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date: 23 October 2017

Periodical Fiction in Denmark and Norway before 1905

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Literature. Please check back later for the full article.

Literary texts were an integral part 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, to the fables, poems, essays, and stories of 18th century newspapers and spectator journals, to Ibsen’s plays and feuilleton 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.

The periodical press served as an important arena for new writers, by supplying an 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 travelling 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. They were also all renowned novelists and poets, inside and outside the press, with some of their works reflecting the crime stories and exotic tales of the paper columns. H. C. Andersen, on the other hand, applied the traditional genre of allegory to comment on topical events when he published some fairy tales in Berlingske Tidende in the 1850s. Henrik Ibsen claimed newspapers to be his favorite reading material. They informed his later plays, which were increasingly concerned with events and issues of his time. While Ibsen was building his career, periodicals served as important publication channels both at home and abroad.

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 introduced Landsmål 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 (1858–1870), written entirely in Landsmål. The author Arne Garborg followed his example in the newspaper Fedraheimen (1877–1891), publishing both his own fiction and essays as well as translated novels. The 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 Voltaire, Rousseau, Gellert, Lessing, Linnaeus, Saadi, Addison, and Goldsmith. The first feuilleton novel in Denmark was Eugène Sue’s Les Mystères de Paris, printed from July 1842, in Dagen, while the novel was still under publication in France. In Norway, the first novel came hot from the Swedish press in 1847: A Night by the Bullar Lake by Emile Flygare-Carlén, printed in the provincial newspaper Christiansandsposten. Flygare-Carlén points to the tendency for female writers to reach 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. Similarly, foreign female authors, such as George Sand, George Eliot, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, became household names for newspaper readers. Tellingly, Austen was introduced in Norway by way of a newspaper serial: Persuasion (called Familien Elliot) in Morgenbladet 1872–1873.