Georg Brandes (1842–1927)

Poul Houe

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Abstract

A native of Denmark, Georg Brandes was the most prominent and controversial critic of Danish literature and culture during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The gifted and worldly young Brandes refused to acquiesce to the unholy alliance of the homely (Biedermeier) version of late Romantic idealism, a watered-down Christian orthodoxy, and the political resignation of the Danish cultural elites after their nation's cession of its southern provinces to Germany in 1864. An empathetic student of Danish Romantic literature and so-called golden age culture, Brandes nevertheless spearheaded a modern breakthrough in Danish letters, intended to bring his nation up to date with European modernity. Although his efforts as a gadfly on the national scene were temperamental, spectacular and untiring, they were only moderately successful. Resistance from the prevailing political, religious and cultural powers was fierce and rendered Brandes a persona non grata in establishment circles for decades. His call for progress was largely muted and, despondent about his cultural impact, he gradually abandoned his hopes for a broad revival of citoyen virtues and retreated instead to the hero-worshipping of great individuals. On the other hand, the small number of Brandes’s followers and victories in the Danish culture wars of the 1870s and 1880s belies his actual significance. Over time, his radical positions and critical alertness did meet with greater, if never unanimous, approval. But more importantly, his front-line struggles were admired by such luminaries as Norway’s Henrik Ibsen and Sweden’s August Strindberg. For all the discomfort stirred by Brandes nationally, his voice was heard throughout Scandinavia, and his criticism made an enduring impression on a memorable array of Scandinavia’s best authors. Never before or since have the literatures of the Nordic countries been in such close and lively contact with one another.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of Literary Criticism
Subtitle of host publicationThe Nineteenth Century, c. 1830-1914
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages464-478
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781139018456
ISBN (Print)9780521300117
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2008

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