its literary record is more than the reflection of intellectual activity on the larger European or Scandinavian scene.

In so far as it is the expression of a distinct and enduring linguistic and political unit, Danish literature, although undeniably dependent on shifting social and economic conditions, has a claim to individual consideration as a singular, organic, cultural phenomenon. It warrants the attention of the outside world at least for those works by Danish authors which transcend local or national demands and interests, by virtue of ethical content and aesthetic excellence.

Not to be left out of consideration is the fact that Denmark, once a great power and now one of the smaller nations of Europe, for centuries

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