THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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17 posts categorized "Denmark"

30 November 2018

From Culinary Staple to Prophetic Symbol: More on the Herring

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Regular readers of our blog may have noticed something of a herring theme this year, from the significance of the herring in Nordic culture to its symbolic and celebratory consumption at the Dutch festivals of Flag Day and the anniversary of the Relief of Leiden. But so far we have not yet looked at the herring in Germany and on the Southern Baltic shore, particularly as imagined and lived by Günter Grass

In Grass’s Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), Agnes Matzerath develops an unhealthy compulsion to eat fish, following the horror of seeing a horse’s head used to catch eels, consuming and force-feeding herself the very thing that has become monstrous to her. Set against the backdrop of rising National Socialism, Agnes’s eventual death by fish-poisoning cannot be separated from the social and familial mutations she experiences in 1920s Danzig.

Elsewhere, however, fish is dealt with far more fondly by Grass, while always remaining focal. In his autobiography, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Peeling the Onion), Grass’s memories often carry the odour of fried herring, a staple during his time at the School of Fine Arts in Berlin, much to the disapproval of his teacher Karl Hartung, who ‘[took] offence at the smell of fried herring wafting through the door connecting his studio to ours’. Even his description of the first months with his then girlfriend, Anna, includes, alongside the sentimental, the intimate and the erotic, the memory of showing the uninitiated cook ‘how simple it is to remove the flesh from the bones of a fried herring.’ Romance Baltic-style…

Grass - Der Butt dustjacket
Dust Jacket of Der Butt, with Grass’s own design

But it is in his Der Butt (The Flounder) where the herring—and essentially all Baltic peasant food from the Neolithic to the 20th century—gets a platform. It contains, woven into the epic history of women and food, recipes and other gastronomic tips, because for Grass, who thought the planting of potatoes in Prussia ‘did more to change society than the Seven Years’ War’, this was a people’s history that had not yet been written.

Grass here is on one level writing the anti-‘Babette’s Feast’. Karen Blixen’s/Isak Dinesen’s 1958 short story introduces an exceptional Parisian chef into the remote Norwegian town of Berlevåg (or the west coast of Jutland, if you’re watching the 1987 film), who wins a lottery, enabling her to create an exquisite French menu without a herring in sight. However, most of the local guests—refined as they are—react indifferently to the meal, which is perhaps another implicit win for the herring.

Grass - Kuß
Grass’s sketch Kuß (‘Kiss’) ,reproduced in Gertrud Bauer Pickar, Adventures of a Flounder: Critical Essays on Günter Grass’ Der Butt (Munich, 1982) X.0909/1118(3)

The second book of Der Butt contains a chapter entitled ‘Skåne Herring’, in which the domestic hell suffered by the husband of the mystic and visionary (not yet Saint) Dorothea von Montau, brings about a visit from the religious and political powers that be. Dorothea serves the four visitors Scania herring (Scania was dominant in the herring market in the 14th century) but not before Grass’s omniscient narrator cuts in to detail the variations of prepared herring: ‘They can be used fresh, salted, smoked, or marinated. They can be boiled, baked, fried, steamed, filleted, boned and stuffed, rolled around gherkins, or placed in oil, vinegar, white wine, and sour cream.’ Grass details how each of the women cooks he follows in his epic would have prepared the herring before telling us that Dorothea ‘bedded twelve Scania herrings on ashes strewn over the coals, so that without oil, spices, or condiment of any kind, their eyes whitened and they took on the taste of cooked fish.’ The authorities—Abbot, Commander, Doctor of Canon Law and Dominican—all approve.

Following Grass’s imperative to (re-)collect food history in his ‘narrative cookbook’, we find that two years after the publication of Der Butt the British Library felt compelled to acquire an actual herring cookbook from Sweden, Strömming och Sill. Both words in the title refer to herring, strömming to the smaller, less fatty herring caught in the Baltic, and sill to the Atlantic and North Sea varieties. Strömming might be more familiar with its prefix sur- which describes the debatably edible fermented variety. Sur- means sour in this case, although we can’t help but think of French preposition meaning ‘over’: for many, fermented herring is indeed a step or two beyond.

Strömming och Sill
Ulli Kyrkland, Strömming och sill ([Stockholm, 1979) L.42/578. The book includes over 100 herring recipes

We’ve somehow managed to talk about Der Butt without mentioning the presence of a talking flounder… but Grass’s penchant for rendering fish either monstrous, as in Die Blechtrommel, or magical, as in Der Butt, recalls another literary oddity which deserves mention. The herring was also the protagonist in a number of 16th- and 17th-century works within Rosicrucianism and numerology. In 1587, like Grass’s omnipotent flounder, a few miraculous herring began to communicate.

Faulhaber - Herring
Signifying herrings, from Johann Faulhaber Vernünfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen (Augsburg, 1632) C.29.f.1.

Johann Faulhaber’s Vernünfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen attempts to describe the significance of a miraculous deer and some even more miraculous herring and other fish through the secret numbers of the Book of Daniel and the Apocalypse. Following the descriptions of Raphael Eglinus’s Prophetia Halieutica nova et admiranda (Zürich, 1598; 1020.f.1.(3.)), Faulhaber tells us of two herring caught on the same day, one in Denmark, one in Norway, on both of which appeared strange coded markings, ‘as if imprinted by God’s finger.’ We can’t help but agree with his assertion that this is a miraculous occurrence.

Faulhaber - Greifswald fish
More tattooed fish from Vernünfftiger Creaturen Weissagungen

The book was written in 1632, halfway through the Thirty Years’ War and, crucially, two years after Sweden’s King Gustav Adolph, to whom the book is dedicated, joined the conflict. Faulhaber sees correspondences in all the mystical fish, the dates of comets, the secret numbers in the Bible and the political situation in Northern Europe. The markings are decoded to show swords, sickles, and other signs that correlate with historical events. Faulhaber’s deer somehow comes to represent the entry of Gustav Adolph into the war, while the herring might spell out the spilling of more blood.

Four centuries later, something about these miraculous herring of Faulhaber and Eglinus is caught in the fish-paintings of Paul Klee. 

764px-Paul_Klee _Swiss_-_Fish_Magic_-_Google_Art_Project
Paul Klee, Fish Magic, Philadelphia Museum of Art (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Klee’s Fish Magic or Around the fish, suspend the fish (although we can’t identify a herring, we can forgive Klee as a landlocked Swiss, no doubt used to freshwater fish) amidst a set of enigmatic symbols that gesture towards signification without the finality of Faulhaber’s correspondences. In herring-art, we see the full range of depictions that is also encapsulated in academic and literary attempts to understand both the sheer facticity of the Northern armies of herring and the idea of herring, their potential meaning.

Joachim Beuckelaer- Fish Market
The sheer facticity of fish in Joachim Beuckelaer, The Fish Market (1568), Bonnefanten Museum, Maastricht (image from Wikimedia Commons). Herring can be seen bottom left.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Günter Grass, Die Blechtrommel (Darmstadt, 1959) 011421.p.86. English translation by Ralph Mannheim, The Tin Drum (London, 1962) X.909/2060.

Günter Grass, Der Butt (Darmstadt, 1977) X.989/71159. English translation by Ralph Mannheim, The Flounder (London, 1978) X.989/76027

Günter Grass, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (Göttingen, 2006) YF.2007.a.1517. English translation by Micahel Henry Heim Peeling the Onion (London, 2007) YC.2007.a.14122

Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), Anecdotes of Destiny (London, 1958) 12655.r.2.

 

19 July 2018

A Right Royal Gift Book: ‘The Wedding at Windsor’

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On 26 and 27 April 2018, the British Library and the National Portrait Gallery played host to scholars and members of the Anglo-Danish Society who gathered together to learn about the portraits and patronage of five fascinating royals: Anna of Denmark (1574-1619), Queen Consort to James VI and I; George of Denmark (1653-1708), Prince Consort to Queen Anne; Louisa of Britain (1724-1751), Queen Consort to Frederik V of Denmark and daughter to George II; Caroline-Mathilde of Britain (1751-1775), Queen Consort to Christian VII of Denmark and sister to George III; and Alexandra of Denmark (1844-1925), Queen Consort to Edward VII. Two very special British Library items that were shown as part of the event are detailed in two blog posts. First, Dr Sara Ayres, the event organiser and formerly Queen Margarethe II Carlsberg Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Portrait Gallery, takes us back 150 years to a very familiar occasion.

Following the excitement swirling around the marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (now the Duke and Duchess of Sussex) in May of this year, it is perhaps as good a moment as any to cast a glance back into the past upon another royal wedding, which brought another beautiful bride over the sea, to marry a son of Queen Victoria. The groom was Albert Edward, Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) and the bride, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. The Princess’s carriage ride through London on her way to Windsor Castle to prepare for her marriage in St George’s Chapel on 10 March 1863 was attended by a riotous outpouring of popular celebration. Indeed, the Victorian crowds which surged to meet this Danish bride were more numerous and rather less orderly than the waving well-wishers lining the televised procession of Saturday 19 May 2018.

Bricklayer's Arms stationA respectful audience for the arrival of the new Queen at the old Bricklayers’ Arms Station. From The Wedding at Windsor: A Memorial of the Marriage of ... Albert Edward, Prince of Wales and ... Alexandra, Princess of Denmark (London, 1864) 1754.d.32

Both the marriage and the Princess’s landing at Gravesend and royal entry into London were commemorated in a lavish volume entitled The Wedding at Windsor. The text was crafted by none other than William Howard Russell, a veteran journalist who had won fame, if not fortune, reporting on the Crimean War for the London Times. This heavy folio volume is richly illustrated with chromolithographs of the procession, the wedding and the many, lavish bridal gifts. It is these beautiful prints designed by the artist Robert Dudley and realised by lithographers to the Queen, Messrs. Day and Sons, which lift this official publication out of the ordinary and into the realms of print history.

Title PageTitle Page from The Wedding at Windsor

Chromolithography occupies a brief and singular moment in the history of colour printing, quickly eclipsed by the rise of fully automatic processes for mechanical reproduction. Chromolithography demanded expertise; its processes were minutely analysed by the printer’s eye and aligned by hand, and used as many colours as the client’s means afforded. The application of such intensely focused skill produced results with an extraordinary sense of material presence. Dudley’s illustrations of the wedding gifts seem almost to vibrate off the page, their intense reality effect investing the precious objects with a second life inside the book.

Temple BarCrowds line the streets at Temple Bar, the Union Jack flyring side by side with the Dannebrog 

Dudley’s illustrations of the procession of 7 March 1863 fascinate with their detail of the ephemeral decorations which lined the Princess’s route. Triumphal arches, countless flags, royal portraits and allegorical sculptures recreated the most famous thoroughfares of London as heraldic heterotopias, which both narrated and celebrated the continuance of the long and storied relationship between Denmark and Britain.

The Mansion HouseThe Mansion House

Dudley’s topographies of London Bridge, Mansion House and Temple Bar teem with crowds filling the streets and the windows, balconies and rooftops of every building along the way. The Princess is reduced to a speck of print lost in the swirling masses. The crowds are orderly spectators, contained by iconic architectures and regulated by highlights of regal red and gold. But the reality of the procession was rather different. Too few policemen and a lack of coordination between the various authorities involved in organising the procession coupled with a huge desire on the part of the public to participate in the day's events produced crowds which were neither orderly nor contained. As Russell writes in the accompanying text:

[The people] cheered as she came near, then gazed upon her face, and then cheered more loudly than ever. Too eagerly for the ease of the Royal Bride, they pressed against the horses and carriage-wheels, caught hold of the sides of the vehicle, stretched out their hands, and in one struggling shouting turmoil, with waving hands and arms, and open throats, shifting and clinging like figures in a nightmare, they strove and contended to hold place and get nearest to the carriage which contained her.

Windsor Castle must have seemed like the calmest of safe havens to this young Princess and her family upon their arrival, following this most eventful of royal processions.

Gold OrnamentsA lavish gift list - gold ornaments beautifully illustrated

PorcelainAnd some fine porcelain for the lucky married couple

This illustrations in this important and fascinating book perhaps preserve the royal wedding celebrations of 1863 as they ought to have been, rather than as they were exactly. Despite the decorous veil they cast over the events portrayed, they still provide us with an evocative glimpse into the past. To re-examine them in the light of the more recent celebrations, is to sense the pattern of our most common rituals framed in the specificities of uncommon times.

25 June 2018

Proto-internet trolls’: Johann Friedrich Struensee and freedom of expression in 18th century Denmark

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Ever-present in the cultural imagination of Danish history, the story of Johann Friedrich Struensee — beyond the soap-opera of his rise to power — was a turning point in the history of publishing. The legacy of this Danish episode has been invigorated by the likes of Per Olov Enquist, in his 1999 novel Livläkarens Besök (The Visit of the Royal Physician), and Mads Mikkelsen, who portrayed the once de facto ruler in Nikolaj Arcel’s 2012 film En kongelig affære (A Royal Affair).

Engraving - before and in jailEngravings showing Struensee in charge and then in prison, from a collection of broadsides on Struensee and his downfall. (1881.b.46)

Struensee had accompanied King Christian VII as royal physician on a foreign tour in 1768 and had gained the trust of a regent prone to serious psychiatric episodes. Soon, not only had the doctor risen to become the King’s most trusted advisor in the Danish court, he had also become Queen Caroline Matilda’s lover – which fast became common knowledge. With the ear of the King, Struensee first appointed himself to the Privy Council before dismantling it in favour of a Cabinet in his control, supported by his ally Enevold Brandt. The increasing incapacity of the King gave Struensee the authority to pursue an Enlightenment agenda, which he did by issuing nearly 2000 decrees in his 16 months in power. This ground-breaking transformation in politics ruptured the link between King and people, and in its place offered the liberalizing but authoritarian rule of a non-Danish-speaking upstart. No matter how forward-thinking the legislation, Struensee would always be a German usurper, who had corrupted the royal court.

The very first of Struensee’s reforms was to declare the freedom of the press on 14 September 1770. Immediately, this freedom led to the creation of many new periodicals and newspapers, while also encouraging provincial printing beyond Copenhagen. 1771 saw pamphlets shift ‘in character from a debate on socio-political issues to direct criticism of those in power’ and often ‘the criticisms took the form of lampoons on the themes of sex and power’ (Horstbøll). Struensee took the brunt and so his introduction of the freedom of the press resulted in the use of the press against him.

Struensee's grave

A defaced memorial for Struensee but a memorial all the same, which might go some way to depicting his divided legacy.

As Jesper Mølby puts it in Robert Ferguson’s Scandinavians:

In some ways the most depressing part of it all is that Struensee gave people freedom of expression, and for the most part all anyone did with it was compose endless vulgar and offensive verses directed at Struensee himself and his affair with Caroline. In his bright and visionary Denmark people had been set free to express exactly what they felt and thought, to educate one another, criticize one another constructively, to fearlessly challenge the high and mighty. What he got instead was a society of proto-internet trolls. Shit. Piss. Fart. Willy. The king’s a nutcase. (Ferguson, pp. 153-154)

On 17 January 1772, Struensee and Brandt were arrested for usurping royal authority – the birth of Struensee’s and Caroline Matilda’s daughter, Louise Augusta, couldn’t have helped his case. In the three months during his imprisonment, illustrated broadsheets quickly distributed the popular criticism and hatred of the Counts Struensee and Brandt. The British Library has a collection of these broadsides, along with some leaflets and smaller single-sheet engravings.

Struensee's power grabThe Almighty steps in to reclaim Denmark from the power-grabbing Struensee and Brandt.

Eventually charged and sentenced to execution on 28 April 1772, Struensee and Brandt had their right hands cut off, then their heads and even genitals, before being drawn and quartered, each body part displayed for the audience, as is shown in the broadsheet below. Horstbøll confirms that the ‘theatrical execution of the count and the exhibition of his corpse’ was ‘the greatest sales success of all’ for its printer, Johan Rudolph Thiele, whose woodblocks were copied by many others.

Struensee's execution‘An accurate view of the execution of the Counts Struensee and Brandt’. The fourth quarter of Struensee’s body is being carried up to its display wheel.

Many of Struensee’s decrees were reversed following his execution and post-publication censorship returned on 20 October 1773. However, the floods of empowered publishers and voices could not be held back. A new publishing energy had been unleashed and the landscape was unalterably changed. As Henrik Horstbøll writes, ‘The period of the unlimited freedom of the press broke the bonds linking printed media to the institutions of the state and a new print culture arose in relation to the traditional literary market, which could not be reversed once freedom of the press became limited again.’

Struensee’s legacy remains therefore divided, as Michael Brengsbo suggests, between those who view him as ‘a cynic usurper, seducer, and fortune hunter’ those who remember ‘a tragic hero who really tried to enlighten the people and improve their lot […]’.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

Per Olov Enquist, Livläkarens besök  (Stockholm, 1999) YA.2001.a.7907 (English translation by Tiina Nunally, The Visit of the Royal Physician (London, 2002) Nov.2002/1089)

Michael Brengsbo, ‘Struensee and the Political Culture of Absolutism’ and Henrik Horstbøll, ‘The Politics of Publishing: Freedom of the Press in Denmark, 1770-1773, in Scandinavia in the Age of Revolution: Nordic Political Cultures, 1740-1820 (Farnham; Burlington, 2011) YC.2011.a.12626

Robert Ferguson, Scandinavians: In Search of the Soul of the North (London, 2016) YC.2017.a.13228

01 June 2018

Silver Darlings, Icelandic Gold: Herring in the Northern Imagination

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It’s been food season for the last 2 months at the British Library and sweeping through the Nordic collections with a gastronomic lens, there is of course only one thing on the menu: herring. The herring has formed the backbone of societies over the ages and, as Jonathan Meades says in his jaunt across the Baltic coast of continental Europe, Magnetic North, the herring’s own backbone has formed an even more literal foundation:

When excavations are made in Flanders for roads and railways, the bones of men slaughtered in the First World War constitute the first stratum that the diggers encounter. Further down are multitudinous herring skeletons. The people of Arras ate between two and three million herrings per year. That’s two to three hundred per every person.

From the material ubiquity of herring springs the idea or symbol of herring; it is not only the most important driver of socio-historical and political in the story of Northern Europe but it also stands for the cultural identity of the North.

Clupea Harengus - Skandinaviens Fiskar
The Herring — Clupea Harengus — in Bengt Fredrik Fries et al. A History of Scandinavian Fishes vol. 2 (Stockholm, 1895), J/7290.k.29
.

Herring has really always been fished, well, ‘since the Mesolithic era but commercial fisheries for these species developed only in the Middle Ages’ (Holm, p. 19). Its abundance in the marine area stretching from the Baltic across the North Sea and to the Atlantic around Iceland made it a vital commodity traded and controlled by various powers across the centuries. Abundance may be an understatement if we take Saxo Grammaticus’s words at face value in the Gesta Danorum, first written around 1204. Writing of the sound between Zealand and Scania, he notes: ‘the whole sound contains such plentiful shoals that sometimes boats striking them have difficulty in rowing clear and no fishing-gear but the hands is needed to take them.’ In fact, one possible etymological root for the word herring is from the Germanic Heer (army, troops) but the etymology of the common name for Clupea harengus is full of red herr… I won’t go there.

Olaus Magnus 152.e.9.
Herring-fishing in Scania, woodcut from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus septentrionalibus, (Rome, 1555) 152.e.9.

It goes without saying then that with such a central presence in Northern life the herring is equally abundant in the Northern literary and artistic imagination. A scan of the British Library catalogue reveals a huge number of historical surveys, reports on methods of preservation, regional studies of the impact of fishing, but also such oddities (or not) as an announcement in 1785 by the Swedish Academy pertaining to, in the gloss provided by the BL’s Scandinavian Short-Title Catalogue of works published before 1801, ‘roof slates and herring fisheries’ (British Library, Ac.1070/20), or even the very recent (anti-)comic book by Antti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring, or their graphic novel Lord of Herrings (2017).

Hakala combined
Exhaustive and exhausting jokes about herring in Anti and Esa Hakala, Sven’s Herring ([Great Britain], 2014) YKL.2016.b.5527

Douglas S. Murray’s comprehensive Herring Tales: how the silver darlings shaped human taste and history (London, 2015; DRT ELD.DS.80434) points us in the direction of a museum on the topic, “one of the finest of its kind”, namely the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður on the Northern coast of Iceland, once the bustling centre of herring fishing and processing in the country, the ‘Atlantic Klondike’ of the early 20th century. Murray sees in this unique museum a reminder of “the fact that without herring, Iceland – like so many other places on the edge of Norway, Scotland and elsewhere – would not have possessed a modern society.” The museum itself is fully aware of the historical, literary, artistic, film and musical impact of herring, listing numerous sources that show the expanse of work that sparkles herring-silver.

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - The Herring Worker
The lyrical beauty of ‘Icelandic gold’ in paintings by Gunnlaugur Blöndal. Above: ‘The Herring Worker’ (1934); below: ‘Herring Packers’ (1935-1940), reproduced in Gunnlaugur Blöndal (Reykjavik, 1963), Cup.20.w.13

Gunnlaugur Blöndal - Herring Packers

A three-volume history of herring in Iceland, Silfur hafsins: gull ĺslands: síldarsaga ĺslendiga (‘Silver of the sea: Iceland’s gold: the history of herring in Iceland’; Reykjavik, 2007; YF.2014.b.1514) has appeared in the last decade, adorned with epigraphs by the great Nobel Prize winner and herring champion Halldór Laxness. All three epigraphs are from Laxness’s 1972 Guðsgjafaþula (Reykjavik, 1972; X.989/30910.), which loosely translates as ‘The Song of God’s Gifts’—the book has not been translated into English. “God’s gifts” is another euphemism for the now not-so-humble herring and Laxness does not shy away from elevating them to an object of the aesthetic sublime:

‘Norðurlandssíldin er aðalborin skepna bæði að fegurð og vitsmunum, kanski það dásamlegasta sem guð hefur skapað.’
[The Scandinavian herring is a creature noble-born to beauty and wisdom, perhaps the most wonderful thing God has created]

And,

‘… þá munu margir men tala að þessi fagri fiskur hafi verið sannkölluð dýrðargjöf, já ein sú mesta sem himnafaðirinn hefur gefið þessari þjóð.’
[… then many will say that this beautiful fish has been the true glory, yes, one of the greatest things the Heavenly Father has given this nation.]

Guðsgjafaþula, about the fate of a fishing community who have entrusted their lot to a brilliant herring speculator, took as its source material the first history of herring in Iceland written by Matthías Þórdarson from Móar in 1934. The latter was the great-grandfather of contemporary Icelandic great, Sjón, who in turn used his ancestor as a model for the protagonist of the novel Argóarflísin (‘The Whispering Muse’; Reykjavik, 2005;YF.2007.a.24658). In Sjón’s novel we are introduced to Valdimar Haraldsson, who in 1933 published Memoirs of a Herring Inspector, immediately evoking Laxness and Þórdarson before him. One of Haraldsson’s early articles from his journal Fisk og Kultur, to which he refers at length at the beginning, espouses the link between fish consumption and Nordic racial superiority:

It is our belief that the Nordic race, which has fished off the maritime coast for countless generations and thus enjoyed a staple diet of seafood, owes its physical and intellectual prowess above all to this type of nutrition, and that the Nordic race is for this reason superior in vigour and attainments to other races that have not enjoyed such ease of access to the riches of the ocean.

The triumphal racialist rhetoric is antiquated and self-undermining in the context of the novel but the year of publication of Haraldsson’s memoirs is not lost on the reader. God’s gifts make for a chosen people it seems. At the same time, the maritime Nordic people is deliberately drawn in stark contrast to the ‘blood and soil’ rhetoric of continental fascism. Sjón’s novel is not the only place where fish and racial politics are brought into conversation. For the other notable example, we need to travel back to the Baltic and the shores of Danzig as imagined and lived by Günter Grass. But that is for another post…

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator, Germanic Collections

References and further reading:

Saxo Grammaticus, The History of the Danes (vol. 1) [translated from the Latin by Peter Fisher] (Cambridge; New Jersey, 1979) X.800/28439

 Halldór Laxness, Brekkukotsannáll (Reykavik, 1957/1973) X.909/37610. (English translation by Magnus Magnusson, The Fish can Sing (London, 2000) H.2000/2872)

Sjón, The Whispering Muse [translated by Victoria Cribb] (London, 2012) H.2013/.5955

James H. Barrett and David C. Orton (eds.), Cod and Herring: The archaeology and history of medieval seas fishing (Oxford; Philadelphia, 2016), YC.2017.b.2914; especially the essay by Paul Holm, ‘Commercial Sea Fisheries in the Baltic Region c. AD 1000-1600’ 

 

20 March 2018

Hygge, noir or both? The Films of Carl Theodor Dreyer

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With the current enthusiasm for all things Danish, from the cult of hygge to crime dramas, it is fitting, on the 50th anniversary of his death, to examine the legacy of Denmark’s greatest contributor to the history of cinema, Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968).

Dreyer Portrait
Portrait of Dreyer directing in 1931, from Ebbe Neergaard, En filminstruktørs arbejde. Carl Th. Dreyer og hans ti filmer (Copenhagen, 1940) 11796.bb.43

Certainly, judging by the subjects of his films and the events of his own life, it would be difficult to regard Dreyer as a typical representative of ‘Europe’s happiest nation’. He was, in fact, only half Danish; his mother, Josefine Bernhardine Nilsson, was a servant on a farm in Sweden where she was seduced by her Danish employer Jens Christian Torp – a situation familiar to readers of Martin Andersen Nexø’s novel Pelle Erobreren (Copenhagen, 1906-10; 12581.r.18.). Torp was already married, and when Josefine died he placed their illegitimate son in an orphanage. At the age of two the little boy was adopted by a typographer named Carl Theodor Dreyer, and his wife, Inger Marie, who gave him a home and a name but little in the way of emotional warmth or security. When he was 16 he broke away from his adoptive parents, but their lasting influence is evident in the ideology which underpins many of his films, set in a Denmark where religious conservatism prevails and failure to conform can have fatal consequences.

At the time when Dreyer made the transition from journalism to film, the Danish silent cinema was in its early stages, and even during his mature career as a director he lacked the support of a well-established national film industry. This apparent disadvantage, in fact, accorded well with Dreyer’s preference for solitude and independence at all costs. In his biography En filminstruktørs arbejde, Ebbe Neergaard describes the moment when the young Dreyer, visiting the vaults of the Great Northern Telegraph Company in the company of an elderly accountant who proudly pointed to his life’s work – a collection of musty files – recoiled in horror from the prospect of a similar fate and promptly resigned his post to strike out alone.

Throughout his life Dreyer was outspoken in his criticism of mass-production film-making, and his insistence on the integrity of the individual, no matter what the outcome, runs through his work. He began in a small way, writing film scripts for Nordisk Film (1913-19). Although he later called this period ‘a marvellous school’, it coincided with the decline of Danish film during the First World War, where, although neutral, Denmark lost many of its foreign markets and Nordisk’s German theatre chain was bought up by Ufa in 1917. Dreyer then left Denmark to work in the French film industry; while living in France he met Jean Cocteau and other members of the French artistic scene and in 1928 he made his first classic film, The Passion of Joan of Arc. This, like his next effort, Vampyr (1932), privately funded by Baron Nicolas de Gunzburg who also played the hero, was a commercial failure. Both were subsequently recognized as masterpieces of emotional realism and surreal expressionism, but Dreyer was deterred from making any more films until 1943, when he directed one of his greatest works, Day of Wrath. Denmark was by now under German occupation, and this story of the persecution of alleged witches in a remote Danish village stands as a metaphor for the climate suspicion and oppression which flourished in those days.

Dreyer Cover
Montage of images from The Passion of Joan of Arc reproduced on the cover of  En filminstruktørs arbejde

Many of Dreyer’s films are set in small, tightly-knit communities in rural districts. However, they do not portray an idealised world of neighbourly cosiness but demonstrate how an apparently secure web of relationships can become a trap. In Master of the House (1925), he depicts a tyrannical father’s hold over his family and its eventual subversion; on a wider scale, The Word (1955) shows the stranglehold of religious bigotry over the lives of villagers, with a strict father forbidding his daughter to marry out of their sect and a young man transformed into an eccentric ‘holy fool’ by excessive theological study. Yet there remains hope, even though in this case it requires the death of his sister-in-law Inger in childbirth to bring about the miracle which eventually transcends and dissolves the artificial boundaries which constrict their lives.

Dreyer degeneration#
‘The degeneration of family life’: the birdcage scene from Master of the House; pictures from En filminstruktørs arbejde

David Bordwell’s The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer (Berkeley, California, 1981; L.42/1194) provides a masterly study of the cinematic techniques which Dreyer employed throughout his career, culminating in his last film, Gertrud (1964). He analyses not only Dreyer’s use of the camera but his choice of plays and stories to adapt in exploration of spiritual conflict, social pressure to conform and the fate of those who defy it, and the concepts of sin and transgression (though Dreyer later disowned Two People (1945), based on a crime story and directed while he was living in exile from the Nazis in Sweden). But in his choice of Kaj Munk’s play Ordet as the source for The Word, he made common cause with a figure whose defiance of a corrupt regime, like Joan of Arc’s, cost him his life. Unsparing in his condemnation of moral compromise and hypocrisy alike, Dreyer invites his audience to explore the borderlands of the natural and the supernatural, earthly and spiritual, and to think for themselves in drawing their own conclusions.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services

Further Reading

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Fire film ... Jeanne d'Arc, Vampyr, Vredens Dag, Ordet. Udgivet med indledning af Ole Storm. (Copenhagen, 1964) X.900/560. (English translation: Four Screenplays (London, 1970) X.981/1902.)

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Om filmen. Artikler og interviews. Udgivet af Erik Ulrichsen (Copenhagen, 1964) X.908/793. (English translation: Dreyer in double reflection ed. by Donald Skoller (New York, 1973) 75/22116

Claude Perrin, Carl Th. Dreyer ... points de vue, documents, filmographie, bibliographie, chronologie, 50 illustrations (Paris, [1969])

Tom Milne, The cinema of Carl Dreyer (New York, 1971) X.900/6387.  

Maurice Drouzy, Carl Th. Dreyer, né Nilsson (Paris, 1982) X.950/26307

Edvin Kau, Dreyers filmkunst (Copenhagen, 1989). YA.1991.b.411

20 December 2017

‘Mild measures are of no use’: The Danish Church Order (1537), Doctor Pomeranus, and Henry VIII

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Henry VIII was very well-read in theology and, according to J.P. Carley, ‘for a brief time he seemed sympathetic to Martin Luther’ (Carley, p. xxviii) before reacting against reformist theology in the famous Assertio septem sacramentorum aduersus M. Lutherum (1521). A copy of the latter (Rome, 1521; G.1210) can be seen in the current ‘Martin Luther’ exhibition in the Treasures Gallery. In the Assertio, the King defends the seven sacraments against Luther’s charges.

In the same period, Christian II, King of Denmark-Norway, also reflected on Luther’s incendiary ideas and, in conversation with Erasmus, is supposed to have expressed quite a different view to Henry VIII and to Erasmus himself: ‘Mild measures are of no use; the remedies that give the whole body a good shaking are the best and surest’. It was King Christian III who eventually went on to establish Lutheranism as the state religion of Denmark-Norway in 1537 and the church order that made that process official is part of the BL’s collections.

Portrait Christian III

Woodcut portrait of Christian III in Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ… (Copenhagen, 1537), C.45.a.10(2), accompanying his introductory statement.

 Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ et Norwegia et Ducatuum, Sleswicensis, Holtsatiæ etcet. (C.45.a.10(2)) was written by Johannes Bugenhagen, the Pomeranian reformer who was greatly responsible for bringing the Protestant Reformation to Northern Germany and Scandinavia, writing many a church order along the way. This church order appeared first in this Latin version and later in Danish (1539). The present copy was presented to Henry VIII with a manuscript note by “Doctor Pommeranus”, a name referring to Bugenhagen’s birth place. The note reads, ‘Inclyto regi Anglie etc. Hērico Octavo. doctor pommeranus.’

Ordinatio TitleTitle page of Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ … with manuscript note by Bugenhagen

This volume brings together the 1537 church order with the 1538 Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ, ad Ecclesiarum Pastores, de doctrina Christiana, also translated by Bugenhagen with an identical presentation note to Henry VIII.

Instructio
 Title page Instructio Visitationis Saxonicȩ… (Roskilde, 1538) C.45.a.10(1), with the manuscript note cut off at the bottom

So it can be said that Henry VIII had a ‘continued personal engagement with [the work of] Luther’ (Carley, xxx) and, of course, with the conviction that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon was invalid, Henry VIII was increasingly open to anti-Roman Catholic ideas. Carley suggests that ‘the copy of Johannes Bugenhagen’s Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordinatio given to Henry was probably used in turn by [Thomas] Cranmer’ (Carley, li). The Pia et euere catholica is embedded as a continuation of the above church order (from f. lxvii verso).

Pia et uere catholica

Title page of Johannes Bugenhagen, Pia et uere catholica et consentiens ueteri ecclesiae ordination, C.45.a.10(2)

From the Assertio on display in the Treasures Gallery, to the Ordinatio Ecclesiastica Regnorum Daniæ …, we see represented in the early writing and the library of Henry VIII the whole transition from Catholicism to Protestantism, away from Rome to be more at home in the North (via Denmark perhaps!).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

R. Nisbet Bain, Scandinavia: a political history of Denmark, Norway and Sweden from 1513 to 1900 (Cambridge, 1905/2013) YC.2016.a.2161

J. P. Carley, The Libraries of King Henry VIII (London, 2000), 2719.k.2879

Kirkeordinansen 1537/39 [Introduction and notes from Martin Schwarz Lausten] (Odense, 1989), YA.1991.a.96

30 November 2017

‘The Gospels are as good in Danish or German as in Latin…’: the earliest Nordic vernacular Bibles

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Many factors contributed to the spread of the Reformation in the Nordic region from the 16th century onwards. The developing ‘national’ monarchies, with ever more centralized rule, gradually saw the Catholic Church as the main obstacle to the consolidation of wealth and power. This disillusionment with the Catholic Church was also of course a result of the dissemination of new Lutheran teachings, by German preachers who had moved north, by Scandinavian preachers who had been taught in Lutheran contexts, or often by Hansa merchants spreading the faith.

In the process of reforming the North, as elsewhere, vernacular translations of scripture were significant. As Bent Noack writes, ‘it is not sufficiently emphasized that the printing of vernacular texts long preceded the Reformation in many countries’ (The Cambridge History of the Bible, p. 423): there are mediaeval Danish and Swedish biblical manuscripts based on the Vulgate and, as early as 1514, Christiern Pedersen (c.1480-1554) had translated parts of the New Testament. In a preface to his 1515 translated Book of Homilies, Pedersen makes plain the richness of vernacular translations: ‘Nobody ought to think that the Gospels are more sacred in one tongue than in another: they are as good in Danish or in German as they are in Latin, if only they are rightly interpreted’. Soon after Luther’s 1522 translation of the New Testament there followed Danish (1524) and Swedish (1526) versions. So, Noack writes, these New Testaments ‘were called forth by the Reformation in Germany and served to prepare the soil for it in Scandinavia’, showing how vernacular translations preceded and then pushed forward the Reformation in the North, which was only made official by the establishment of a Lutheran State Church from 1536 (in Denmark and Sweden).

With state-sponsored Lutheranism came the means for producing complete Bible translations. The British Library holds examples of most of the earliest printed Bibles from the Nordic region. The earliest complete one was produced in Sweden. The ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’ (1541), named after the king who commissioned it, was translated by the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri and was heavily based on Luther’s translations. The German influence spread to the book’s production, style and typography, as the printer Georg Richolff of Lübeck was invited to Uppsala to print it. Richolff brought with him new type material and a range of woodblocks, including some by Lucas Cranach. In the image below, we see an elaborate architectural title frame for the New Testament and the German Fraktur type used for the title itself.

Swedish Bible title page
Title-page for the New Testament from Biblia, thet är, All then Helgha Scrifft, på Swensko (Uppsala, 1541) 1109.kk.5, the ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’

The British Library has another copy of this 1541 New Testament (1.b.3.), bound separately, which contains copious  manuscript annotations, some dated 1639, about which we know very little (below).

Swedish Bible annotated Epistles

What scholars consistently emphasise with this, and every other, early vernacular Bible is how the language and style of the translation influenced the standard modern languages and, in the case of Swedish, ‘the orthography and use of accents made its difference from Danish more distinctive’ (A History of the Book in 100 Books, p. 125). The first complete Danish Bible, known as the ‘Christian III Bible’, after the King of Denmark-Norway, was printed in 1550. The publisher of the Low German Luther edition, Ludwig Dietz, printed it in Copenhagen and the translation is generally ascribed to Christiern Pedersen, though it remains uncertain.  

Danish Bible title page

Danish Bible Christian III portrait

Danish Bible armourial bearings

Top to bottom: title page, King Christian III’s portrait and armorial bearings, from the ‘Christian III Bible’, Biblia, Det er den gantske Hellige Scrifft, vdsæt paa Danske (Copenhagen, 1550) 2.e.11

In Iceland, under the rule of Denmark at the time, book production begun with a press established by the last Roman Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, at Hólar. Noack describes the Reformation Bible as ‘its most outstanding specimen’ (Cambridge History, p. 140). It is known as the Guðbrandsbiblía (Gudbrand’s Bible), after Guðbrandur Þorláksson, the Bishop of Hólar at the time of its publication in 1584, who executed the translation and designed and engraved most of the woodcuts. A laborious project, it took 2 years to print 500 copies. Our copy is one of the 121 printed books donated to the British Museum by Joseph Banks in 1773, following an exploratory trip to south-eastern Iceland in the previous September.

Icelandic Bible title page
Titlepage (above) and note of  presentation by Joseph Banks (below) from the ‘Guðbrandsbiblía’, Biblia, þad er, Øll Heilög Ritning, vtlögd a Norrænu (Hólar, 1584), 692.i.1

Icelandic Bible presentation note Joseph Banks

Like the Swedish and Danish translations before it, the Icelandic Bible is said to have contributed enormously to the development of the modern standard language. Yet, even more emphatic is the influence of the vernacular Bible translation on the Finnish language, as it represents the first ever appearance of the language in print. Mikael Agricola (c.1510-1557) began translating Scripture following a period of study in Wittenberg and we hold a 1931 facsimile edition of his 1548 New Testament (Se Wsi Testamenti, Helsinki, 1931; 3706.cc.10). The first complete Finnish Bible dates back to 1642 and was printed in Stockholm in an edition of 1200 copies. The task of the printer, Henrik Keyser, was made more difficult by the fact that none of the compositors knew any Finnish! The BL also holds the first Finnish Bible printed in Finland itself (Turku, 1685, BL 219.h.13).

Finnish Bible Genesis
Genesis, chapter 1 (above) and an illustration of David and Goliath (below) from the first complete Bible in Finnish, Biblia, se on: Coco Pyhä Ramattu, Suomexi (Stockholm, 1642), C.108.aaa.12

Finnish Bible David and Goliath

The first New Testaments in the Greenlandic Inuit language, Testamente Nutak, (Copenhagen, 1766; 217.e.23) and in Saami , Ådde Testament, (Stockholm, 1755; 3040.a.29) can also be found in our collections.

To bring this brief survey of the earliest vernacular Bibles to a close, then, we should emphasize that these Bibles are not only the literary foundations of the Reformation but also the foundations of standard modern languages in the Nordic region. Thanks in part to the (mostly) consistent presence of a Lutheran State Church over the last four centuries, in the words of T.K. Derry, ‘the view of religion which was shaped in Germany still receives an ampler recognition in Scandinavia than in its homeland’ (A History of Scandinavia, p. 95).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

T.K. Derry, A History of Scandinavia (London, 1979), X.800/29298

S.L. Greenslade (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, 1963/1987), YC.1988.a.9888

James L. Larson, Reforming the North: the Kingdoms and Churches of Scandinavia, 1520-1545 (Cambridge, 2010), YC.2011.a.5047

Ole Peter Grell (ed.), The Scandinavian Reformation: from evangelical movement to institutionalisation of reform (Cambridge, 1995), YC.1995.b.214

Charlotte Appel & Morten Fink-Jensen (eds.), Religious Reading in the Lutheran North: Studies in Early Modern Scandinavian Book Culture (Cambridge, 2011), YC.2011.a.14186

Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad, A History of the Book in 100 Books (London, 2014),  YC.2016.b.1783

 

07 April 2017

Nature and naturalism: the short life of J. P. Jacobsen

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On 7 April 1847 Chresten Jacobsen, a merchant of Thisted in Jutland, and his wife Bente Marie welcomed their first child into the world. The boy was christened Jens Peter, but it was under his initials, as J. P. Jacobsen, that he achieved a reputation far greater than his modest literary output – two novels, seven novellas, and one posthumous volume of poetry – might suggest.

JakobsenPhoto

Portrait of Jacobsen from Niels Georg Christensen, J. P. Jacobsen (Copenhagen, 1910) 010761.de.1/4.

His education began at the age of four, when he entered the local infant school. He rapidly proved to be an apt pupil; in 1862 he passed his school certificate examination, was sent to a crammer in Copenhagen to prepare for university entrance, and passed the first part of the qualifying examination the following year. It was all the more surprising, then, that two years later he failed the second part and only received a third-class grade when he eventually passed it in 1867. His health was fragile, but a more likely reason for his failure was the growth of his creative interests; in 1867 he had founded a literary society named Agathon in honour of the Greek poet, and he was further distracted by falling in love with the actress Betty Hennings.

However, he had developed an interest in botany, and after passing a general examination in philosophy he registered to study biology in 1868. It seemed that he had found his vocation: in 1870 he was commissioned by the Danish Botanical Society to carry out a survey of the islands of Laesø and Anholt which was subsequently published in its journal (Ac.3353). He won a microscope for a research project on algae and began to publish essays on biological topics. Several of these were inspired by his growing fascination with the theories of Charles Darwin, which aroused as much controversy in Denmark as in Britain, and in 1872 he published his Danish translation of The Origin of Species, followed in 1874 by The Ascent of Man.

JacobsenDarwinTranslation7003.aaa.12Illustration from Jacobsen’s translation of The Ascent of Man (Copenhagen, 1874-75) 7003.aaa.12.

At the same time he was at work on a dissertation on algae which was awarded a gold medal by the University of Copenhagen in 1873, the year when, on 25 June, he embarked on his first trip abroad, planning to set out from Lübeck and travel through Prague, Vienna and Munich to Italy. Four months later, though, he was back at his parents’ home in Thisted, convalescing after a serious lung haemorrhage, a symptom of the tuberculosis which would eventually kill him.

 

JacobsenBiographyGeorgChristensen

Title-page of Niels Georg Christensen’s biography J. P. Jacobsen (Copenhagen, 1910) 010761.de.1/4.

 

It is possible that overwork was a factor in weakening his health: while involved in this ambitious programme of research and translation Jacobsen had been steadily devoting himself to writing of a different kind. As early as 1868 he had submitted a cycle of poems to the publishing-house of Gyldendal but had met with rejection both then and when he sent his poetry to the famous critic Georg Brandes. Turning to prose, he fared better, publishing his novella Mogens in 1872, which encouraged him to begin work on his first novel, Fru Marie Grubbe (1876). Based on the true story of a 17th-century Danish noblewoman who, after a notorious career involving two marriages and two divorces, finally achieves happiness as the wife of a ferryman, the novel was finally published in December 1876 and was unusual for the frankness with which it depicted the heroine as an independent and strong-willed woman with vigorous erotic desires – her red-blooded nature in marked contrast to the author’s failing health which broke down again in 1875.

Jacobsen Grubbe 12581.t.1
Illustration from an edition of Fru Marie Grubbe (Copenhagen, 1909) 12581.t.1.

Jacobsen had already begun work on another novel, Niels Lyhne, in 1874, completing it in December 1880. The novel and his disease progressed in parallel, and a stay in Montreux in 1877 failed to prevent yet another haemorrhage; perhaps it was no coincidence that the novel’s hero, enlisting in the army as a volunteer after a life of disillusionment, dies of a bullet wound in his right lung. It was this novel which would exert a profound influence on Rainer Maria Rilke, who learnt Danish in order to read both Jacobsen’s fiction and his scientific works in the original. It was also a favourite with Sigmund Freud, who wrote in 1895 that Niels Lyhne had moved him more deeply than any other book which he had read in the last ten years. Thomas Mann, too, claimed in 1904 that Scandinavian literature, and especially Jacobsen, had shaped his work far more than his reading of French authors. Yet in Denmark Jacobsen may be viewed as the equivalent of Zola in his pioneering of Naturalism, not surprising in view of his scientific training and capacity for unsparing observation. He brings this to bear as mercilessly on man’s spiritual condition as on the natural world, typified by his portrayal of the crisis which confirms Lyhne’s atheism, a view which Jacobsen himself shared.

Although both T. E. and D. H. Lawrence held Jacobsen’s work in high regard, English-speaking readers may know him as a source of inspiration for composers including Delius and Schoenberg. Frederick Delius’s opera Fennimore and Gerda (1919; G.1044.(3.)) is based on Niels Lyhne and takes its title from two of the women in the hero’s life – the consul’s daughter who marries Niels’s cousin Erik, is seduced by Niels and rejects him after Erik’s death in an accident, launching him on years of wandering, and the gentle Gerda whom he marries, only to lose her and their infant son. Arnold Schoenberg’s cantata Gurre-Lieder (1910; I.558.c.) similarly deals with a triangle of doomed love – this time between King Waldemar, the beautiful Tove, and the jealous Queen Helvig who orders her murder – and sets German translations of poems by Jacobsen recounting this legend from Danish history.

Jacobsen died at Thisted on 30 May 1885. He left no descendants and a comparatively modest literary output, but his legacy as the founder of Danish Naturalism and part of the ‘Modern Breakthrough’ in his country’s literature was of incalculable value.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

02 February 2017

The art of wrecking a friendship 2: Henrik Pontoppidan, L. A. Ring and Nattevagt

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Over a century ago there lived a famous author who, inspired by his strong social conscience, embarked on a series of novels in which he depicted in vivid and unsparing detail the conditions of his times. Among his friends he numbered a painter who shared his revolutionary ideals and his concern for social justice. However, he was unwise enough to use this friend as a model for an unflattering character in a novel about the artistic life, and the latter, deeply hurt and offended by this betrayal, ended their friendship with no further explanation.

At this point our readers may be suspecting that inspiration is running short and they are about to read a recycled version of an earlier post. However, a very similar drama was played out just a few years after Cézanne’s rupture with Zola in 1886. This time the year was 1894 and the place was Denmark.

The novel in question was Nattevagt (‘The Night Watch’, 1894; 012581.aaa.73), the work of Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943), of whom we shall hear more this year, as in 1917 he was to share the Nobel Prize in Literature with Karl Gjellerup. However, in the earlier part of his career he concentrated on pithy short stories set in the Danish countryside; they recall Maupassant’s mordant sketches of the avaricious and crafty Norman peasantry in their refusal to idealize rural life. These culminated in a collection named Skyer (‘Clouds’, 1890; 012581.e.23), a searing attack on the oppression of Denmark by the Conservatives and the apathy with which many Danes greeted it. The following year he began a series of three novels portraying Denmark in the era of the constitutional struggle between Conservatives and Liberals, the growth of industrialization, cultural conflict and the rise of revolutionary movements: Det forjættede Land (‘The Promised Land’, 1891–95; 12582.b.40), Lykke-Per (‘Lucky Per’,1898–1904; 012581.dd.8.), and De dødes Rige (‘The Realm of the Dead’, 1912–16; 012582.cc.35.). In writing these he made a deliberate break with his privileged family background and its clerical tradition; he himself had taught in an elementary school before turning to journalism and literature.

HenrikPontoppidanPortrait011853s46

 Portrait of Henrik Pontoppidan from Vilhelm Andersen, Henrik Pontoppidan: et nydansk forfatterskab (Copenhagen, 1937) 011853.s.46

His friend, the artist L. A. Ring (1854-1933), had also grown up in the country, though in less prosperous circumstances. While Pontoppidan’s father had been a pastor, Ring’s was a wheelwright and carpenter. Originally known as Laurits Andersen, he renamed himself after his native village of Ring in Zealand in 1881. While living and working in Copenhagen Ring’s opposition to the repressive conservatism of the 1880s led him to join a student rifle corps and also to paint not only landscapes but scenes of rural poverty, industrialization and backbreaking labour, as in his studies of a railway guard (1884) and workers in the Ladby tile factory (1892).

Ring Tile factory

 I Teglværket. Ladby Teglværk (1892) from Cai Mogens Woel, L. A. Ring. Et Levnedsrids (Copenhagen, 1937) 7813.ee.6/2.

In Pontoppidan’s novel we meet two members of the Scandinavian artists’ colony in Rome, ‘Red’ Jørgen Hallager, so called because of his politics as well as the colour of his hair and beard, and his friend Thorkild Drehling. At first the latter slavishly imitates Hallager’s paintings of industrial subjects, as when Hallager’s portrayal of a worn-out labourer buried under a fall of marl and crying in vain for help (‘A Martyr’) inspires Drehling the following year to create a pastel drawing, ‘The Last Comforter’: ‘There was no difference except that in this one there was a poor woman who, in the middle of a bleak, comfortless landscape, had sunk down under the weight of a heavy burden of kindling, while out on the horizon, [instead of Jørgen’s] elegant carriage with a liveried coachman and footmen, there could be seen a misty, indistinct figure representing Death…’ No-one familiar with Ring’s work could fail to catch the allusion to his painting Evening: The old woman and death (1887).

Ring Evening

 Aften. Den gamle kone og døden, 1887, from Peter Hertz: Maleren L. A. Ring (Copenhagen, 1934; 7862.v.21.)

Later in the story there is a confrontation between Drehling and Hallager, who accuses him of pandering to popular taste and creating ‘chocolate-box’ art in his new works whose ‘riot of colour must surprise anyone who was accustomed to see Drehling as a faithful imitator of Hallager’s powerful but strictly restrained way of painting’, with an even more startling choice of subjects: ‘fantasies, dream pictures, strange and mysterious sights’ culminating in a large painting of the legend of the merman gazing wistfully from the sea to the church where his earthly bride Agnete sits.

However, it was not the depiction of Drehling as a failed revolutionary and exponent of the ‘lyricism’ despised by Hallager which wounded Ring. In the novel Drehling falls in love with Ursula Branth, the only child of a wealthy state counsellor and connoisseur, but before he can summon the courage to declare himself, Hallager claims her in marriage despite her father’s misgivings. Hallager’s fanatical political views lead to a scene at the Scandinavian artists’ gathering and a growing distance between the couple which culminates in Ursula’s sudden death from a cerebral aneurysm. For many years Ring had been in love with Johanne Wilde, the wife of his friend Alexander Wilde, an amateur painter. As he approached forty, realizing that the relationship could never develop further, he broke with the Wildes and travelled to Italy on a study grant in 1893.

When Nattvagt appeared the following year, Ring was alarmed by the possibility that it could be read as an allusion to his hopeless love for Johanne. This would not only have created a scandal but jeopardized his growing attachment to Sigrid Kähler, a painter half his age, whom he married in 1896. Despite the age gap, the marriage was a happy one, producing three children and enduring until Sigrid’s death in 1923. Sadly, however, the relationship between Pontoppidan and Ring was irreparably damaged; Pontoppidan gained the Nobel Prize, but forfeited forever the regard of his former friend.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Services

10 May 2016

Stamina! Stamina!

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For the European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event we are posting brief Q&A’s with the featured authors. First up is Dorthe Nors from Denmark, whose works Karate Chop & Minna Needs Rehearsal Space are published by Pushkin Press

ELN Nors Dorthe 2008_1  Foto Simon Klein Knudsen copy_redux
Dorthe Nors (photo by Simon Klein Knudsen)

How did you become a writer?

I learned the alphabet, I started writing, I kept on writing (and reading, I read a lot) and then I wrote some more. One day I sent a novel to a publisher who loved my writing and published my book. That is how I became a writer.

Do you have a favourite character in your fiction? If so, who? And if not, why not?

Nah, you love the characters you work with in different ways. If I should choose a small favourite it would be the little girl in the story The Wadden Sea.

You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire?

When I was a kid I loved Charles Dickens (still do), then came the Jane Austen years (I still read her when I get the 'flu). I also really love C.S. Lewis - and Dylan Thomas, love Dylan Thomas.

Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?

It’s a matter of choosing openness. Being friendly to what is culturally different to yourself is a decision you can make. The very openness you need in order to read a book should be transformed to the very meeting between people. We have in The Western World, I feel, become dangerously afraid of otherness.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?

Tarjei VesaasThe Birds – an amazing Norwegian novel about a sister and brother (and life and death and love and stuff).

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Keep it up. Don't let go. STAMINA, STAMINA!

What are you reading now?

I just finished Dutch writer Jaap Robben’s You Got Me to Love - great book, and now I'm going to read Max Porter: Grief Is the Thing With Feathers. Porter and I will perform together in New York later this summer. Can't wait to read his book.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?
Nope!

 ELN Dorthe Nors Karate chop