Denmark Literature from Origins to the 19th Century
From the origins to the 18th century
Traditionally, Danish literature, like that of other Nordic countries, is started with runic inscriptions (➔ rune), which however have more linguistic and historical value than literary, and are in any case to be considered as belonging to the Nordic municipality. Only with the conversion of the Germanic peoples to Christianity and the introduction of writing, a medieval Danish literature was born. In the monasteries, founded by the monastic orders with the favor of the missionary kings, sacred and didactic literature flourished, especially after the creation of the archbishopric of Lund (circa 1100), and finally that typical form of medieval historiography which was the chronicle. In the age of the Valdemari (12th-13th century) the Denmark gave impetus to a notable historical-literary culture. The archbishops of the Nordic Church Eskil and Absalon were the central figures of this revival, and their links with the Humanism of the schools of Chartres and Orléans explain the character of the work that they inspired to the chroniclers S. Aggesøn and Saxo Gramaticus: the Historia regum Daniae of the first and the Gesta danorum of the second trace, with the compiling and uncritical method of the time, an anecdotal picture of national history from mythical-legendary origins to the victories of the Danes over the Sell (1185). The third great archbishop of the Valdemari age, A. Sunessøn (1167-1228), who studied in Italy and was papal nuncio in the North, he represents medieval scholastic thought with his Marian sequences and his cumbersome poem in hexameters Hexaëmeron. An expression of the culture in the vernacular are instead both the collection of Latin and Danish proverbs (Ordsprog) made by P. Laale, both the books of the simple (Urtebøger) by H. Harpestreng, and the anonymous transcriptions of the most ancient provincial legal customs, not yet influenced by Roman and canon law (Skånske Lov “Law of Scania”, Sjœllandske Lov “Law of Sjœlland”). A more conscious artistic intent is found in the Folkeviser (over 500) or anonymous epic-lyric ballads, widespread throughout the Nordic area, but having Denmark as its primitive center of radiation. Born in aristocratic circles on French and English models, these ballads then lived in oral tradition and only starting from the 16th century. they were transcribed in cultured circles eager to keep their memory. Here, much more than in the remakes of courtly novels, there is a reflection of medieval chivalry, but on the spiritualization of love, a raw sense of reality prevails in the Nordic Folkevisers, which brings them closer to Germanic heroic poetry. The remaining picture of the middle and late Middle Ages consists of the great work of the translators and vulgarizers of religious culture within the nascent secular bourgeoisie: from encyclopedic treatises (Elucidarius) to liturgical drama, from the Aesopian fable to rhyme chronicle (Den danske Rimkrønike, the first Danish book, printed in the year 1495).
According to searchforpublicschools, the Reformation, spread in Denmark by Luther’s Nordic disciples, smothered the germs of nascent Humanism in theological and religious controversies. There was no lack of revolutionary enthusiasm from reformers such as KM Tøndebinder, HO Spandemager, F. Vormordsen; like N. Hemmingsen who was a follower of Melanchthon and tried to mediate between Lutherans and Calvinists, like H. Tausen who gathered around him the first Protestant community, like P. Palladius who organized the new church and revised the Bible of Christian III (1550) translated by C. Pedersen and by others; but while thus laying the foundations for future cultural and civil developments, Lutheranism in Denmark marked the triumph of a new religious orthodoxy and a new political absolutism. With the creation of the State Church, the resurrected university of Copenhagen (1537) fell to the school of theology and the new clergy to the bureaucracy of central power. Favored by the press, historical (Danish translation of the Saxo chronicle by AS Vedel and its continuation up to Canute VI by A. Huitfeldt), scientific studies (mainly thanks to T. Brahe, O. Worm, O Rømer, N. Stenone and the Bartholins), antiquarians (O. Worm founds runology, and the main manuscripts of the two Eddes pass from Iceland to Copenhagen), linguistic (grammatical, etymological, prosodic). Alongside the rich religious literature of a pietistic imprint (especially the pompous psalms by T. Kingo ; the Hexaëmeron remade by AC Arrebo in Alexandrians and hexameters and the mystical-erotic psalms of HA Brorson), some realistic-didactic popular comedy (“L ‘ Stingy Nidding »by H. Justesen Ranch) and some essays on memorialism (Leonora Christines Jammersminde) are the most vivid documents of secular literature. If the Folkevisers continued to satisfy a popular public, small circles of scholars (H. Gram, J. Langebek, T. Reenberg, and then L. Holberg and JS Sneedorff), moving from the new aristocratic concept of culture, proceeded to acclimate in Denmark the hottest trends on the continent.
In the second half of the seventeenth century the ideal yeast of the Reformation began to mature, and pietism and rationalism began to wage war on the principle of authority in the name of sentiment and reason. At the center of these innovative tendencies was the monumental Enlightenment work of L. Holberg ; while, on foreign examples, the daily and periodical press, associations, clubs, academies favored the circulation of new anti-classic ideas. Thus, if in the Alexandrian comedy Kaerlighed uden strømper (“Love without socks”, 1772) H. Wessel parody the pseudoclassical tragedy, I. Baggesen with his travel diary Labyrinten (1792-93) and J. Ewald with his unfinished autobiography Levned og Meninger (“Life and Opinions”, 1775) they gave happy Danish variants of L. Sterne’s lyric-ironic individualism. The stay in Copenhagen (1751-70) and the example of FG Klopstock also contributed to the triumph of the new taste. Thus it was the ‘rediscovery’ of literary (and artistic) Germany that gave birth to a new organic Danish culture on the ruins of the classicist one.
The 19th century
Since the Norwegian naturalist H. Steffens, on his return from Germany, gave his lectures in Copenhagen – primarily on Schellingh’s Philosophy of Nature (1802) and on Goeth’s Fragment of Faust (1803) – German Romanticism acted as a catalyst for all the scattered trends of the time. It is no coincidence that writers such as A. Oehleschläger and AW Schack von Staffeldt (18th-19th century) poetry in both Danish and German. The first renewed, with the fantastic-musical impetus of his dramatic poems (Hakon Jarl, 1805; Correggio, 1811; Helge, 1814; Aladdin, 1820), the ways and themes of Danish poetry, the latter first introduced Denmark to the romantic and mystical-erotic Sehnsucht inspired by Novalis (Poesie, 1803; New poems, 1808). With his translations from Saxo and Snorri, the historical-theological writings, the psalms, the poetry of thought, NFS Grundtvig represents the passage of Romanticism from the academic and bourgeois environment (within which there are also novelists and poets such as BS Ingemann and C. Hauch, C. Winther and E. Aarestrup), politics, customs, the popular environment. Isolated, although not without ties to the philosophy of Romanticism, S. Kierkegaard alongside the great fabulist HC Andersen, he is the most important figure in the early nineteenth century. Romantic is also the humus on which the antiromantic passion of Danish writers was born who, after the July Revolution, opened up new perspectives of realism to literature: from JL Heiberg, satirist author of vaudevilles, Hegelian critic and dictator of taste until with the advent of G. Brandes, the playwrights H. Hertz and JC Hostrup ; by the storyteller SS Blicher to P. Møller to HE Schack to F. Paludan-Müller. The clean break with the past is actually felt only in the last decades of the century, with the triumph of liberalism in politics, positivism in philosophy and naturalism in literature, a triumph documented by the sociological historiography of G. Brandes from which not only the more or less faithful followers, the naturalist writers (JP Jacobsen and H. Drachmann, E. Brandes, K. Gjellerup, H. Pontoppidan, and later K. Larsen and G. Wied) but also the symbolist and mystical adversaries, idealists and nationalists (J. Jørgensen and H. Bang, S. Claussen and V. Stuckenberg, H. Rode, J. Knudsen and W. Rordam). JV Jensen was the first to oppose the ‘decadent and bourgeois’ symbolism, with his faith in technical progress. United with him in love for his native land, the writers of ‘peasant realism’ celebrated their land in lyrics and novels, exalting the values of peasant culture (M. Bregendahl) or addressing religious (J. Knudsen) and social issues (J. Skjoldborg, J. Aakjær).