Denmark Losing much of its political importance in Europe in the early 19th century, Denmark experienced an upsurge in national awareness and a flowering of the arts, resulting in what is sometimes referred to as the Danish Golden Age. The Danish novel first arose in this context of vigorous artistic activity. Associated primarily with the middle and upper classes, the novel of the Golden Age is narrowly focused on Copenhagen society and displays a far greater interest in psychological analysis than in social realism or political engagement.
Denmark's close cultural connections with Germany ensured the dominant influence of such romantic writers as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Joseph von Eichendorff, and E.T.A Hoffmann, which explains why the early Danish novel had little or no concern for realism. The popularity of Walter Scott's historical novels did little to counter that general tendency. However, in conjunction with the rise of Danish nationalism, the vogue for Scott's work did produce a spate of historical novels.
Johannes Carsten Hauch, a dramatist and poet, wrote several ambitious historical novels that generally fall far short of their aspirations. The best known is Vilhelm Zabern (1834), a novel about the 16th-century Danish King Christian II. Evincing an eclectic imagination, his other novels take as their subjects the French Revolution, the invention of the steamboat, and the development of capitalism. Bernhard Severin Ingemann was a more accomplished novelist and won a lasting popularity as "the Danish Walter Scott." His first work was a highly derivative novel in verse, Varners poetiske Vandringer (1813; Varner's Poetic Wanderings), based on Goethe's Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (1774; The Sufferings of Young Werther) and Ludwig Tieck's Franz Sternbalds Wanderungen (1798; Franz Sternbald's Travels). His four novels about the Middle Ages--- Valdemar Seir (1826; Waldemar, surnamed Seir or the Victorious), Erik Menveds Barndom (1828; The Childhood of Erik Menved ), Kung Erik og de Fredlose (1826; King Erik and the Outlaws ), and Prins Otto of Denmark (1835; Prince Otto of Denmark) ---became common reading property in all cultured Danish homes. The strength of these novels lies in their detailed settings, their weakness in the characters' rather simple psychology. A third voice in the historical novel belonged to Carl Bernhard, pseudonym of Andreas Nicolai de Saint Aubain, whose short and polished novels were modeled on Prosper Mérimée's Chronique du Regne de Charles IX (1829; Chronicle of the Reign of Charles IX). Bernhard's Kroniker fra Christians IIs Tid (1847; Chronicles from the Age of Christian II) and Kroniker fra Erik af Pommerns' Tid (1850; Chronicles from the Age of Erik of Pomerania) won great popularity for their crystalline style and sense of drama.
Ingemann's Varner was not the only verse novel published in Denmark. Christian Winther's very popular historical novel Hjortens Flugt (1855; The Flight of the Stag) is written in the strophic form of the German Nibelungenlied . Fredrik Paludan-Müller also wrote in verse, employing the strophic form of Byron's Don Juan in his Adam Homo (1841, 1848) to brilliant effect.
The strong romantic and idealistic inclinations of these writers also characterize the work of Poul Martin Molller, Steen Steensen Blicher, and Carl Bagger, but tempered by more realistic elements. Moller is remembered for the unfinished novel En dansk Students Eventyr (1845; A Danish Student's Adventures). The absence of a clear plot in the four completed chapters is made up for by the careful characterization of persons and locales. Reminiscent of Eichendorff's Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts (1826; From the Life of a Ne'er-Do-Well), En dansk Students Eventyr is often classified as protorealist for its focus on everyday life. Blicher espoused an idiosyncratic regionalism, depicting life in distant and wild Jutland in the crushingly pessimistic stories of Traekfuglene (1838; The Birds of Passage), which stand out for their use of the Jutland dialect. Carl Bagger's reputation also rests on a single work, Min Broders Levned (1835; My Brother's Life), in which the "good" brother, the pastor Johannes, tells the story of his frivolous sibling Arthur. The two characters appear to express different aspects of Bagger's own tormented and unstable self.
As early as the 1830s, a different, more realistic, sensibility had announced itself in Danish fiction. This so-called poetic realism displayed a stronger realist bent, a concern for social issues, and a greater interest in formal considerations. For instance, the novels of Hans Christian Andersen---now forgotten outside Denmark but once very popular in Germany and England---are divided between quasi-autobiographical explorations and attacks on social injustice. The protagonists of Improvisatoren (1835; The Improvisatore), O.T . (1836; O.T .), and Kun en Spillemand (1837; Only a Fiddler ) reflect Andersen's own hopes and self-doubts. De to Baronesser (1848; The Two Baronesses ) is a tightly constructed book about social injustice and the nobility of the spirit, while At voere eller ikke voere (1857; To Be or Not To Be ?) expresses Andersen's philo-Semitism and his quite unorthodox Christianity. Lykke Peer (1870; Lucky Peer ) returns to Andersen's dreams of artistic success.
Thomasine Gyllembourg was Denmark's first woman writer. Her Familien Polonius (1827; The Polonius Family) and En Hverdags-Historie (1828; An Everyday Story) deal with problems of love and marriage, looking forward to the social discussions of the 1880s. To Tidsaldre (1845; Two Ages) is a more ambitious work contrasting the revolutionary spirit of the 1790s with the bourgeois concerns of the 1830s. Gyllembourg was much admired in her time for her wit and the complex structures of her novels and today enjoys a renaissance as a pioneer woman writer.
Looking to such models as Honoré de Balzac and Eugène Sue, Meir Aron Goldschmidt began his creative career with En Jode (1845; A Jew ), which dissects various aspects of anti-Semitism and earned him the enmity of Copenhagen's Jewish community. His subsequent work, Hjemlos (1853-57; Homeless), Arvingen (1863; The Heir), and Ravnen (1867; The Raven), tackled the subject more obliquely. Ravnen has been praised for its depiction of the last years of the reign of Christian VIII (1839-48), the Slesvig Wars (1848-50), and the end of Danish absolutism.
The capstone of the pyschological literature of the Golden Age is Hans Egede Schack's Phantasterne (1857; The Phantasists), which analyzes the empty formalism of Danish government and the lazy dreaminess that is widely thought to be a trait of the Danish national character. One of Phantasterne's dreamers ends his days in a madhouse, while the other manages to retain his sanity only by overcompensating in the direction of an equally extreme objectivity. The novel is remarkable for its destruction of romantic attitudes toward life, its political commentaries, and for its depiction of sexual fantasies.
The Golden Age came to an end with Denmark's ignominious defeat in an armed confrontation with Prussia and Austria over the duchies of Slesvig and Holstein in 1864. Losing territory, Denmark suffered an immense sense of loss that also made itself felt in literature. Several established writers tried to confront the tragedy, but the most popular postwar author, Vilhelm Bergsoe, owed his success to his evasion of the issue. His Fra Piazza del Popolo (1867; From the Piazza del Popolo) is a compendium of seven long novellas told by members of the Danish artists' colony in Rome as they wait for the release of a colleague kidnapped by brigands. The characters, some of whom move from story to story, come from a large range of social levels and national backgrounds--- British lords and ladies, Byronic Danish students, Italian putane and thieves. Fra Piazza del Popolo , retrospective and romanticizing, is a last product of the Golden Age, whose literature, however fascinating in its refinement, is socially narrow. In fact, Bergsoe's Fra den gamle Fabrik (1869; From the Old Factory), a fictionalized account of his own childhood, features one of the first appearances of factory life in the Danish novel, albeit from the perspective of the director's son.
Denmark emerged from the trauma of the 1860s with a strong economy, experiencing a rapid industrialization that transformed the small and cozy capital into a modern metropolis. In literature, the critic Georg Brandes led the so-called modern breakthrough, a shift away from the inward-looking and hyperaesthetic writing of the Golden Age. In amazingly short order, Brandes succeeded in changing the tone of Scandinavian letters from cultural idealism to a realism that no longer ignored social problems and biological factors. In Hovedstromninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur (1872-90; Main Currents in 19th Century Literature ), Brandes shows himself fully cognizant of the work of Gustave Flaubert and Émile Zola in France and George Eliot and George Meredith in England, as well as the writings of Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Hippolyte Taine, Auguste Comte, and Ernest Renan. Brandes also did much to spread the reputation of the new Norwegian dramatists, Henrik Ibsen and Bjornstjerne Bjornson, both in Scandinavia and abroad.
Jens Peter Jacobsen was Brandes' closest Danish follower. The naturalist Fru Marie Grubbe (1876; Marie Grubbe: A Lady of the Seventeenth Century ) recounts a sensational case of downward mobility, telling the story of a noblewoman who ends up as the contented wife of a drunken ferryman and sometime convict. Jacobsen's psychological penetration, his close, quasi-scientific observation, and his evocation of atmosphere make for a radically new approach to the historical novel. Jacobsen's other novel, Niels Lyhne (1880), with a Golden Age setting, paints a portrait of the passive dreamer. In effect a miniature Bildungsroman, Niels Lyhne recalls the major debates of the 1870s on such subjects as realism in art, women's erotic choices, and atheism. Although Jacobsen is Denmark's strongest naturalist writer, Brandes was uncomfortable with his delicate sensualism and lyricism.
Jacobsen's nearest rival was Holger Drachman, who was primarily a poet and devoted much energy to self-dramatization. Drachman's novel En Overkomplet (1876; A Supernumerary) looked back to Bagger's Min Broders Levened , depicting the halfbrothers Erik and Adolf. The gifted but undisciplined Erik, the self-styled supernumerary, is inspired by Ivan Turgenev's superfluous man from Dnevnik lishnego cheloveka (1850; The Diary of a Superfluous Man ), a novel much read in Denmark. Like En Overkomplet , Drachman's Forskrevet (1890; Signed Away) has a pair of contrasting heroes, the Bohemian would-be artist Ulf and the hard-working and productive painter Henrik. Both fall in love with the same woman, a warm-hearted nightclub singer, who in the end opts for Henrik---just as well, since it turns out that she is Ulf's sister. The title may be a thrust at Brandes, whose insistence on strict realism, Drachman thought, could lead to a signing away of artistic creativity to the theory of an imposing but noncreative mind. The sometimes silly extravagances of Forskrevet's plot do not detract from the novel's main strength---an impression of the growing Copenhagen of the 1880s.
Diametrically opposed protagonists likewise turn up in Nutidsbilleder (1878; Modern Images) by the journalist Vilhelm Topsoe, who contrasts the hard-working farmer and politician Harald Holst with the dreamer Flemming. Yet Topsoe gives the story a different twist by letting Holst grow corrupt as a member of the Danish diet, while Flemming casts off his ineffectual self and becomes a principled and disciplined man. Topsoe's earlier novel, Jason med det gyldne Skind (1875; Jason with the Golden Fleece), had also portrayed the ultimate failures of a practical man---an engineer and physician who commits suicide when his mistress betrays him. Topsoe's concern with marriage and sexual morality was shared by many of his contemporaries. Erik Skram's Gertrud Colbjornsen (1879) argued for the necessity of adultery after a woman is pushed by family pressures into an unhappy marriage. This novel, recently rediscovered, ends with Gertrud's divorce and her marriage to the painter Fabricius, a constant "tin soldier" in Andersen's mold. Women writers also took up the subject of marital unhappiness, including Skram's wife, the Norwegian Amalie Skram, whose personal experience in a previous marriage lent force to fictional descriptions of conjugal misery. Olivia Levison provided another harrowing picture of an unhappily married woman's deprived life in Konsulinden (1887; The Consul's Wife). Adele (Adda) Marie Ravnkilde depicted a romantic and misled young woman in Tantaluskvaler (1884; The Torments of Tantalus).
Henrik Pontoppidan's masterful work grows out of the modern breakthrough, showing a connection particularly in its persistent attention to social, economic, and political factors. He described his chef d'oeuvre as "a trilogy in which a connected picture of modern Denmark [is presented] by means of portrayals of human beings and human minds and human fates, in which social, religious, and political conflicts are included." The trilogy consists of Det forjoettede Land (1891-95; The Promised Land ), describing the aspirations, temptations, and ultimate destruction of the pastor Emanuel Hansted; Lykke-Peer (1898; Lucky Peer ), the saga of the plans and, at last, the defeat of the engineer, surveyor, and highway inspector Per Sidenius; and De Dodes Rige (1912-16; The Kingdom of the Dead), about a high-minded Jutland estate owner who wishes to aid the workers on his properties but sees them turn against him. All three of Pontoppidan's protagonists have the best of intentions, but their idealism is their destruction. Seeking happiness in a series of sexual relationships, they either find happiness too late or not at all. Pontoppidan was awarded a shared Nobel prize in 1917 with Karl Gjellerup, a writer justly forgotten. However, Pontoppidan has never won a large international reputation, not even in Germany. The heavy quality of his prose and the pessimism that dominates his novels may be responsible for the fact that he is less well known than he should be.
The contrast between Pontoppidan and Herman Bang could not be greater. Bang's books, all brief, contain a strong element of sheer entertainment in their wonderfully vivid dialogue and their evocative impressionism. As a very young man, Bang created a sensation with his novel of family degeneration and shattered theatrical ambitions, Haablose Sloegter (1880; Hopeless Generations), later revised to remove portions charged with indecency. A classic of decadent literature, the novel anticipates Joris-Karl Huysmans' À rebours (1884; Against Nature ). In subsequent novels, Bang focused on seduced and deserted young women, giving rise to speculations that he described his own unfortunate romantic experiences. Det hvide Hus (1898; The White House) and Det graa Hus (1901; The Gray House), taking place respectively in a country parsonage and the grand Copenhagen mansion of an aging physician (a portrait of Bang's paternal grandfather), are tributes to his mother. Det graa Hus centers on Bang's conviction that sexual passion is the primary root of human suffering. A comic jeu d'esprit, Sommergloeder (1902; Summer Pleasures), the compressed account of a single day in a Danish country inn, is the last work in which Bang is at the top of his form.
The aim of the modern breakthrough---the exposure of society's numerous hypocrisies and deformities---was still pursued by authors around the turn of the century, as in Karl Larsen's sweet-tempered I det gamle Voldkvarteret (1899; In the Old Wall Section), an elegy for an older Copenhagen, and the double novel Hvis ser du Skoeven (1902; If You Spy the Mote) and En modern Huerdagshistorie (1906; A Modern Everyday Story). In stark contrast, the bitterly funny novels about provincial life of the gifted Gustav Wied, Livsens Ondskab (1899; Life's Malice) and Knagsted (1902), are examples of the malicious humor of which Danes are so proud. Seen from a more serious side, Wied's books gave the coup de grâce to the high-minded reforming zeal of the modern breakthrough. Sniping at small-town hypocrisy is also central to the novels of Knud Hjorto, who, in To Verdener (1905; Two Worlds), returned to psychological analysis and the perennial type of the Danish dreamer. Jakob Knudsen's Sind (1903; Disposition) and Harald Kidde's Helten (1912; The Hero), both with remote settings, also focus on the psychology of their characters. Sind , about the main character's discovery that he is as tyrannical as his loathed father, is set in Jutland. In Helten , the pure fool Clemens Bek (who has grown up, undefiled, in a Copenhagen whorehouse) becomes an elementary school teacher on the little Baltic island of Anholt and tries to bring some of its inhabitants to a Christian way of life.
The passing of the modern breakthrough also made room for a revival of the historical novel. Æbelo (1895; Apple Island), the medievalizing and highly poetic prose narrative of Sophus Michaelis, is a tale of much-tried love on an island of preternatural beauty. But Michaelis' fragile talent was put completely in the shade by the vigor of Johannes V. Jensen. After some floundering, Jensen's actual career began with Danskere (1896; Danes) and Einar Elkjoer (1898), both of which are about contemporary dreams and dreamers. But Jensen turned to a pair of historical dreamers in Kongens Fald (1900-01; The Fall of the King ), which recounts the intersecting lives of a Jutland peasant's son, failed student, and mercenary soldier, Mikkel Thogersen, and the hard-handed but indecisive Christian II: both are brutal, wildly ambitious, given to fantasies, and unable to realize their own potential. Jensen uses poetic prose far more brilliantly and inventively than Michaelis, telling the story in three "seasonal" sections, "The Death of Spring," "The Great Summer," and "Winter." Jensen's incomparable knowledge of the history and folkways of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, employed more in allusion than in direct narration, and his insight into the superstitious minds of the two men made The Fall of the King into what the literary historian Sven H. Rossel calls "the finest historical novel in Danish literature."
Jensen never again equaled this early accomplishment. An admirer of the United States, he wrote two rather original novels set in the New World before returning to the historical genre in Den lange Rejse (1908-21; The Long Journey ), which he regarded as his masterpiece. It begins in the forests of the Tertiary Age, moves to the Ice Age, and trudges forward through the aeons to the Vikings and Christopher Columbus. The epic contains elements of proto-Nazism, celebrating the emergence of the supremely energetic Nordic people. However, the suppression of human bestiality and the triumph of love mitigate Jensen's politics. He continued to write during the German occupation but carefully maintained his distance from the occupiers, believing that the Nazis had destroyed "everything that is called race and evolution"---that they had given racism a bad name. Jensen was awarded the Nobel prize in 1944, partly on the strength of The Long Journey .
The Danish novel took a very different turn with the work of Martin Andersen-Nexo. Nexo, a communist with a working-class background, spoke for landless agricultural workers and the industrial proletariat, which had been signally absent from Danish literature. Nexo established himself with the series Pelle Erobreren (1906-10; Pelle the Conquerer ). The first volume describes the boyhood of a working-class child cursed with a feckless father. Later Pelle rises above the humiliations of his childhood to become a successful labor organizer. Another series, Ditte Menneskebarn (1917-21; Ditte, Girl Alive, Daughter of Man, Towards the Storm ), tells the heart-rending story of poor Ditte, born out of wedlock, who goes to Copenhagen to support her own illegitimate child and is crushed by the forces of capitalism.
Hans Kirk, another communist, wrote the collective novel Fiserne (1928; The Fishermen), a narrative of far greater subtlety and brevity than Nexo's stories. In Fiskerne , a community of fishermen moves from its original home, ravaged by the North Sea, to a safer haven. There, pious Christians, they directly outdo the lazy local inhabitants by their self-discipline and industry, but they pay a high price for their success in selfish personal conflicts.
Jacob Paludan was the political opposite of Nexo and Kirk and used his work to express his reactionary aestheticism, particularly in De vestlige Veje (1922; The Western Roads) and Sogelys (1923; Search Light), which pillories technological developments for the aesthetic and ecological damage they cause. His best work is Jogen Stein (1932-33), a novel chronicling the decline and fall of the cultivated bourgeoisie.
The 1920s saw a great deal of social experimentation, answered by limited technical experimentation in the novel. Tom Kristensen's Hoervoerk (1930; Havoc ) is the most incisive portrait of the age, about the parasitical newspaper critic Ole Jastrau, who slowly goes to pieces despite his hopes of finding an intellectual, political, or religious handhold. The novel was one of the first to use interior monologue and stream of consciousness. Less experimental, Knud Sonderby's work also captures the Jazz Age, particularly his debut novel, Midt i en Jazztid (1931; In the Midst of a Jazz Age). Borge Madsen's strange little Jeg er salig (1933; I Am Blest) is techinically more adventurous, using a first-person narrative interrupted by feigned conversations, mininovels, poems, musical compostions, aphorisms, and so on. The narrator, like so many Danish characters before him, ends as a patient in an insane asylum.
The 1920s and 1930s also saw the arrival of several novelists who explored sexuality. Jens August Schade, for instance, depicted the complete surrender to impulses in the plotless Den himmelske Elsker paa Jorden (1931; The Heavenly Lover on Earth) and in Mennesker modes og sod Musik opstaar i Hjertet (1944; People Meet, and Sweet Music Arises in the Heart). Charges of pornography were brought against the latter for its plot: a man and a woman meet on a train, are attracted to one another, and immediately retire to one of the Danish State Railroad's spacious lavatories. Jorgen Nielsen found more complexity in sexuality, as in his debut novel, Offerbaal (1929; Sacrificial Fire), in which a peasant girl is doubly seduced by men willing to take advantage of her passive nature and by born-again Christianity. Some of Nielsen's characters acquire considerable self-insight, as in De Hovmodige (1930; The Prideful Ones), in which Kathy finally realizes that the she keeps choosing the wrong suitors because they shore up her self-esteem. Jutland farm life provides the background of En Kvinde ved Baalet (1933; A Woman by the Bonfire), a popular success with a melodramatic story about the tortured passion of the devoted Daniel for the promiscusous Lisa.
Other writers dominating the 1930s included Nis Petersen, who established an international reputation with a playfully comical novel about Rome in the age of Marcus Aurelius, Sandalmagernes Gade (1931; The Street of the Sandalmakers ) and the topical Spildt Moelk (1934; Spilt Milk ), about the Irish civil war of the 1920s. The gifted Mogens Klitgaard worte about disreputable characters, including an alcoholic debt-collector in Der sidder en Mand in en Sporvogn (1937; A Man Is Sitting in a Streetcar) and a petty crook in Gud mildner Luften for de klippede Faar (1938; God Tempers the Wind for Shorn Sheep). After April 1940, Klitgaard used the historical novel to make oblique comments on the German occupation, publishing De rode Fjer (1940; The Red Feathers), Ballade paa Nytorv (1940; Row at Nytorv), and Den guddomelige Hverdag (1942; The Divine Everyday Life). Klitgaard had an interest in contemporary narrative technique and used a collage of newspaper reports and narrative snapshots similar to Alfred Döblin's Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929) and John Dos Passos' U.S.A (1930-36). Another author of the 1930s was Hans Scherfig, who wrote biting social satire. His mystery novel Den forsvundne Fuldmoegtig (1938; The Missing Bureaucrat ) exposes the soul-killing monotony of bureaucratic life. Scherfig's next target was the Danish lyceum system and its ability to deform the spirits of its pupils, in Det forsomte Foraar (1940; Stolen Spring ). Idealister (1945; Idealists) and Frydenholm (1962) portray Denmark in the 1930s and during the occupation, respectively.
The postwar period was dominated by younger novelists, many writing about the occupation. Willy-August Linnemann published Natten for Freden (1945; The Night before the Peace), dedicated to the Danes who openly opposed the Germans. Linnemann's work largely stood in the service of his antinationalism, which, however admirable, did not benefit his fiction. Hans Christian Branner began with Legetoj (1936; Toys), an account of the workings of a toy factory that has been read as a criticism or warning of the dangers of Nazism. Branner then returned to psychological analysis in several novels before achieving a genuine breakthrough with two novels about the occupation, Rytteren (1949; The Riding Master ) and Ingen kender Natten (1955; No One Knows the Night ).
The occupation also left a mark on Martin A. Hansen, whose Jonatans Rejse (1941; Jonathan's Journey) is a picaresque novel that asks how one can oppose evil without becoming to some extent evil oneself. Hansen's two postwar novels--- Lykkelige Kristoffer (1945; Lucky Kristoffer ) and Loxgneren (1950; The Liar )---are considered masterpieces of 20th-century Danish literature. Lucky Kristoffer takes place in the 16th century, telling the story of a young idealist through the reminiscences of one of his companions. The crux of the novel lies in the difficulties of forming a moral judgment about the complex characters. Loyalty and greed are hopelessly mixed in Martin, for example, and in the tears of the turncoat Gabel "duplicity and sincerity are so fervently united." The Liar is a novel written for radio. Its protagonist is a middle-aged schoolmaster on an isolated island who has written a manuscript about his moral and intellectual failings. Vig is a manipulator, a constant falsifier of fact and emotional relationships, but at last he finds peace in renunciation.
The 1950s and 1960s brought more novels about World War II. Ole Sarvig's Stenrosen (1955; Stone Roses) pictures survival in Berlin before and after May 1945. Tage Skou-Hansen's Dagstjernen (1960; The Day Star) describes the fates of an informer and the man designated to kill him. Peter Seeberg's remarkable little Bipersonerne (1956; The Extras) focuses on a group of foreign workers assigned to a film studio in Berlin during the last days of the war. In Hyrder (1970; Shepherds), Seeberg called for a greater sense of mutual responsibility in the relatively untroubled Danish welfare state, an argument that has marked Seeberg's subsequent production. A similar thread also runs through the later work of Sarvig and Skou-Hansen.
Sven Holm's Termush --- Atlanterhavskysten (1967; Termush ) describes an atomic disaster, while short novels such as Langt borte taler byen med min stemme (1976; Far Away the City Speaks with My Voice) focus on lives coming apart in Copenhagen, his favorite setting. Disorientation, if not disintegration, shapes Sven Åge Madsen's Besoget (1963; The Visit), in which a man dwells in a mysterious hotel, directed by some distant authority, and Lystbilleder (1964; Pictures of Lust), in which a rape is seen from several points of view. Madsen called this second work an uroman , or non-novel. Irresponsibility, fey humor, and pervasive melancholy characterize Frank Jæger's mock Wertheriad Den unge Joegers Lidelser (1953; The Sufferings of Young Jæger), Danskere: Tre fortoellinger af Foedrelandets historie (1966; Danes: Three Tales from the History of the Fatherland), and Doden i Skoven (1970; Death in the Forest). The 1960s also saw the rediscovery of the work of Albert Dam, who had written Mellem de to soer (1906; Between the Two Lakes) and Saa kom det ny brodkorn (1934; Thus There Came New Bread-Grain) decades earlier.
The dominant voice of the 1970s and 1980s belonged to Klaus Rifbjerg, who first made a name for himself as a lyric poet. Rifbjerg's oeuvre displays a constant curiosity about humanity that has had a strong appeal for the Danish reading public. His novels are always located in recent or contemporary Denmark (or Europe), even the fantastic De hellige aber (1981; Witness to the Future ), in which two boys in the occupied Denmark of 1941 crawl through a cave and come up 40 years later, finding the city in an uproar at the prospect of nuclear war. Den kroniske oskyld (1958; The Chronic Innocent) is a novel about the entanglements of puberty in the vein of Schack's Phantasterne . No one in Rifbjerg's novels is quite sound. The sybaritic middle-aged mathematics professor in Operaelskeren (1966; The Opera Lover), deeply devoted to his wife, becomes involved with a Norwegian diva, a situation ending for the amateur Don Juan in his total emotional dissolution. In Et bortvendt ansigt (1977) A Face Turned Away), the conventional middle-aged Henrik, also happily married, is nonetheless a kind of Tristan yearning for an Isolde, whom he finds, disastrously, in a student revolutionary. A female protagonist in Rifbjerg's gallery of tormented personalities is Anna (jeg) Anna (1969; Anna [I] Anna). Rifbjerg's vaunted ability to create extraordinary but quite believable female characters has recently found a rival in Peter Hoeg, whose Froken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (1992; Smilla's Sense of Snow ) has become an international best-seller. Hoeg's work is similar to Rifbjerg's in many respects, but he lacks Rifbjerg's highly professional sense of brevity, coherence, and form.
Thorkild Hansen's documentary novels on painful episodes from Danish history challenge traditional genre distinctions in that they could easily be taken for scholarly monographs. Det lykkelige Arabien (1962; Arabia Felix ), on an ill-fated scientific expedition of the 1760s, Jens Munk (1965; The Way to Hudson Bay ), on a catastrophic voyage to the Canadian sub-arctic during the reign of Christian IV, and a trilogy on the Danish slave trade, Slavernes kyst (1967; The Slave Coast), Slavernes Skibe (1968; The Slave Ships), and Slavernes Oer (1970; The Slave Islands), have all been well received. Hansen's investigation of the trial of the aged Knut Hamsun, Processen mod Hamsun (1978; The Case Against Hamsun), won him no friends in Norway. Henrik Stangerup's historical fiction, Vejen til Lagoa Santa (1981; The Road to Lagoa Santa ) on the Danish naturalist Peter Vilhelm Lund and Det er svoert at do i Dieppe (1985; It Is Hard to Die in Dieppe ) on the fate of the Danish critic P. L. Moller, is in much the same vein as Hansen's work.
In Denmark as in the rest of the North, woman's literature underwent a radical expansion after about 1970. But even before then, several women writers had made a mark, including Tove Ditlevsen. Ditlevsen first attracted attention in 1941, when she wrote a novel about child molestation, Man gjorde et barn fortroed (Someone Harmed a Child). She cast a wholly unsentimental light on the slums of Copenhagen she came from in Barndomens gade (1943; Childhood's Street). The much more free-wheeling Elsa Gress wrote largely about her own life in novels and memoirs and offered a model to Suzanne Brogger, whose autobiographical Fri os fra koerligheden (1973; Deliver Us from Love) and Crème Fraiche (1978; Sour Cream) defy genre norms and are highly critical of Danish society. Dea Trier Morch's work has hewed to a much more traditional line, with paeans to motherhood in Aftenstjernen (1982; Evening Star ) and Vinterborn (1976; Winter's Child ). Kirsten Thorup has written "factual novels" about the development of a young girl on the island of Fyn in the 1950s, Lille Jonna (1977; Little Jonna) and Den lange sommer (1979; The Long Summer). In Baby (1976), she explored female sexual degradation in a brittle society devoid of genuine love. Following the persistent urge of Scandinavian authors to write in series, she expanded and continued her Jonna books in Himmel og Helvede (1982; Heaven and Hell) and Den yderste groense (1987; The Outermost Boundary).