Denmark Literature in the 20th Century

By | January 10, 2022

According to collegesanduniversitiesinusa, the first struggles of the rural and urban proletariat were highlighted by M. Andersen-Nexø in the novel Pelle erobreren (“Pelle the conqueror”, 1906-10). Echoes of Italian futurism (presented, together with other avant-gardes, in the Klingen magazine “La Lama”, 1917-21) ignited a brief burst of ‘futurist’ poetry. After the First World War, new ferments coexist with old nostalgia. J. Paludan exalted the values ​​of the past in vigorous novels, P. Lange exorcised chaos with lyrics of extreme formal rigor, but the search for alternative values ​​and new forms of expression, borrowed from German expressionism, was dominant. Representative figure was T. Kristensen, which gives voice to the restlessness of a generation in lyrics, essays and novels. A deeper anguish appears in the lyrics of N. Petersen, author of the historical novel Sandalmagerens gade (“The alley of the sandalai”, 1931). American fiction of the 1920s inspired K. Sønderby to present the life of the Danish youth of the ‘jazz time’.

More critical of society was a group of radical writers linked to Kritisk revy (“Critical Review” 1926-28), open to the solicitations of Marxism, psychoanalysis, functionalism and cubism: among them we remember H. Kirk who started with Fiskerne (“The fishermen”, 1918) a successful series of ‘collective novels’. A stranger to the cultural debate, the writer K. Blixen also presented her fantastic tales in Denmark, which will only find full acceptance in the changed atmosphere of the 1950s. In the theater, except for an isolated attempt at expressionist drama by S. Borberg can speak of renewal until the 1930s, when burning issues were proposed by talented playwrights such as K. Munk, CEM Soya and K. Abell.

Isolated during the years of the German occupation, the Denmark then eagerly opened up to Europe and America. The existentialism of J.-P. Sartre had a particular impact and new stimuli came to opera from TS Eliot, WH Auden and by contemporary Swedish poets. An aesthetic-religious renaissance was proposed by poets and critics in the magazine Heretica (1948-53). Existential themes, and no longer just psychological or social, give depth to HC Branner’s narrative and dramas. Kirk, Scherfig and, albeit to a lesser extent, Heinesen remained faithful to their political commitment; social protest, maximum in the works of E. Knudsen, is underlying the lyrics of I. Malinowski, ‘poet of nihilism’. At the end of the 1950s, there was a need for a direct confrontation with the welfare society and its language, without elitism. Thus a new neo-radical ‘modernism’ arose around the magazine Vindrosen (“The wind rose” 1959-73), which was a training ground for abstract polemics and spokesperson for the theater of the absurd, the nouveau roman and the beat culture: figures of prominent, K. Rifbjerg, prolific and ever-changing experimenter in lyric as well as in fiction, and W. Sørensen, essayist and creator of ironic ‘strange’ fantastic stories. A more immediate image of the illusory certainties and secret anxieties of the welfare society appears in the novels and successful television dramas of L. Panduro and in the ‘neorealist’ fiction of A. Bødelsen and C. Kampmann.

In the 1960s, H. Nordbrandt took up the tradition of European decadence with poetic intensity and a commitment to renewal. At the same time, in the name of a ‘cultural relativism’ and in the wake of the linguistic theories of L. Wittgenstein, a ‘third modernistic phase’, aimed at creating, by means of a linguistic elaboration, ‘models of reality’: with different, personal strategies, I. Christensen, P. Højholt and S. TO. Madsen. In the years of protest, every modernism was put under fire, in the name of a democratization of culture. Among the confused attempts to create new forms of expression, documentarism emerged, a more or less tendentious collage of documents but also compelling news, historical fiction and biography. Notable contribution to fiction came from the new women’s literature: Denmark Willumsen, K. Thorup, C. Strandgaard and B. Clod, unlike writers of previous generations such as K. Michaelis and T. Ditlevsen, have faced the problems of daily life in work, family and relationships with a new faith in female values. Political and social commitment prevails in T. Mørch and M. Larsen, while V. Andersen and S. Brøgger tend, with their confessions, to remove the last barriers between public and private. The only one to oppose with ruthlessness the rampant search for the specific female was the writer E. Gress. Also controversial is HJ Nielsen, who in the successful novel Fodbold Engel (“The Angel of Football”, 1979) tackled similar problems from a male point of view.

In the 1980s, poetry once again became the ‘only possible value’ for a group of young people who, although inspired by B. Dylan and Denmark Bowie no less than Eliot, Baudelaire and surrealist poetry, undertake a reworking of language: in addition to M. Strunge, SU Thomsen and B. Gren Jensen, also narrator and critic, should be remembered. More refined and praised are the ‘feminine’ lyrics by P. Tafdrup and J. Preisler. Among the narrators, P. Hultberg stood out, in particular with Requiem (1985), JC Hansen and I. Michael with the novels Troubadurens lærling (“The disciple of the troubadour”, 1985) and Kilroy Kilroy (1989). Starting from the last decades of the 20th century. P. Høeg, who published highly commercially successful novels, was particularly noteworthy, creating ever new styles and atmospheres.

Denmark Literature in the 20th Century