A History of Danish Literature

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

CHAPTER XIV
Art vs. the Social Conscience

By the middle thirties, Danish literature had acquired some predominant characteristics which served to distinguish it from the post-war literature that was considered in the foregoing chapter. The drama once more became a vigorous genre, for the first time since the demise of Ibsen, Bjornson, and Strindberg. Furthermore, the pacifist conviction among socially conscious writers began to be replaced by an "activist" philosophy, i.e., by the conviction that words, action, and if necessary, force must be used to combat the fascism which had established itself first in Italy, then in Germany, and finally in Spain, and which was believed to have a so-called Fifth Column in other European countries, including Denmark. It was also characteristic of the literature of the decade that prose writing on the whole began to veer away from the depiction of social evils toward an interpretive treatment of psychological problems. Specifically stressed was the lasting effect of a given situation on the individual's psyche rather than the temporary effects on his physical or even mental well-being. Freud was becoming more important than Marx as a prophet.

From the ashes of the naturalistic drama arose a new synthetic drama that transcended the experimentalism of the first two decades of the twentieth century and was both naturalistic and symbolic. With regard to form and technique it was in part a reaction against Ibsen and his imitators and in part an extension of the experimental drama in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere during the twenties. While the new drama gave evidence of learning from the psychology of Freud and Jung, it was not primarily a psychological drama.

Nor was it one with the literature of social consciousness; it was more artistic and more subtle than the socially inclined prose works which have been treated in chapter XIII. It frequently contained an emotional appeal. One might say that it was the insistence of the appeal which had made the use of dramatic form inevitable.

The three dramatists who gave new life to the Danish stage were Kaj Munk, Kjeld Abell, and Carl Erik Soya. Of the three, Munk was the

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