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.
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.
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.