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Danish literature,the literature of Denmark.
The earliest literature of Denmark is preserved in the runic carvings on nearly 275 stone monuments erected to the Vikings c.850–1050. A number of these are written in alliterative verse. The Danish legends of the heroic period were preserved in the work of Saxo GrammaticusSaxo Grammaticus
, c.1150–c.1220, the first important Danish historian. He was in the service of Absalon, archbishop of Lund, at whose suggestion Saxo wrote the Gesta Danorum (or Historia Danica). The first nine books, translated (1893, repr.
..... Click the link for more information. (fl. 12th cent.). With Christianity came the epic poetry of the scholastics, the legends of saints, and theological works written in Latin. The Danish folk song appeared in the 12th cent., stimulated by customs of knighthood and chivalry. Danish literature of the later Middle Ages, primarily in Latin, was formal and ecclesiastical; it included annals, chronicles, legends, and a few poems.
The Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
The Reformation stimulated religious polemic and satire as well as the literary use of the Danish language. The Danish translation of the New Testament, completed in 1531 by the humanist Christian Pedersen (d. 1554), who also published an edition of Saxo (1514), greatly influenced Danish literature. In 1535 Hans Tausen (1494–1561) translated the Old Testament. From the Reformation also dates modern Danish drama, which was long a medium for religious moralizing. Fine poetry in the Renaissance manner was created in the early 17th cent. by Anders ArreboArrebo, Anders
, 1587–1637, Danish poet, bishop of Trondheim. His massive narrative poem, the Hexaemeron (written c.1630, pub. 1661), introduced the alexandrine meter to N Europe, where it became the vehicle for serious poetry.
..... Click the link for more information. , and baroque verse reached its zenith as rendered by the clergyman Thomas Kingo (1634–1703).
The Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries
Ludvig HolbergHolberg, Ludvig, Baron
, 1684–1754, Danish dramatist, essayist, poet, and historian, apostle of the Enlightenment in Scandinavia. Born in Norway, he studied theology in Bergen and in Copenhagen. After 1708 he made Denmark his home, residing there between European travels.
..... Click the link for more information. introduced the ideas of the EnlightenmentEnlightenment,
term applied to the mainstream of thought of 18th-century Europe and America. Background and Basic Tenets
The scientific and intellectual developments of the 17th cent.
..... Click the link for more information. in the 18th cent., and neoclassical poetry, the drama, and the essay flourished, following French and English models. German influence is seen in the verse of the leading poets of the late 18th cent., Johannes EwaldEwald, Johannes
, 1743–81, Danish poet. Ewald's elegant verse made him the leading poet of his time. He studied for the ministry but soon turned to writing. His lyrical tragic drama Adam and Eve (1769) showed the influence of Klopstock.
..... Click the link for more information. and Jens BaggesenBaggesen, Jens
, 1764–1826, Danish poet and satirist, b. Sjæland. Although a Germanophile, Baggesen was considered the leading Danish poet of his day. His elegant, imaginative poems include Comic Tales (1785) and the satirical
..... Click the link for more information. .
It was maintained by the romantic school, fathered by Adam OehlenschlägerOehlenschläger, Adam Gottlob
, 1779–1850, Danish romantic poet and dramatist. Oehlenschläger turned for themes to the sagas and to Scandinavian history; he is known as the national poet of Denmark. His poem "The Golden Horns" (1803, tr.
..... Click the link for more information. . A transcendent figure in Danish literary culture was N. F. S. GrundtvigGrundtvig, Nikolai Frederik Severin
, 1783–1872, Danish educator, minister, and writer, founder of the Danish folk high school. He came into doctrinal conflict with church authorities and was forbidden to preach but was reinstated (1832) and became titular bishop (1861).
..... Click the link for more information. ; both he and Oehlenschläger influenced the poet and novelist Bernhard IngemannIngemann, Bernhard Severin
, 1789–1862, Danish poet, playwright, and novelist. As teacher and director of Soro Academy, Ingemann adopted the folk high school principles of N. F. S. Grundtvig.
..... Click the link for more information. . A more aesthetic ideal was promulgated by the dramatist and essayist J. L. HeibergHeiberg, Johan Ludvig
, 1791–1860, Danish writer, director of the National Theater. In the play Christmas Fun and New Year's Jesting (1817), he satirized leading contemporary writers.
..... Click the link for more information. ; two of his protégés were the philosopher Søren KierkegaardKierkegaard, Søren Aabye
, 1813–55, Danish philosopher and religious thinker. Kierkegaard's outwardly uneventful life in Copenhagen contrasted with his intensive inner examination of self and society, which resulted in various profound writings; their dominant theme is
..... Click the link for more information. and Hans Christian AndersenAndersen, Hans Christian,
1805–75, Danish poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales. Born to an illiterate washerwoman and reared in poverty, he left Odense at 14 for Copenhagen, where he lived with a wealthy family.
..... Click the link for more information. , renowned for his fairy tales.
Although S. S. Blicher may have been the first Danish realist, the actual breakthrough to realism was inspired by the internationally influential critic Georg BrandesBrandes, Georg Morris Cohen
, 1842–1927, Danish literary critic. His influence brought the wide currents of contemporary European thought to Danish and other Scandinavian literatures.
..... Click the link for more information. and was reflected in the novels of J. P. JacobsenJacobsen, Jens Peter
, 1847–85, Danish writer. His historical romance Marie Grubbe (1876, tr. 1917) deals with spiritual degeneration in 17th-century Denmark. Jacobsen's other works include Nels Lyhne (1880, tr.
..... Click the link for more information. , H. J. Bang, Karl GjellerupGjellerup, Karl Adolf
, 1857–1919, Danish poet and novelist, b. Sjæland. His early novels, naturalistic and partly autobiographical, include The Young Denmark (1879) and The Disciple of the Teutons (1882).
..... Click the link for more information. , and Hendrik PontoppidanPontoppidan, Henrik
, 1857–1943, Danish novelist. He shared the 1917 Nobel Prize in Literature with Gjellerup. Pontoppidan devoted himself to engineering, journalism, and travel before the appearance of his first major work, The Promised Land (tr.
..... Click the link for more information. and in the early verse of H. H. DrachmannDrachmann, Holger Henrik Herholdt
, 1846–1908, Danish poet and dramatist. His early work was influenced by the political realism of Georg Brandes, but his later writing was sometimes romantic and lyrical.
..... Click the link for more information. . The novelists Karin Michaëlis and Gyrithe Lemche were among the many women writers, mainly realists, active by the late 19th cent.
The Twentieth Century
By 1900 a lyrical reaction was being led by the poet J. J. JørgensenJørgensen, Jens Johannes
, 1866–1956, Danish poet and religious writer. He reacted against the naturalism of Georg Brandes and, in such works as Poems (1898), turned to symbolism and emotion.
..... Click the link for more information. ; impressionistic themes became important, but were never the sole fruit of Danish literary endeavor. Both before and after World War I Martin Andersen NexøNexø, Martin Andersen
, 1869–1954, Danish novelist. Born one of 11 children in a Copenhagen slum, he spent his impoverished childhood largely on the island of Bornholm. Both locales appear centrally in his novels.
..... Click the link for more information. wrote in a context of proletarian realism, and J. V. JensenJensen, Johannes Vilhelm
, 1873–1950, Danish writer. As a young man he studied medicine; his interest in biology and anthropology is obvious throughout his works. Jensen created a distinctive literary form in his "myths," brief prose tales with an element of the essay.
..... Click the link for more information. employed elements of realism and fantasy alike. Fantasy was dominant in the tales of Isak DinesenDinesen, Isak
, pseud. of Baroness Karen Blixen,
1885–1962, Danish author, who wrote primarily in English. In 1914 she married Baron Blixen and went to live in British East Africa, on a coffee plantation.
..... Click the link for more information. , while the theater was enlivened by the dramas of Kaj MunkMunk, Kaj
, 1898–1944, Danish playwright, a clergyman. His ethical plays, traditional in form, led the Danish dramatic revival in the 1930s. Among them is The Word (1932), which deals with resurrection and faith.
..... Click the link for more information. and the brilliant stage technique of Kjeld AbellAbell, Kjeld
, 1901–61, Danish playwright. Abell's Melody That Got Lost (1935, tr. 1939) was an early success. Trained as a stage designer, he was an innovator in stage technique. He later turned to ethical and social drama; Anna Sophie Hedvig (1939, tr.
..... Click the link for more information. .
The period following World War II saw the passing of a number of great figures and the emergence of Martin Hansen, Aage Dons, H. C. Branner, Frank Jäger, Tove Ditlevsen, and Knut Sønderby as outstanding Danish writers. Leading writers of the following generation have included Ole Sarvig, Klaus Rifbjerg, Villy Sørensen, Benny AndersenAndersen, Benny
, 1929–, Danish writer and musician. Andersen is a noted jazz artist, composer, and writer. He has written novels, children's books, and screenplays, but is best known for his poetry, which is marked by humor and wordplay.
..... Click the link for more information. , Inger Christensen, and Peter Hoeg.
See P. M. Mitchell, A History of Danish Literature (2d ed. 1971); F. J. B. Jansen and P. M. Mitchell, ed., Anthology of Danish Literature (1972; bilingual); P. Borum, Danish Literature (1979); S. Rossel, A History of Danish Literature (1992).