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.