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Danish literature (the s.c.nordic FAQ)
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Danish literature

 



Subject: 3.5 

Danish literature

Skaldic poetry in the Danish language no doubt existed already in before the Viking age, but none of it was written down except for some Latinized versions later rendered by Saxo Grammaticus. Saxo's Gesta Danorum (History of the Danes), which recounts the history of Denmark up to 1186 and includes Danish versions (in a somewhat Christianized form) the Scandinavian myths and sagas, including the earliest version of the Hamlet story, is the first major Danish contribution to world literature. In the middle ages also a large number of religious poetry in Latin was written, as well as a great variety of folk ballads in Danish, which are among the more significant achievements of medieval Danish literature. German influence remained strong, however, up until the Reformation, and only in the 1600's did Danish poets really start writing in their own language.

In the early 18th century the French Enlightenment and English rationalism started to influence Danish literary circles, and satires became fashionable. As a result, the Danish drama was created by Ludvig Holberg (born in Norway), whose joyous and witty comedies had an enormous impact on all Scandinavian playwrights of the following generations. Holberg may perhaps be called the father of modern Danish literature.

S. S. Blicher H. C. Andersen In the latter half of 18th century, Johannes Ewald, a writer of lyric poetry and heroic tragedies written in verse, was the foremost of Danish authors. In the early 19th century Adam Oehlenschlager introduced Romanticism in Denmark, while Steen Steensen Blicher [portrait on the left] represented bleak, Danish realism. Among their contemporaries were the two perhaps most famous figures of Danish literature throughout the ages: the fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen (1805-75) [portrait on the right] and the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) whose influence was fully felt only with 20th-century existentialism. In the 1870's, romanticism was replaced by naturalism, the most ardent advocate of which was the famous literary critic Georg Brandes. He had much influence on e.g the novelist Jens Peter Jacobsen, the poet Holger Drachmann, and the Nobel Prize winners of 1917, Henrik Pontoppidan and Karl Gjellerup.

Major early 20th-century figures Danish literature were the proletarian novelist Martin Andersen Nexø (1869 - 1954) and the poet and novelist Johannes V. Jensen (who won a Nobel Prize in 1944). The most famous of all modern Danish writers was Karen Blixen (pseudonym Isak Dinesen), who wrote her gothic tales and African memoirs in English. In the 1940s and 1950s, H.C. Branner wrote brilliant short stories; the poet Thorkild Bjørnvig and the novelist Klaus Rifbjerg won fame in the following decades. Among the young generation e.g. Peter Høeg has recently won international fame with his best-seller Smilla's Sense of Snow.

For electronic versions of some of the works of Nordic literature, see the collection of Project Runeberg:

Biographical and bibliographical data are given also in English for a few of the Nordic authors.



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