A History of Danish Literature

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

CHAPTER VIII
Aesthetic Irony. Heiberg and His School. Søren Kierkegaard

While Oehlenschläger continued to bear his poet's laurels until his death at mid-century, JOHAN LUDVIG HEIBERG ( 1791-1860), taking his bearings by the work of his slightly older contemporary, started off in a different direction and soon assembled about his person many of the younger writers who could not find satisfaction in the literature Oehlenschläger and Ingemann represented and who were aloof from the sort of thinking that engaged Grundtvig. A versatile aesthetician in Danish literary history, and himself both a poet and a critic, Johan Ludvig Heiberg overcame the so-called Romantic School and reëstablished a literature which was aesthetic rather than enthusiastic, topical rather than retrospective, and satirical rather than sentimental. He came to represent the triumph of irony over enthusiasm and of sophistication over naïveté, and to assume in Danish literature the position of a literary pontifex maximus.

The son of Peter Andreas Heiberg and Thomasine Buntzen (later the Countess Gyllembourg) and for two years a foster child of the Rahbeks at "Bakkehuset," Heiberg had early come to know the literary circles in Copenhagen. He chose an academic career, and when still in his twenties wrote a doctoral dissertation on Calderon.

Although Heiberg, like the other young writers of the early nineteenth century, at first accepted the works of the older generation as models, it was soon eminently clear that Heiberg had an original mind which followed its own course. The shift is clearly seen in his Julespøg og Nytaarsløjer (Christmas Fun and New Year's Jesting, 1817) which ostensibly was a continuation of Oehlenschläger St. Hansaften-Spil, but which evolved from a parody into a satirical phantasy and an ironic comedy that suggests Oehlenschläger's German contemporary Ludwig Tieck Der gestiefelte Kater. The play is in three parts. In part one, Heiberg parodies Oehlenschläger and satirizes B. S. Ingemann. In the second part, called the "Intermezzo," Heiberg unleashes a dramatic irony which breaks down the pattern of the traditional drama. The poet appears on the stage, and as the action progresses, it becomes more and more difficult to distinguish between what is happening on the stage, and what is happening off-stage

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