A History of Danish Literature

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

CHAPTER XI
The "Breakthrough"

We may speculate whether the European currents identified by the term Naturalism and the new socio-psychological view of literature which was finding widespread acceptance in France, England, and Russia would not have made inroads in Denmark in the early seventies if there had been no GEORG BRANDES ( 1842-1927); but the fact remains that Brandes projected these issues on the Danish cultural landscape and aroused his countrymen to a new consciousness of foreign literature and to the European demand for a new literature. Analogously, the new currents of the early eighteenth century would have had their effect in Denmark without Holberg; German philosophy and the new literature of the 1790's would have made themselves felt without Henrik Steffens; but in each case the change wrought would have been less swift and thorough. In order that there can be a radical change there must be an articulate leader with new ideas. Georg Brandes was one of the distinguished company of articulate leaders who have interpreted European literature for Denmark and for Scandinavia.

There is no denying it. Georg Brandes' lectures at the University of Copenhagen in 1871 and the new literary interests of the seventies in Copenhagen are epochal and pivotal in Danish literary history. From Brandes the lines are clearly drawn down until the 1930's. Late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Danish literary criticism has Brandes as a point of orientation. Most modern critics, foremost among them Valdemar Vedel, Hans Brix, and Paul V. Rubow, are Brandes' pupils or admirers; a few critics, chief among them Harald Nielsen, are his adversaries; but it is Brandes who has remained the central figure in literary discussions in Denmark during the past eighty years.

Brandes came to be a line of demarcation in the development of Danish letters for three reasons. He was by nature an unusually gifted speaker and writer; the literary situation of the fifties and sixties in Denmark had been static; and the new criticism which Brandes brought from the outside world gave Danish letters the new ideas which it needed to experience a rejuvenation. Brandes is not important as an original or systematic

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