Lars Boje Mortensen
Medieval European literature is both broader and deeper in its basis than what is usually offered in literary histories with their focus only on a narrow canon and on vernacular languages. One way to see this bigger canvas is to consider technical and statistical book-historical factors together with the authority of the two Roman Empires (Western and Eastern) and of their religious hierarchies (the papacy and the patriarchate). A coordinated reading of developments in the Latin West and the Greek East—though rarely directly related—brings out some main features of intellectual and literary life in most of Europe. With this focus, a literary chronology emerges—as a supplement to existing narratives based on either national or formal (genre) concerns: the period c. 600 to c. 1450 can be considered a unity in book-historical terms, namely the era dominated the hand-written codex. It is also delimited by the fate of the Roman Empire with the Latin West effectively separated from the Greek Empire by c. 600 and the end of Constantinople in 1453. Within this broad framework, three distinctive phases of book- and intellectual history can be discerned: the exegetical (c. 600–c. 1050), the experimental (c. 1050–c. 1300), and the critical (c. 1300–c. 1450). These three headings should be understood as a shorthand for what was new in each phase, not as a general characteristic, especially because exegesis in various forms continued to lie at the heart of reading and writing books in all relevant languages.
Tuija Laine and Kirsti Salmi-Niklander
Vernacular literacy began in Finland with the Reformation. Michael Agricola, the first Finnish reformer, studied in Wittenberg, and, after returning to Finland, translated the first books into Finnish. The books were originally intended for priests, but in the middle of the 17th century a literacy campaign was conducted throughout the Swedish realm, one that was quite effective in expanding the reading audience. A number of bishops in the diocese of Turku were also active in writing basic religious material for the common people, including primers, catechisms, and hymnals. The church also examined its parishioners’ reading skills. People could not acquire the status of godparent, attend the Eucharist, or marry without proper reading skills and a knowledge of basic Christian doctrine. In the first phase of the campaign, reading was only learning by rote, but by the last decades of the 17th century bishops and priests were emphasizing the importance of reading from books and understanding their content. Literacy progressed further in the 18th century, and literature published in Finnish became more varied.
During the 19th century, Finland’s literacy rate continued to rise gradually. For the vast majority of the rural population, however, “literacy” meant only the very basic reading skills required and examined by the Lutheran Church. The statute for primary schools was laid down in 1866, but the law on compulsory primary education was not enacted until 1921. The Russian government began to promote the Finnish language in the 1860s. The consequent growth of Finnish-language literature and the expansion of the press allowed for reading by large segments of the population. The popular movements established during the final decades of the 19th century (the temperance movement, agrarian youth movement, and labor movement, for example) provided further opportunities for literary training. Among the lower classes in rural Finland, many self-educated writers submitted manuscripts to the Finnish Literature Society and sent news of their home parishes to newspapers. Some of them became professional writers or journalists.
Prose fiction, poetry, and essays were integral parts of the Danish and Norwegian periodical press from its early modern beginnings to the rise of the modern news media. They range from the 17th-century versified newspaper Den danske Mercurius (The Danish Mercury), to the fables, poems, essays, and stories of 18th-century newspapers and spectator journals, to Henrik Ibsen’s plays and the serial novels of the 19th century.
The print markets in Denmark and Norway were closely integrated due to the union of the two states until 1814. They remained so during Norway’s union with Sweden 1814–1905, with major publishing houses for Norwegian authors still in Copenhagen until 1925. Danish remained the basis for the primary written language in Norway for most of the 1800s, partly due to the proximity of the two languages. While there was an increased call for more Scandinavian and Swedish–Norwegian collaboration after 1814, the Swedish-Finnish print market remained largely separate from the Dano-Norwegian. While newspapers and journals were local or national publications, their fiction reflected the book market and the Dano-Norwegian literary discourse.
The periodical press served as an important arena for new writers, by offering them a large audience and allowing for experimentation with form and content. Furthermore, the periodical form and the publication context of news pieces informed how fiction was written and read.
The genre of the sketch, a traveling journalist’s highly subjective and literary report, exemplifies the blurred lines between fact and fiction. Maurits Hansen, Camilla Collett, and Knut Hamsun were among its Norwegian practitioners; Holger Drachmann and Herman Bang notable Danish ones. Simultaneously, they were all renowned novelist and poets, both inside and outside the press, with some works reflecting the crime stories and exotic tales of the paper columns. Hans Christian Andersen, by contrast, applied the traditional genre of allegory to comment on topical events in the 1850s by producing fairy tales for the press. Ibsen claimed newspapers to be his favorite reading material. While building his career, periodicals served as important publication channels both at home and abroad. They informed his later plays, increasingly concerned with events and issues of his time.
By the mid-19th century, there was a growing movement to introduce a written
Norwegian language more in line with the spoken word. Ivar Aasen (1813–1896) introduced Landsmål (New Norwegian language) in 1853, based on dialects. To prove its applicability, the journalist A. O. Vinje published poems and stories, alongside witty essayistic prose, in his weekly Dølen (The man from the valley; 1858–1870). The author Arne Garborg followed suit in the newspaper Fedraheimen (Fatherland; 1877–1883), publishing both his own fiction and essays as well as translated novels. Newspapers thus became seminal in shaping a new written language and its literature.
The press enabled a speedy introduction of foreign literature and new genres, circulating as part of an international print market. In the 18th century, the Dano-Norwegian press featured literary texts by François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Christian Fürchtegott Gellert, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Carl von Linnaeus, Saadi, Joseph Addison, and Oliver Goldsmith. The first feuilleton novel in Denmark was Eugène Sue’s The Mysteries of Paris (Les Mystères de Paris), printed from July 1842 in Dagen (The day), while the novel was still under publication in France. In Norway, the first novel came hot off the British press in 1844: Arabella Stuart in Den Norske Rigstidende (The Norwegian national newspaper). The novel by G. P. R. James was typical of the taste for gothic and mystery tales set in historic times that were to fill the feuilleton section at the bottom of the page (termed “the cellar”). Female writers are notably present from the beginning and reached a wider audience than ever before, thanks to serial literature. Often writing under pseudonyms, Scandinavian women entered positions as novelists, journalists, editors, and translators for newspapers and journals. Among the favorite translated authors were George Sand, George Eliot, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, who became household names for newspaper readers. Jane Austen was tellingly introduced in Norway by way of a newspaper serial: Persuasion (called Familien Elliot) in Morgenbladet (The morning paper) 1872–1873.
The Swedish book business began as a poorly developed market with serious economic, social, and infrastructural issues, but transformed over the course of two centuries into a well-functioning, albeit small, market with strong international ties. The 19th-century book market was hampered by poor infrastructure and underdeveloped publishing and book sales. Technological innovations in printing techniques and the new wood-based pulps for paper, in combination with better infrastructure, improved matters. The book business was increasingly professionalized at every stage, and by the turn of the 20th century could fairly be described as industrial and modernized. Access to forestry (and hence inexpensive pulp), inexpensive hydroelectric power, and strong industrial growth have been important factors in the advances in the Swedish book trade: they contributed to making printing cheaper and faster and thus paved the way for the low-priced books that were to dominate the business throughout the two centuries. Regardless of the era or the ideologies and purposes involved, cheap books have always driven the industry and have also been one of the most important factors in breaking down the social and cultural barriers to reading.
Developments in Sweden’s book trade generally followed the same course as socioeconomic history, with the notable exception that Sweden’s book trade has always been more liberal and commercial than other forms of trade and industry. The book market was regulated through trade agreements between 1843 and 1970. These created a stable, but strictly controlled, market. A deregulation of the trade in 1970 saw the pendulum swing far back. In comparison with other Western European countries since 1970, Sweden has had fewer restrictions and regulations and thus a highly commercial and price-conscious market.
A further notable aspect of the Swedish book trade is that despite the smallness of the country in terms of population and language, exports and imports have been far larger than most comparable countries. The international ties in terms of business-to-business relations, translations, and foreign rights sales remain strong, with the Swedish book trade very dependent on the international trade.
Peter Uwe Hohendahl
As early as 1916, Carl Schmitt underscored the centrality of myth and religion in his analysis of the expressionist Theodor Däubler. He celebrated Däubler as a Christian poet and radical critic of modernity. This critique of modernity was then articulated in more systematic terms his 1919 essay Political Romanticism, which opposed the Romantic approach to life and art as ironic escapism and relativism. During the 1920s and 1930s, a personal search for new ground led Schmitt to the Catholic author Konrad Weiss, and subsequently to Herman Melville’s story Benito Cereno as a private allegory of Carl Schmitt as persecuted intellectual. His late literary criticism focused on William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. His interpretation emphasizes the tragic nature of the play, explicitly taking issue with Walter Benjamin’s reading of Hamlet as a Christian Trauerspiel (mourning play). For Schmitt, the central issue is the presence of contemporary history as a force that deeply impacts the drama. This argument is directed against the notion of play and the idea of aesthetic autonomy. Instead, for Schmitt, the older concept of representation defines the place and relevance of art and the aesthetic within a broader cultural and religious configuration.
Robert W. Rix
From the 1750s until the 1840s, the interest in Icelandic manuscripts of mythology and heroic sagas, as well as various forms of Nordic folklore, entered a new phase. One of the central reasons for this was an emergent attention to vernacular, national, and even primitive literature associated with the rise of Romanticism. Investigations of the Nordic past had been carried out before this time, and a popular craze for all things “Viking” came later in the 19th century, but the Romantic period marks a major juncture in relation to providing the Old North with cultural meaning. If the intellectual history of rediscovering Old Norse texts (i.e., poetry and prose written in the North Germanic language until the 14th century, known primarily from Icelandic manuscripts) and medieval Nordic folklore (found in medieval ballads, sagas, and heroic legends) differed in various European countries, there was also a remarkable sense of common aim and purpose in the reception history as it developed during the Romantic period. This was because European scholars and writers had come to see medieval Nordic texts as epitomizing the manners and literature of a common Germanic past. In particular, Old Norse texts from Icelandic manuscripts were believed to preserve the pre-Christian religion, as this was once shared by Scandinavians, Anglo-Saxons, Germans, and the Franks. Thus, interest in such texts circulated with particular intensity between Scandinavia, Germany, and Britain, as well as, to a lesser degree, France. Paradoxically, if medieval Nordic texts were seen as wild and unwieldy pieces, unaffected by classical learning and sophistication, they were also sought out as triumphant records of the vernacular and national. In addition to this, the untamed use of fantastic and sublime elements in these texts fitted into a new Romantic emphasis on the primitive and imaginative resources of literature.
There are three interrelated areas in which Nordic texts made an impact. The first of these was in the field of antiquarian studies. Scholars had taken an interest in the texts and culture of the Nordic past beginning in the 17th century, publishing their findings primarily in Latin. But efforts were redoubled after Paul Henri Mallet, a professor at Copenhagen, published a popular history of the Old North (1755) and a selection of Norse poetry (1756) in French. These works gained wide European traction and influenced the reception history in fundamental ways during the Romantic period. The second area of impact was the acceleration of translations and/or adaptations of original manuscript texts that began to appear in modern European languages. But, in effect, a relatively small body of texts were repeated and reworked in various national languages. The third area in which the interest in Nordic literature asserted its impact was among writers and poets, who trawled antiquarian works on Norse history and mythology as an ore to be mined for the purpose of creating—or rather reviving—a national literature. This was a literature that consciously broke with classical models and decorum to provide a new poetic orientation that was both more vernacular and imaginative.
The celebration of medieval Nordic literature cannot be treated in isolation, as if it were an independent phenomenon; it was part of a wider revival of ancient national/vernacular literary forms around Europe. To a significant degree, the attention to Old Norse texts was propelled by the phenomenal success that the Gaelic Ossian poetry enjoyed across Europe. Norse poetry was harnessed as a Germanic parallel that could match both the vigor and purported ancientness of the Ossian tradition. Sometimes the Nordic past was invoked as a larger legacy that represented a shared ethno-cultural past; at other times, it was used with a more focused nationalist aim. But, whatever the intent in individual circumstances, the rediscovery of the Old North took place through the circulation of ideas and key texts as part of a wider European exchange.