Cover of Vol 53 No 2, 2014Vol 53 No 2, 2014


Mari Hatavara

(University of Tampere)

Layering the Past, Framing History: Leena Lander's Historical Novel Käsky (2003)


This article investigates the means used by one historical novel to embody, discuss and thematise diversity in the past and in history. Through an analysis of the Finnish historical novel The Order (Käsky, 2003) by Leena Lander, the article demonstrates how several embedded levels enable the author to present various competing interpretations of the historical events depicted. Lander’s novel incorporates and utilises many narrative and intertextual levels in order to discuss the issues of representing reality and understanding the past. The discussion makes evident the relative and ideological nature of any historical representation, and encourages the reader to reflect on her historical understanding, as well. The article first looks at how the storyworld is mediated through the characters’ experiences; second, analyses some of the most important intertexts of the novel; and third, discusses the role of photography as an intermedial allusion in the  novel’s storyworld. In its emphasis on repetition and modification, The Order suggests that the very acts of re-textualising and re-contextualising are essential to history and historical writing.


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Claus Elholm Andersen

(University of Helsinki)

Knausgård/Kierkegaard: The Journey Towards the Ethical in Karl Ove Knausgård's My Struggle


In this article I examine how the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard has influenced Karl Ove Knausgård’s My Struggle (2009-2011). My point of departure is a discussion of one of Knausgård’s essays written after the publication of My Struggle, where we find his thoughts on existence and what it means to be human in a condensed and concentrated form. In my analysis of the essay, I identify how Knausgård uses several key concepts from Kierkegaard’s philosophy. I then turn to My Struggle where I show how these same concepts can be seen as the philosophical backdrop for the six-volume novel, with Knausgård proposing an ethical standard, which creates a tension between the ideal that the novel sets up and the reality of the life of the novel’s protagonist Karl Ove. Finally, I show how Knausgård in My Struggle uses the idea of ethical living as a way of staging his own ‘self’. 

Anne-Marie Mai

(Syddansk Universitet (University of Southern Denmark))

1966: A Literary-Historical Experiment


This article is an experiment that seeks to re-narrate the history of Danish literature by taking as its point of departure the year 1966, a year of many literary debuts and increased internationalisation. The experiment has been inspired by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s In 1926. Living at the Edge of Time (1997), which, on the basis of reception theory, reconstructs the situation in which a number of important works were produced. The advantage gained by using 1966 as the hub of such a narrative is that it becomes clear how a new breakthrough – one that was to influence profoundly the literature of the succeeding decades – is in the process of taking shape.


Comment and Debate

Dominic Hinde

(University of Edinburgh)

Northern Soul: Scotland's Confused Nordicness

The referendum on Scottish independence which took place in September 2014 has had far reaching implications for Scotland’s public life, how it regards itself and the way it interprets both its history and its future.

Left-wing politics in Scotland have traditionally eschewed any suggestion of nationalism, with the Scottish Labour Party at times developing a more vocal unionism than its Conservative and Liberal allies in the anti-independence camp. The powerful figurative link between the unity of working people and the unity of the United Kingdom underpinned the official campaign against independence, Better Together, and the crucial centre-left majority of the Scottish population required to achieve a vote for independence have generally been sympathetic to such ideals.

The challenge for proponents of independence has been to articulate a vision of Scotland which subscribes to these supposed ideals without retreating into the restrictive nationalism that characterised the Scottish National Party in its earlier years. The answer for both the politically cynical and utopian alike has been a rediscovered Scandinavianism.

The most interesting thing about this love of the Nordic has not though been a great interest in the complexities of the Nordic economies or of the relative success of particular policies, but of the idea that Scotland itself can recover its Nordicness and thus change not just its political system but reinvent the Scot as a character in the narratives it tells about itself.

Scotland’s links to Scandinavia are not hard to find. Together with other countries on the Nordic periphery such as Estonia and northern Poland, historical relationships of trade and occupation have led to a perceived commonality of interest, place and culture. In Estonia particularly the rediscovery of the Nordic over the past two decades has been key to the positioning of the nation as a western European democracy and the normalisation of independence through the appropriation and use of Nordic identities. No more clearly was this seen than in the famous speech made by foreign minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves in 1999 (Ilves 1999) declaring Estonia a Nordic state.

Scotland has thus in many ways become a culturally liminal space, politically part of Britain but attempting to assert a distinct northern identity even before the referendum was announced. Nowhere has this been more clearly seen than in the Northern Isles, yet ironically enough Orkney and Shetland have been two of the areas most resistant to the idea of Scottish independence.
A distinct part of the attraction of a Nordic Scotland is aesthetic. Although both the Scotland and the Scandinavia of the popular imagination can be quite different from the realities, the creation of Scandinavia in the Scottish media is often alluringly utopian. This was best illustrated by the appearance of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to interview the star of the Danish political drama Borgen, Sidse Babett Knudsen, in Edinburgh (Swarbrick 2013). The SNP politician is a vocal fan of all things Nordic and is said to admire the character of her fictional Danish ministerial counterpart.

More telling in campaign terms has been the attempts by the Scottish National Party in particular to use Norway as an outline of what a reborn Nordic Scotland in a post-British modernity might look and feel like. A free newspaper sent to every home in Scotland in the spring of 2014 featured an interview with a Norwegian single mother enjoying state subsidised childcare and an independent oil fund. Presented in tandem with a large Norwegian flag, the piece emphasised one of the SNP’s signature policies of expanded free nursery care. What it did not mention is that the SNP had no plans for the more characteristically Nordic sharing of parental leave or structures of social security. From the opposite side, the head of the Better Together campaign appeared on television to depict a Nordic dystopia in which people would pay eighty per cent tax on their earnings.

The Scottish Government have also given funding to a self-styled think tank, Nordic Horizons, that seeks to draw parallels between Nordic successes and Scottish failures. This entails apparently ‘failed’ Scottish places being twinned with successful Nordic spaces, so that Hammerfest becomes a mirror for Wick in Scotland’s far north, Helsinki’s waterfront is an alternate version of post-industrial Glasgow and the road tunnels blasted through Norwegian Gneiss a vision for an interconnected rural modernity for Scotland’s west coast. It is a composite vision in which Scotland can have Danish wind and Norwegian oil, Icelandic fishing and Swedish industry. By illustrating these requisite spatial characteristics, Scotland thus assumes an identity as the forgotten Nordic country, waiting to have its innate character unleashed.

The main driving force behind the Nordic Horizons project is a former BBC journalist, Lesley Riddoch. Her bestselling book Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish (2013) is a prescriptive trip through a potential Nordic Scotland underpinned by a central metaphor of restrained potential. The argument of those seeking to relocate Scotland as Nordic space assume that the last three hundred years of political union with England and, in their varying incarnations, the other parts of the British Isles, has been a long winter for the Scottish character.

Such views are not uncontroversial. The journalist and writer David Torrance, biographer of former SNP leader Alex Salmond and a talking head on British TV on the Scottish constitution has deconstructed what he labels ‘Nordic fetishism’ on the part of Scotland’s political class, who he says ‘encourage the quixotic idea that “social democracy” can somehow be achieved via one election or referendum rather than through decades of concerted, and redistributive, government action’ (Torrance 2013).

Interviews conducted with people attending the seminars organised by Nordic Horizons are revealing about the way in which the complexities of Nordic society have been reduced to instrumental values in the independence debate. Participants confessed that the Nordic countries better reflected their values, or that they felt that Scotland was culturally closer to Norway and Denmark in particular than it was to England despite having limited experience of the countries.

There were also a number of myths bandied about by both sides, taking advantage of the fact that a strong interest in Scandinavia in Scottish public life does not equate to a deep understanding of its internal diversity and political challenges. These have included an assertion by Robin McAlpine, a leading independence campaigner, to a press conference that all utilities in Sweden are in public ownership due to a social democratic consensus politics and the suggestion that Finland’s legally enshrined bilingualism and the teaching of Swedish in schools is based on an altruistic desire to cooperate with its Nordic neighbours.
The idea of Scandinavia as a mirror for how other parts of the world might be is, of course, not new. It was a process and fallacy given extensive attention by the American geographer Allan Pred who compared the enlightened utopianism of the Swedish Social Democratic thinker  Gunnar Myrdal and popular narratives of social democracy with the realities of racism and segregation he encountered in post-1968 Sweden (Pred 2000). Similarly, Pred’s deconstruction of the ideologies of Swedish modernity exposed some of the limitations of drawing comparisons between the Scandinavian experience and the radically different but superficially similar modernities enjoyed by other developed nations. Given that Scotland has not just been a bit player but a willing participant in empire,  globalisation and industrialisation it would require a phenomenal effort to align the cultural experiences of Scotland and Norden into something cohesive and coherent.
The central question of the recovery of Scotland’s Nordic self and the creation of a new, post-British Nordic modernity for the country is whether Scotland is capable of reinventing itself so entirely and willing to relinquish entrenched aspects of its character to do so. As the Commonwealth Games illustrated, the visual language of 20th century industrial Scotland and tartan Victorian Scotland still commands a certain power when it comes to the nation telling stories about itself. It is, ironically, that difference that attracts Scandinavian tourists to the country to play golf, buy tweed and drink in cosy pubs. From a Scandinavian perspective Scotland seems singularly British, despite the best efforts of the independence movement.
Since Scotland voted no to independence, though by a much smaller margin than Westminster would have liked, it is uncertain what future the dream of Nordic Scotland now has. The ultimate outcome may well be the creation of a kind of permanent liminality for Scotland in the North, its particularly Scottish interpretation of Nordicness functioning, as has been the case in Estonia, as a means of articulating regional belonging in an increasingly globalised and culturally homogenous world. In Shetland they are recladding the pebbledash council houses in painted wood and the roadsigns are in Norse, but this on an archipelago where the majority of people overwhelmingly voted to remain part of Britain. A dream can only remain a dream as long as it remains unfulfilled, and for the time being at least Scotland can only sit back and reflect on what might have been.

Ilves, T. H. (1999). Estonia as a Nordic Country. Swedish Institute for International Affairs, Stockholm. Speech.

Pred, A. (2000).  Even in Sweden. Racism, Racialized Spaces and the Popular Geographical Imagination. Berkley: University of California Press.

Riddoch, L. (2013). Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish.  Edinburgh: Luath.

Swarbrick, S. (2013). ‘When Nicola met Birgitte: Is Borgen the Way ahead?’, The Herald, Glasgow, 4 February.

Torrance, D. (2013). ‘Weighing up the Evidence’, Scottish Review of Books, Glasgow, 4.


John Lindow

Trolls: An Unnatural History

Reaktion, London 2013. Pp. 160.

ISBN: 9781780232898

Reviewed by Eleanor Rosamund Barraclough

In Trolls: An Unnatural History, John Lindow balances on a potentially shaky tightrope. Published by Reaktion, the book aims to bridge the gap between scholarly and popular writing. This is a task that would tax many, but Lindow strolls skilfully down the wire with barely a wobble. General readers can peruse the pages unhindered by bulky footnotes at the bottom of each page. Those of a more academic bent can turn to the back of the book for sources and further reading. At under 150 pages, the work verges on the short side, but what it may occasionally lack in depth is more than made up for in breadth. The result is a witty, eminently readable book that will appeal to specialists and non-specialists alike.

The book follows a broadly chronological approach. Chapter 1 (‘The Earliest Trolls’) begins with the earliest sources for trolls in Old Norse literature. In these texts, as Lindow demonstrates, trolls are variously connected to ethnic and social outsiders, supernatural land spirits, the realm of the dead and the giants of Norse mythology. As a breed, these early trolls are ‘dangerous and anti-social, associated with peripheries rather than centres, sometimes easily spotted, sometimes not’ (p. 29). As becomes clear in subsequent chapters, such trollish characteristics persisted into later centuries.

Since much of the early evidence for medieval trolls comes from Old Norse-Icelandic texts, there is some overlap in the sources and subject matter in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 (‘Medieval Trolls’). Yet in the latter, Lindow focuses on stories from the younger, more outlandish end of the spectrum. The chapter opens with the strange case of Bergbúa þáttr (‘The Tale of the Mountain-dweller’), a medieval Icelandic tale in which two men find themselves sheltering in a cave overnight. They hear twelve stanzas spoken by a mysterious ‘rock elf’ (a kenning that Lindow construes as ‘troll’). Lindow tentatively connects these verses, which begin with images of fire and smoke, with a volcanic eruption that took place in Iceland in c. 940–50. This would have been, as Lindow notes, the first significant eruption experienced by the Icelandic settlers. This is a theme that continues throughout the book; the close association between trolls and the physical world. 

In Chapter 3 (‘Folklore Trolls’) Lindow turns to folklore derived from oral traditions, which began to be collected during the Reformation in Scandinavia. He begins the analysis with an important caveat: ‘Given the enormous chronological and geographic spread, it is difficult to generalize about any aspect of Scandinavian folklore, including trolls’ (p. 51). 

The chapter begins with a tour of the wide semantic range with ‘trollish’ associations, up to the present day. These include Mozart’s Zauberflöte (rendered as Trollflöjten in Swedish), Gandalf in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (called trollmannen or ‘the troll man’ in the Norwegian translation) and Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew (which becomes ‘The Taming of the Troll’ in Danish). In his analysis of trollish folktales, Lindow conveys a strong sense of trolls permeating almost every layer of Nordic culture, from proverbs warning against marrying for money to the names of berries and mushrooms that grow in the forest. Vulnerable individuals are particularly prone to trollish interference: travellers lost in the mountains and women in childbirth. These cultural associations extend to the present day; Lindow notes that a Norwegian proverb even used in online chatrooms – ‘You’ll have to tough it out, Blessom’ – comes from a story about a man who hitches a ride with a troll. 

The distinction between the subject matter in Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 (‘Fairy-tale Trolls and Trolls Illustrated’) is somewhat blurred, but Chapter 4 focuses primarily on folktale collectors such as Asbjørnsen and Moe. We discover all sorts of interesting nuggets of information, such as the fact that, by the time the illustrated edition of Asbjørnsen and Moe’s Select Norwegian Folktales and Fairy Tales came to be published in 1879, Asbjørnsen’s interests had shifted to matters of forestry and zoology, while Moe had become a Lutheran bishop. 

Lindow turns his attention to the illustrations that came to accompany many of the later collections, noting the tendency to blend trolls ‘with the materiality of the landscape’ (p. 86). Many pages are devoted to the extraordinary troll art of Theodor Kittelsen, who took this idea to a whole new level. Occasionally, Kittelsen’s work incorporated political dimensions, such as in The Great Troll on Karl Johan Street (1892), which, Lindow suggests, may reflect the tension between the artist and the Oslo elite. The inclusion of black-and-white pictures adds an extra dimension to the analysis (though if it had been possible, they would have been even more effective in colour).

In Chapter 5 (‘Trolls in Literature’), Lindow demonstrates how trolls made their way into Nordic drama and into the work of national and new romantics. Trolls had lost none of their imaginative potency by the turn of the twentieth century. They often appear in the work of the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1909. Trolls even featured in her Nobel speech, and, as Lindow concludes, ‘That was the only time, as far as I know, that there were trolls in the Swedish Academy’ (p. 120).

The title of Chapter 6 (‘Trolls, Children, Marketing and Whimsy’) seems to suggest rather a ragbag of odds and ends. There may be an element of truth in this,  but the result is no worse for that. Lindow investigates modern manifestations of trolls in films and literature, such as the trolls in Tolkien’s The Hobbit (comic, cockney-accented) and Lord of the Rings (darker, aligned to Sauron). He touches on the worldwide phenomena of the Moomintrolls (who ‘live a gentle, somewhat Bohemian life in Moomin Valley’ (p. 128)) and Harry Potter (with a bogey-nosed troll that ‘takes us back to the anti-social, threatening, misshapen and foul trolls of Scandinavia’ (p. 131)). He also explores the recent spate of films and books that rework traditional ideas about trolls and bring them into the modern world. There is still plenty of creative mileage, it seems, to be found in trolls.

Lindow ends with an epilogue focusing on modern manifestations of trolls: new slang words where trolls are equated with the homeless, and disruptive internet trolls that plague the online community. He concludes this energetic, entertaining book by reminding us that however ancient the origins of trolls may be, they are still very much with us today.



Kristín Loftsdottír and Lars Jensen (eds.)

Whiteness and Postcolonialism in the Nordic Region: Exceptionalism, Migrant Others and National Identities

Ashgate, Farnham and Burlington VT 2012. Pp. 182.

ISBN: 9781409444817

Reviewed by Monika Žagar

In addition to a sizable ‘Introduction: Nordic Exceptionalism and the Nordic “Others”’, edited by Loftsdottír and Jensen, this anthology consists of individual contributions which vary in scope and focus. They all deal with the consequences and specific manifestations of the privileges of Nordic whiteness, colonialism and postcolonialism in the independent Nordic states and autonomous regions (the Faroe Islands, Greenland, and the Åland Islands). The introduction defines the theoretical concepts and methodological fields, most importantly those of postcolonialism, exceptionalism, whiteness studies, and/or race studies. The authors are Nordic scholars from fields as varied as anthropology, geography or cultural studies.

1. ‘Colonial Discourse and Ambivalence: Norwegian Participants on the Colonial Arena in South Africa’ by Erlend Eidsvik explores the arrival of the thirteen members of the Thesen family from Stavanger, Norway, in South Africa in 1869 and the establishment of their trade and timber business. Exploiting their ambivalent social position – being white yet belonging neither to the Dutch nor to the British – the Thesen family amassed considerable business privileges by adapting and reinforcing the existing colonial practices.

2. ‘Colonialism, Racism and Exceptionalism’ by Christina Petterson disputes the image of benevolent Danish colonialism in Greenland by examining selected anthropological studies conducted by Danes in Greenland over several centuries. She shows how racist attitudes from the earliest times, cemented in the quasi-scientific discourse of the nineteenth and early twentieth century, translated into legal provisions that privileged the white ‘us’ at the expense of the Greenlanders. The racially-based discrimination thus refutes the larger issue of Danish exceptionalism.

3. ‘“Words that Wound”: Swedish Whiteness and Its Inability to Accommodate Minority Experiences’ by Tobias Hübinette examines three case studies of current debates in Sweden on contested words. These are the usage of a) the word ‘Negro’ (neger), b) the term ‘Oriental’ as in The Department of Oriental Studies at Stockholm University, and c) the naming of nature climbing tracks in Järfälla with names such as Zyklon B, Crematorium and Kristallnatten, all with clear associations to the Holocaust. The article argues convincingly that Swedish white exceptionalism refuses to acknowledge its own whiteness and Sweden’s complicity in the colonial discourse. It further shows how the defenders of the continued use of words and terms loaded with colonial echoes insist that they are colour-blind and race-neutral even though they are hurtful to minorities.

4. ‘Belonging and the Icelandic Others: Situating Icelandic Identity in a Postcolonial Context’ by Kristín Loftsdottír looks at how Icelandic exceptionalism historically defined itself as ‘masculine, white and civilized’, particularly during the Danish colonial exhibition in 1904 when Icelanders tried to position themselves as different from ‘the savages’ yet nevertheless distinct. The paradox of such a stance translates later into the position that Iceland had nothing to do with colonialism and thus with racism, yet it fails to examine its own privileged white position.

5. ‘Transnational Influences, Gender Equality and Violence in Muslim Families’ by Suvi Keskinen looks at Finnish, and partially Swedish, discourse on gender violence, and how two contemporary books, Parvekejumalat (Balcony gods) by Anja Snellman and Minne tytöt kadonneet? (Where have all the young girls gone?) by Leena Lehtolainen represent the subject of family violence against young Muslim women. At the outset the article points out how the women’s visibility and gender equality are an important part of the Nordic countries’ self-representation. Against that background, coupled with public discussion on immigration to Finland and ensuing multiculturalism, Keskinen concludes that it is more the adoption of ‘European imaginaries and ideals’ than Finnish domestic experiences that had shaped these two novels. By employing European narrative forms and content, Finland, long considered a marginal state, has joined Europe, yet paradoxically reinforced existing racial prejudices.

6. ‘Reading History through Finnish Exceptionalism’ by Anna Rastas looks at manifestations of Finnish exceptionalism - here defined as moral superiority and a self-image of innocence which allows the Finns to continue to see the world as ‘us’ and ‘them.’ After discussing the historical exchanges between Finns and the Africans, Rastas examines textbooks for upper secondary school, with a close look at a recent book (Afrikka-kirja) about Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s visit with his family to Africa.

7. ‘Danishness as Whiteness in Crisis: Emerging Post-Imperial and Development Aid Anxieties’ by Lars Jensen shows how historical racism spilled over to ‘Third World’ development aid. Examining the overlap between Greenlandic modernization and Danish development aid, Jensen shows how the two are connected by an attitude, a thought process, based on Danish national interests, especially considering ‘Denmark’s compromised position during the war,’ and a self-image of moral superiority.

8. ‘Bodies and Boundaries’ by Kirsten Hvenegård-Lassen and Serena Maurer examine closely the booklet Citizen in Denmark: Information to the new citizens about Danish society as a vehicle of control, and shows how the information in the booklet subtly and not-so-subtly conveys the message of Danishness as a particular sort of modernity that the new immigrants should strive to mimic and imitate. Simultaneously, the photos and captions in the booklet convey the idea that the difference between the Danes and the newcomers--especially when it comes to history, gender concepts and (female) body boundaries--is (almost) insurmountable.

9. ‘Intimacy with the Danish Nation State: My Partner, the Danish State and I - A Case Study of Family Reunification Policy in Denmark’ by Linda Lund Pedersen is a personal account of a Danish citizen who applied between 2007 and 2009 for family reunification with her spouse, a Colombian national. Showing how the ever-changing conditions of the application process greatly hinder family reunification, Lund Petersen exposes how Danishness overlaps with whiteness as an informal yet sometimes decisive norm.

10. ‘Aesthetics and Ethnicity: The Role of Boundaries in Sami and Tornedalian Art’ by Anne Heith first outlines the marginal position of the Sami and Tornedalian communities constructed as racially other, and then focuses on the manifestation of intertwinement of aesthetics and ethnicity in two artists’ works: the Norwegian Sami Geir Tore Holm’s sculpture ‘Stativ’ (Tripod) from 2004, and the Swedish Tornedalian author Bengt Pohjanen’s poem ‘Jag är född utan språk’ (I was born without language) from 1973. Both works, although of different media and from different periods, express preoccupation with the issue of language and culture preservation, and the encroaching influence of assimilation and globalization. At times tendentious, the book as a whole provides useful information and a range of case studies related to (post)colonialism in the Nordic countries, long considered exempt from colonial involvement. Technically, there is an annoying trend in citing references that leaves out the first names of sources (in all contributions but Hübinette’s). While the contributors use a variety of sources, some core authors emerge: Sara Ahmed, Fredrik Barth, Homi Bhabha, Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall, Richard Dyer, Franz Fanon, Edward Said, Allan Pred, Mary L. Pratt, Anne McClintock, Ann Laura Stoler.  And also Grete Brochmann, Marianne Gullestad, Suvi Keskinen, Hege Skeie, Bo Stråth, and others. What is neglected in almost all contributions is the often pioneering work of North-American Scandinavian scholars, for instance, Betty Bergland, John Lindow, Troy Storfjeld, Tim Tangherlini, Elizabeth Oxfeld, and myself, precisely on issues of race, gender, whiteness, or more generally, on ‘othering’ in Scandinavia. 




Ellen Rees

Cabins in Modern Norwegian Literature: Negotiating Place and Identity

Farleigh Dickinson UP, Plymouth 2014. Pp. 197.

ISBN: 9781611476484

Reviewed by Tanya Thresher

This book analyses the cultural significance of the cabin in Norwegian cultural and literary history from its beginnings as a simple rural dwelling, to an allegorical home for the nation, a retreat from modernity, a therapeutic space and finally to an increasingly fetishistic place filled with nostalgia.  Taking as her central hypothesis that cabins function as Foucauldian heterotopias, Rees arranges her readings into five main chapters. Each chapter corresponds to the five phases of cabin history that Rees identifies in which constellations of historical events, public discourses, and texts from both canonical and popular literature are used to illuminate the cultural significance of the cabin in Norway. Moreover, each chapter begins with an analysis and illustration of a real-world cabin that encapsulates the conceptual issues raised in Rees’ readings of the various literary texts, and reflects how the meaning of this important cultural icon has changed between the drafting of the Norwegian Constitution in 1814 and the celebration of 100 years of independence in 2005. 

Chapter One, ‘The Seter as a Transgressive Allegorical Home,’ traces the development of the seter, or shieling, motif from the 1770s until the practice of transhumance fell out of favour around the 1850s. Using folkloric, popular, and literary texts from this period of National Romanticism, Rees shows how this precursor to the cabin quickly gained status as an allegorical home for the Norwegian nation, but suggests that its depiction as a meeting place between different social groups representative of the nation was problematic. The transgressive nature of the sheiling in terms of class, gender and supernatural forces meant that it was ‘at best an allegorical home that resisted bourgeois domestication, at worst a fetish object cultivated by the bourgeoisie’ (p. 41). Bjørnson’s Synnøve Solbakken exemplifies how the trope of the shieling was so strongly codified within the rhetoric of the time that any attempt to wrestle it away from associations with the supernatural and erotic was doomed to failure. Unlike Bjørnson, Camilla Collett takes full advantage of the common associations of her time when she depicts the shieling in The District Governor’s Daughters as an idealized refuge in which the central characters can compensate for the unnatural confines of bourgeois society.

Rees continues her analysis of Collett’s novel in Chapter Two, ‘Cabin, Class and Nation,’ which explores the complex signifying potential of the cabin (hytte) as a home for the rural poor or a hunting shelter. Collett’s description of a visit to a fisherman’s cabin activates several overlapping cabin discourses: the Enlightenment symbol of virtue and noble simplicity, an aesthetic object for romantic contemplation, a realistic illustration of rural poverty and a sentimental reflection of modernity and worldliness. Rees’ reading of the importance of the loci of the sheiling and the cabin in Collett’s novel extends the customary focus on the grotto as a place of importance in the text, and adds an interpretative layer to the novel that underscores its importance both as a nationalistic text and as an allegory of national romance.  Chapter Two also examines how the cabin was used productively by writers such as Maurits Hansen and Henrik Wergeland to support the forging of a new Norwegian society. 

Chapter Three, ‘The Hunter’s Cabin as Anti-Modern Retreat,’ explores texts written at the turn of the century that merge the shieling​ and cabin tropes and place cabins as a conceptual alternative to urban modernity to which men in particular retreat as they search for relief from the everyday pressures of modern life. Citing Fridjof Nansen as the archetypal masculine ideal of this time and his memoir of his ninemonth stay in his primitive cabin on Jackson Island as pivotal in the Norwegian cultural imagination, Rees traces the signification of the cabin through hunting memoirs and literary texts that depict hunting cabins or use cabins as places of settlement in the wilderness. These are all texts that explore abject masculinity and the atavistic retreat of the social elite as they withdraw from urban society.  

Written as tourism is growing in popularity, the texts in this chapter intertwine the cabin with hunting, sexual exploitation, and threats to masculine dominance. Hamsun’s Pan and Ibsen’s When we Dead Awaken are exemplary of these trends, with Ibsen’s text offering the most extreme representation of the abject male in Squire Ulfheim. Rees shows how Ulfheim’s cabin is a heterotopia of both illusion and crisis, and how it is juxtaposed with the fisherman’s cabin on Lake Taunitzer that is regarded by Maya and Rubek as a utopian space, an original experience of home that has been lost due to Rubek’s own pride and ambition. Glahn in Pan seeks to escape modern existence and act out his sexual desire in his hunting cabin, but as Rees shows in her reading of the first part of the novel, it is ironically as a practitioner of the very modern social practice of tourism that Glahn achieves dominance over his own atavistic fantasy. Hamsun’s Growth of the Soil and Mikkjel Fønhus’ Outlaw use the cabin as a home in the wilderness, but each follows an opposing trajectory in its use of this national iconography. In Hamsun’s novel the cabin is a utopian union of settlement and atavistic fantasy of feudal control in which man dominates nature entirely. In Fønhus’ lesser-known piece, on the other hand, the cabin represents a heterotopia of deviation that has a tenuous relationship to nature, all of which anticipates the author’s later concern with environmentalism and sustainability. 

Chapter Four, ‘The Golden Age of Cabin Therapy’ examines the representation of the cabin as a privileged site of personal reflection, taking as its starting point the actual high-altitude cabin built by the philosopher Arne Næss at Tvergastein. Rees examines Sigurd Hoel’s Sinners in Summertime, and five novels of Gunnar Larsen, who uses the cabin as a dominant spatial motif. She also briefly examines short stories by Johan Borgen, Finn Alnaes’ Colossus, and André Bjerke’s Lake of the Dead, which launched the cabin into the crime novel genre and resulted in its almost entire disappearance from more literary texts between the 1950s and 1990s.

Chapter Five, ‘The Post-Cabin in Late Modernity,’ examines six novels and one film that all reveal how the conceptualization of the cabin changed at the turn of the millennium.  At this time cabins begin to operate as commentaries on the perceived golden age of social democratic cabin culture through parody, adaptation and/or nostalgia, and also become reconfigured as gendered spaces occupied by both men and women. With the real-world example of Kjell-Inge Rokke’s cabin palace (hyttepalass) in Sør Trøndelag, Rees shows how cabins are ceasing to function as heterotopias at all as they have become an extension of everyday urban existence. They are now merely fetish objects that have themselves become so domesticated that they are uncannily frightening or objects of pastiche and parody. Hence characters such as Erlend Loe’s Doppler in the novel of the same name reject the cabin in favour of a tent in Nordmarka when he wishes to withdraw from Norwegian society. While these 1990s texts seek to revise the utopian ideal of the cabin as a place of physical and emotional well-being, they nevertheless retain a sense of nostalgia for cabin culture. Per Pettersen’s Out Stealing Horses is exemplary in its expression of a collective sense of loss regarding the type of cabin culture that was promulgated under social democracy.

The strength of Rees’ work lies in her choice of canonical and noncanonical texts and genres that put into sharper focus the cultural signification of cabins. Her inclusion of horror films, hunting narratives, works by authors that lie on the fringes of the cannon such as Gunnar Larsen and Finn Alnæs, and popular texts of their time such as Claus Pavel Riis’ musical comedy To The Shieling, adds depth to her hypothesis and underscores the pervasive nature of the cabin as a complex cultural symbol. Her inclusive approach suggests a broader understanding of literary history in line with Bahktin, in which literary analysis illuminates our understanding of culture and vice versa. Her readings are for the most part detailed and insightful, and convincingly show the importance of place in the forging of identity. Rooted as they are in their cultural and historical context, the interpretations offer new understandings of how the cabin has become a deeply meaningful location for Norwegians. Hence this work offers an important contribution to the growing field of place studies within Scandinavian Studies, and it should be welcomed by scholars who acknowledge that ‘reading for place’ offers important insights both into texts and into cultures. 




Giuliano d'Amico

Domesticating Ibsen for Italy: Enrico and Icilio Polese's Ibsen Campaign

Edizioni di Pagina: Biblioteca dello spettacolo nordico - Collana di saggi e testi del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell'Università degli Studi di Torino, Bari 2013. Pp. 358.

ISBN: 9788874702800

Reviewed by Massimo Ciaravolo

Except from a performance of A Doll’s House in 1889, the introduction of Ibsen’s modern drama in Italy, as regards both staging and book editions, took place between 1891 and 1894. The protagonists of this launch were Icilio Polese and his son Enrico. Their campaign and its impact in the following decades are the object of Giuliano D’Amico’s study, published in Italy but written in English, a slightly revised version of a Ph.D. dissertation with the same title presented at the University of Oslo in 2011.

The Poleses were not primarily intellectuals or committed Ibsenites. Their work within the Italian commercial theatre at the turn of the century was profit-oriented. Through their powerful theatrical agency they translated Ibsen’s plays (Enrico Polese translated them with Paolo Rindler, a language teacher, using the German and French translations as main sources); sold the translations to theatre companies; supported their productions with favourable reviews in the agency’s journal; and finally had the same translations published as books by culturally active publishing houses such as Kantorowicz and Treves. For the Poleses, D’Amico observes, Ibsen was a new European author in vogue; they may have recognized his greatness, but treated him nevertheless as a commodity.

In this mediation, Ibsen’s plays were domesticated and transformed in order to suit the taste of the Italian audience. It was common practice for Polese and Rindler to cut the source text, so as to make it simpler, less ‘philosophical’, or, conversely, expand the text so as to explain what was intentionally concealed. As D’Amico argues, Icilio, the father, was the driving force behind this project, convinced that it was necessary to adapt Ibsen’s purportedly unbridgeable otherness in order to appreciate his stature. This process corresponded to the construction of a both familiar and foreignizing image of the Other, summarized in the representations of Ibsen as (too) ‘misty’ and Nordic, a thinker rather than an artist. Another aspect is that the overt and often arbitrary domestication of the texts created objections, especially among those critics and artists who had access to more faithful French and German versions of the plays. In this case, it is argued, the domesticated translations made the translators particularly visible rather than invisible.

What is termed ‘denial of coevalness’ seems to affect the first Italian reception of Ibsen, among detractors as well as promoters; Ibsen was seen not as one of us but as an alien, a superior alien at best. Still, it is argued, the Poleses’ enterprise was fundamental in the early dissemination of Ibsen’s works. In the shape they gave to his plays, Ibsen was available to the Italian audiences as well as to critics and intellectuals. Their translations, and therefore their version of Ibsen and Nordicness, were influential until the 1930s. Interesting discussion is also dedicated to the system of roles in the Italian theatre companies of that time, and to the interpretations of Ibsen by two outstanding actors, Ermete Zacconi, who used Polese and Rindler’s translations, and Elenora Duse, who disliked them.

The bulk of D’Amico’s study is an analysis of the translation of eight of Ibsen’s modern plays, which marked the progress and decline of the campaign: The Wild Duck, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, Pillars of Society, The Master Builder, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea, and An Enemy of the People. It was a campaign because, through Ibsen, the Poleses wanted to gain cultural and economic capital in the theatrical and literary field. Sometimes the objections were more against the form of the campaign than against Ibsen; so many productions in few years caused a sense of weariness in the critics and the audience, who were not given the possibility to assimilate the novelty of the new drama.

D’Amico draws on previous studies of Ibsen’s first reception in Italy and of the early translations of his works (Alonge, Perrelli, Simoncini and others), but is originally able to set his own translation analysis in a wider cultural, economic and social context, also with the help of an amazing quantity of archive material, competently brought to light and explained. D’Amico convincingly connects different theoretical perspectives in order to shed light on his material: new historicism, reception studies, translation studies (especially Venuti and Carbonell Cortés), sociology of literature (especially Bourdieu and Casanova), and recent developments in Norwegian Ibsen studies, which emphasize the relationship between the modern writer and the market (especially Fulsås and Figueiredo). In so doing, the peculiarities of the Italian reception are seen from a European angle. Ibsen’s dependence on commercial success was by no means an exclusively Italian phenomenon; the same applies to his contemporaries’ difficulties in understanding and accepting his plays.

My only quibble is the following, and is eliceted by the very quality of D’Amico’s book: its ability to arouse curiosity. I would have liked to know more about the interplay between theatre performances and the critical response of outstanding intellectuals who appreciated Ibsen and wrote about him at the end of the nineteenth and in the first decades of the twentieth century. The role of Benedetto Croce is touched upon in connection with the performances in Naples. Piero Gobetti in Turin is mentioned incidentally. Scipio Slataper from Trieste, who wrote an important book on Ibsen (1916), is not mentioned; nor is Antonio Gramsci’s review of A Doll’s House in Turin in March 1917 (though this production, with Emma Gramatica playing Nora, is briefly described). Gramsci observed the same ‘denial of coevalness’ D’Amico crucially points out in his study. Why doesn’t the Italian audience recognize Nora’s ‘profoundly moral act’? Why do they perceive her and her author as aliens? Even Gramsci seems to find an answer in the idea of a morally superior otherness: Nora is acknowledged somewhere else, but not amidst the Latin bourgeoisie, lost, during World War I, in their myths of nerves, blood and masculine power. Domesticating Ibsen for Italy remains an extremely valuable contribution, a brilliantly written and vivid analysis, which displays consistent connections between the body of theory and the case studies. As a literary scholar D’Amico is a competent reader of translation practice. But he has also written a piece of social history of the Italian theatre, and is able to contextualize in time and place the large number of documents he has examined. 




Julie K. Allen

Icons of Danish Modernity: Georg Brandes and Asta Nielsen

University of Washington Press/Museum Tusculanum Press, Seattle and London 2012. Pp. 280.

ISBN: 9780295992204

Reviewed by Olav Harsløf

This autumn, 2014, Copenhagen is the setting for a series of exhibitions, lectures and publications focusing on the year 1914. It is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, but it is also a commemoration of the year when the old world order passed away. Afterwards nothing was ever the same again. During the war Denmark maintained a somewhat less than heroic neutrality, at the same time as the country was still licking its wounds after its defeat by the Prussians and the loss of not far short of half its landmass – not only the Duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, but also the southern part of Jutland, Sønderjylland.

To compensate for this, attention was turned to improving what was left of the country – agriculturally by draining lakes, cultivating heathland and straightening rivers, and artistically and culturally by developing new genres of art, a new literature, new media, new ways of thinking and new ways of living. The former gave a boost to Danish agriculture and export, the latter to the creation of a new, modern Danish identity.

Julie K. Allen, professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has with the clear sight of distance picked out that epoch’s two greatest and at the same time most controversial modern Danish icons: the literary critic Georg Brandes and the actress Asta Nielsen. In 1914 both were famous in the German-speaking world, and the fact that many of their fellow Danes regarded them with scepticism or downright dislike can be traced to the modernity they expressed in their native land, which their foreign readers or audiences understood as Danish national identity. In the larger centres of bourgeois and petitbourgeois population (well over half of the Danish population) Georg Brandes was seen as an atheistic free-thinker and libertine, a radical champion of women’s right to vote and sexual equality, whilst Asta Nielsen, after her European breakthrough in the film Afgrunden (The Abyss, 1910), had in the opinion of the same social groups brought too much physicality and sensuality to this and following ​risqué films. In addition, Brandes was a Jew and Nielsen black-haired. He was labelled an anti-Danish internationalist and cosmopolitan Jew. She was criticized for her lack of blond hair, which must derive from an exotic – i.e. non-Danish – ethnic background. On top of that, both had spent lengthy or frequent periods in Germany, national enemy number one.

Julie Allen focuses her lens on the 72-year-old Georg Brandes and  the 33-year-old Asta Nielsen in May 1914, when they were invited on a publicity voyage on the Atlantic steamship Vaterland. They are standing on deck, and the young actress has slipped her arm confidingly into that of a smiling Brandes, whilst a journalist is talking about the forthcoming trip and her husband, the film director Urban Gad, is watching. They had met at the literary salon of her parents-inlaw in Copenhagen – which was also frequented by free-thinking and progressive artists, writers and dramatists: Gustav Wied, Sophus and Karin Michaelis, Henri Nathansen and many more.

The chosen photo is thus a positive scoop by Julie Allen; it encapsulates all the angles, analyses, definitions and descriptions of Danish identity and modernity which she goes on to supply so clearly and persuasively in her book. And also, of course, it sets the scene dramatically for the whole presentation.

Both Georg Brandes and Asta Nielsen understood how to use the mass media, that of newspapers and films respectively – as is demonstrated by the maiden voyage of the Vaterland. Their international success and fame paved the way for Danish artists who were struggling to break through in their own country with Impressionism, Naturalism and Expressionism in the decades before and after the turn of the century. Abroad, Brandes’ and Nielsen’s productions were seen as the essential expression of Danish culture and national identity throughout the whole of this period, and their works, articles and not least many interviews contributed immensely to the popular, not merely German but central European, view of Denmark as a progressive, artistically swinging cultural environment, which had created an international market for Danish cultural products such as film and literature. Therefore Julie Allen can conclude convincingly that many contemporary Danes felt that these two icons ‘represented an excessively liberal or even immoral incarnation of Danish national identity, but their highly visible, if controversial, contributions to such discourses undoubtedly secured Denmark a position on the international stage far more prominent than the country’s weakened political status warranted’ (pp. 41-42).

It is an impressive analysis Julie Allen presents of Danish national identity. Not only an English-language public, but also all Danes should read her book in order to understand from her well-formulated arguments how much we owe to artistic and critical personalities like Asta Nielsen and Georg Brandes. And perhaps ponder a little how badly our identity as a nation could have suffered without their huge efforts, which were so poorly appreciated in their own country: ‘By challenging the status quo and typifying new national cultural norms Brandes and Nielsen were instrumental in shaping the character of modern Danish society’ (p. 231).

After undertaking painstaking archival and research work, Julie Allen has produced a critical analysis of identity and a well-written apologia for studying precisely Georg Brandes and Asta Nielsen in precisely this connection, and for communicating the results to an English-speaking public: ‘The complicated, contradictory lives and careers of Brandes and Nielsen and their status as cultural icons (…) have a great deal to contribute (…) to our own efforts to define our collective national and cultural identities by means of the celebrities that crowd our public sphere. (…) their energetic and effective participation in the ongoing process of national identity construction via the mass media, both directly, in Brandes’s case, and indirectly, in Nielsen’s’ (p. 231).

Julie Allen has written the key book about 1914 for this autumn, where new readers can learn much about Danish identity and modernity, and old readers can see themselves in a clearer light.





Anna Jörngården

Tidens tröskel: Uppbrott och nostalgi i skandinavisk litteratur kring sekelskiftet 1900

Symposion, Stockholm 2012. Pp. 288.

ISBN: 9789171398857

Reviewed by Jahn H Thon

The starting point of modern society is always up for discussion. One can argue in favour of Romanticism with its new understanding of life. The end of the nineteenth century with an accelerating urbanism placing the subject in a completely new position is another possibility. A third option is the period after the First World War, with the creation of new types of states and ideologies. If we choose to focus on the perception of reality, the subjective experience and new artistic ways of expression, the twentieth century seems like a good choice. Particularly as this period also sees a change in the relationship between the sexes.

In the 1900s, a divided image of modern life emerges. New possibilities arise for the freedom, expression and untested impulses of the individual. However, a life characterized by renewal and transformation brings with it a sense of loss and homelessness. The nostalgic longing for a genuine and meaningful world that once existed, but is now lost, becomes an essential part of modern society, and a strong trend in twentieth-century literature. In her thesis on ‘the threshold of time’, Anna Jörngården demonstrates how an entirely new type of Scandinavian literature around the turn of the twentieth century describes modern man and this experience of detachment. Focusing on the works of Ola Hansson, August Strindberg and Knut Hamsun, she traces how the feelings of loss and uprootedness are awakened, and how they give rise to new literary forms of expression. These will come to play a large role in the formation of our image of the twentieth century and its view of humanity.

To capture this new, complex perception of reality, the writers search for a new language, new forms of writing. At the same time, the three authors of this study share a fundamental longing for elements of the old world which they believe can make the world new, and can lead to an aesthetic renewal. The crisis of the times coincides with a subjective crisis. The new times create a new man, characterized by discontinuity and fragmentation. This is mainly a problem for men, and Jörngård’s study demonstrates how this view is created precisely in relation to a reasonably conservative view of women. However, the longing for the past also becomes a criticism of masculinity’s pact with modern society. It is a clever move to group these three authors together, as well as reading part of their biography into their texts.

In a multifaceted interpretation of nostalgia, exile, modernity and the sexes, Jörngården gives us a new perspective on the breakthrough of modernism in Scandinavia, and a broad, enlightening view of thought patterns and literary movements that have remained relevant right up to our time.

The characterisation of this literature in itself (the interest in psychology, new forms and the crisis of masculinity/feminist challenges) is not new. What is original about Jörngård’s analysis is the suggestion that the authors portray the authentic and harmonious life through the nostalgic and the melodramatic. The thesis succeeds in articulating well-known dilemmas in an innovative and refreshing new way, namely as an ambivalent oscillation between criticism and admiration of modernity. By comparing Ola Hansson with Strindberg and Hamsun, some general patterns become more apparent.

The thesis highlights Hansson as an author, not as a critic or a promoter. Nor does it discuss his most renowned and debated work: Sensitiva Amorosa (1887). Nostalgia and exile become a creative force for Hansson in the portrayal of the dilemmas around which his authorship revolves. These dilemmas are solved by endless repetitions, where the author never wholly surrenders to an innovative modernism, but remains in an eternal repetition of melancholia.

Strindberg was extremely focused on transformations and threshold experiences in his search for the new. As we know, he chooses in the 1890s to turn to the natural sciences. Due to his support of the theory of evolution, nostalgia seems less prominent in Strindberg. However, this paper finds nostalgic features even in his writings, as well as a greater reluctance to accept the new. According to Jörngården, Strindberg’s scientific studies reveal another form of nostalgia, in that they are driven by a desire to describe the connection between all things as meaningful units. The desire for a new artistic language coincides with the longing for the connections and lost units of the past.   It is a very concrete and visual language. The numerous associations are necessary to link the world together once more.

The central idea of Jörngården’s thesis is summarised in this sentence: ‘The road to the new is through a nostalgic-utopian dream of regeneration’ (p. 141). In order to bring out the two opposites she believes define Hamsun’s universe, namely ‘the whisper of the blood’ (represented by the vagabond) and ‘the bond of the blood’ (represented by the farmer), which unite in a highly emotional aesthetic, Jörngården must incorporate Growth of the Soil (Markens Grøde), published in 1917, in a portrayal of literature from 1890 to 1900. This, in my opinion, is a weakness in the thesis. Her method is to view the melodramatic and strong emotions as an indication of crisis. Hamsun appears as a male literary hysteric. He uses the melodramatic both in the first phase of his authorship (the 1890s), where it gives meaning through emotional expressivity, and in the second phase (the 1900s) where it idealises the past.

Hamsun’s reaction to the challenges of modern society which he experienced in his first years of wandering was to ‘turn up the volume’ on the description of emotions. This aesthetic is focused on the receiver, and strong emotions are meant to assail the reader. The thesis creates a renewed image also of Hamsun, by going back to old stylistic research from the 1960s. The study sees the hero of Hunger (Sult), Nagel, and Glahn as variations of the same character. Hamsun goes all the way with the melodramatic; Glahn is sentimental about nature. Jörngården agrees with previous scholars who have pointed out Hamsun’s experiments with gender roles in the 1890s. To bring out the opposition to this experimental breakthrough of modernism – a sort of ‘Blut und Boden’ ideology – Jörngården must, as before mentioned, include the period right up to the first World War, and thus the third wave of modern thinking. The nostalgic longing turns into a didactic persuasion of the reader. Instead of innovation, Hamsun’s project is now to heal and reconcile our existence through pathos and sentimentality, although some irony and disharmony can still be found. The study concludes with a discussion of the reactionary, elitist features that played such an important role in the modernism of the 1900s.

Jörngården’s thesis has shown that, as opposed to Bachtin’s understanding, the threshold chronotope leads both ways; forward towards utopia and the new, and back towards the nostalgic and at times reactionary. Her study is well written, offers a variety of new perspectives and is inciting. This reader recommends it warmly.





Beverley Driver Eddy, Edited and translated by Kirsten Klitgård

Hjertets Kalejdoskop: En biografi om Karin Michaëlis

Karin Michaelis Selskabet, Svendborg 2013. Pp. 442.

ISBN: 9788799659104

Reviewed by Amanda Doxtater

Hjertets Kalejdoskop: En biografi ​om Karin Michaëlis, Kirsten Klitgård’s translation and edition of Beverley Driver Eddy’s biography, documents the life of Danish author and humanitarian Karin Michaëlis. The book is divided into thirty-four chronological chapters, each covering a oneto-two-year period beginning with her birth in 1872 and ending with her death in 1950. Eddy does an admirable job of capturing Michaëlis’s personality and spirit by drawing on an impressive array of primary sources, including novels, short stories, poetry, and newspaper and radio editorials, as well as several unpublished texts, journals, and a vast correspondence. Eddy obviously has a great command of this extensive body of work – no small task considering that Michaëlis published no fewer than thirty-six novels during her lifetime. The density of detail with which this life is conveyed attests to many hours devoted to archival research. Despite this density, Hjertets Kalejdoskop manages to present its many colorful anecdotes and episodes in a manner both lively and clear.

Eddy enriches her portrayal of this dynamic woman’s life with many excerpts from letters and reviews written by the extensive network of artists, writers and friends with whom Michaëlis interacted throughout her life. These include (but are not limited to): Emma Goldman, Agnes Smedley, Rainer Marie Rilke, Albert Einstein, and Bertolt Brecht, in addition to members of the Scandinavian literary establishment like Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. The biography’s careful documentation particularly of the Viennese intellectual salons with which Michaëlis was especially close will certainly be useful to scholars working on Denmark’s literary, cultural, and humanitarian connections to these international circles. The book also provides an interesting account of how Michaëlis – who enjoyed significant popularity in German literary markets and had strong sympathies with German culture – negotiated these relationships when the two world wars made them increasingly complex.

Following Michaëlis’s own claim that all of her books reflect some aspect of her self (væsen), Eddy analyzes her literary output predominantly from a biographical angle. She tracks a certain elision of fact and fiction that Michaëlis explicitly undertakes in her autobiographically inspired work. (Certain discrepancies between Michaëlis’s own lived romantic relationships and her narration of women’s desire in her fictional work that emerge through Eddy’s account are especially interesting in this regard.) In the light of such formal experimentation, a biography about this author might have been an interesting opportunity to experiment with the genre of biography itself, yet Eddy’s book stays fairly close to tried-and-true biographical traditions. The account of Michaëlis’s development as an artist, for instance, emerges through formative episodes from her childhood – an early loss of faith in God, influential first encounters with human and animal suffering, innocent dismay at the notion of human imprisonment, and friendships with Jewish schoolmates – all of which predictably foreshadow the key passions that would inform Michaëlis’s life as an adult.

As the book jacket notes, Karin Michaëlis is not particularly well known in our time. This statement raises what to my mind is the most important question with which Hjertets Kalejdoskop engages: if Karin Michaëlis indeed was to Denmark in the 1920s and 30s what Selma Lagerlöf was to Sweden or what Sigrid Undset was to Norway, why does her work not have a more prominent place in the Danish literary canon? The biography provides several tentative answers to this question. It draws comparisons between Michaëlis and H.C. Andersen as idealists whose work often manifested a naiveté and imagination that put them at odds with their narrow-minded Danish contemporaries. Descriptions of Michaëlis’s literary style as something like a feminine stream of consciousness coexist with gentle insinuations that the furious pace with which she completed works did not allow for the requisite editing to make them classics. At a couple of points, the biography also includes anecdotes from contemporaries of Michaëlis that express the possibility that she was more intriguing as a person and an activist than as an author.

As a whole, Hjertets Kalejdoskop seems to answer this question implicitly rather than explicitly. The biography positions itself as a work of second-wave feminism about a first-wave feminist author who has been excluded from an inherently sexist literary canon. Certainly the fact of exclusion alone merits Eddy’s intervention. But more intriguing, and potentially more problematic in Hjertets Kalejdoskop, underlying the narrative of successes and struggles to publish is the sense that Michaëlis was ultimately too popular as an author to secure her place in a conservative Danish literary establishment. It is fascinating that Michaëlis may not have been taken seriously precisely because her writing was directed toward and appreciated by popular audiences. Instead of taking an opportunity to revise or undo the established literary canon, Eddy appears to endorse it; Hjertets Kalejdoskop sometimes appears to assert the value of Michaëlis’s work in contrast to its low-culture elements, rather than because of them. Might these impulses have constituted rather than detracted from Michaëlis’s ingenuity as an author?

Hjertets Kalejdoskop paints a vivid portrait of ambition, humanity, and generosity that might very well spark curiosity, further reading, and new research. The tenacity with which Michaëlis continued to express her convictions to her audiences, so carefully detailed by Eddy, is inspiring. After reading Hjertets Kalejdoskop I placed Den farlige Alder (The Dangerous Age), Michaëlis’s most tendentious novel, atop my summer reading list.



Caroline Haux

Framkallning: Skrift, komsumtion och sexualitet i Karin Boyes Astarte och Henry Parlands Sönder

Makadam Förlag, Göteborg, Stockholm 2013. Pp. 359.

ISBN: 9789170611384

Reviewed by Helena Forsås-Scott

Caroline Haux’s book is her doctoral dissertation, presented at the University of Stockholm in December 2013. Her topic is a bold one: she compares one novel by a female Swedish author with another by a male Finland-Swedish author – and, to quote the summary in English, the two novels ‘are not similar’ (p. 347). But they were written at the same time and for the same Scandinavian novel competition launched by the three leading publishers in Denmark, Norway and Sweden in November 1929. While Boye’s novel was awarded the second prize in 1931, Parland’s was never submitted: the author had died from scarlet fever in November 1930, and the manuscript he left behind was incomplete. Several versions of Parland’s Sönder have since appeared, with Haux using Per Stam’s critical edition published in 2005 (translated into English by Dinah Cannell – her surname misspelled by Haux – and published as To Pieces by Norvik Press, London, in 2011).

Haux is interested in the fact that the novels are not just contemporary but explore the modern consumer society. At the centre of her investigation is the interaction between a particular moment in history and the textual representation of this moment. Here the multiple meanings of the title of her study, Framkallning, become crucial, for the Swedish term does not merely refer to the treatment of photographic film as in the subtitle of Parland’s novel, On the Developing of Velox Paper, but can also mean ‘call forth’, ‘summon’, ‘excite’, ‘prompt’ and ‘cause’. Haux discerns five figurationer, ‘figurations’ (unfortunately without defining the Swedish term) which she claims are common to both novels. These are the construction of contemporary modernity; the representation of ‘reality’ as a reified surface; the role of the city (Stockholm and Helsinki respectively) as the space of modernity; the reification of human relations in a society predominated by consumption and consumerism, including the impact of this society on constructions of gender; and the position of mass and popular culture in the worlds of the two novels. She finds herself with four key questions which become fundamental to her analyses of both novels, with varying emphasis: (1) What are the functions of the forms of commodity and consumption conveyed in Astarte and Sönder respectively? (2) How are sexuality and desire represented? (3) In what ways do other media and symbolic forms function as aesthetic technologies in the novels? (4) To what extent and in what ways do these novels reflect on their representations of this kind of society? To tackle these issues Haux draws on theoretical material by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Judith Butler, Peter Bürger, Gérard Genette, Frederic Jameson, Marshall McLuhan and Maureen Quilligan, among others.

Framkallning presents innovative readings of both novels. Inevitably, there are connections between Haux’s analysis of Astarte and that of Gunilla Domellöf in I oss är en mångfald levande. Karin Boye som kritiker och prosamodernist (1986) but, more importantly, the differences highlight the very considerable developments in the fields of cultural studies and feminist/gendered textual analysis during the decades separating the two studies. Unlike Domellöf, Haux does not read the mythical dimensions of Boye’s novel in the context of a ‘mythical method’ but in the context of capitalism, and she consistently foregrounds the role of the novel as a commodity in the modern consumer society. In Haux’s analysis, Boye’s novel is a didactic text with the characters as examples, while in the narrative of Sönder the example is none other than the protagonist, ‘Henry Parland’. The dummy in the shop window that epitomises the reification of women in Boye’s novel is paralleled by the merging of feminine identities in Parland’s. And writing, in both novels, is shown to be prominently linked to the mechanisation of the machine age.

Haux’s perceptive analyses amply justify her rather unusual juxtaposition of primary texts. Her arguments are persuasive and well supported, and overall her writing is clear and pedagogical, although somewhat verbose at times. Haux’s approach, her command of the material, and her findings combine to make this a significant study.




Andrew Nestingen

The Cinema of Aki Kaurismäki

Columbia University Press, Wallflower Press 2013. Pp. 224.

ISBN: 9780231165587

Reviewed by Maaret Koskinen

‘Nowadays you can hardly take a shot of a man and a woman meeting in the street without having a helicopter fly by’. This humorously sarcastic observation, given in answer to a question posed by the writer of this article over a beer during the Berlin film festival some twenty years ago to Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki, in a way encapsulates his entire cinematic philosophy – minimalist style, laconic one-liners, terse eloquence.

The reference to beer in the above anecdote is not gratuitous. For it is precisely such aspects of the director’s public image that Andrew Nestingen, Associate Professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington, hones in on in his new book, The Cinema of Aki Kaurismäki: Contrarian stories. It is in fact with an anecdote that he begins his book, by recounting a much publicized incident when the director, clearly inebriated, danced on the red carpet as he arrived to attend the screening of his feature The Man Without a Past at the Cannes film festival in 2002 (which ended up winning the Grand Jury Prize), thus reportedly embarrassing not only the Finnish Minister of Culture but Finland as a nation as well.

But it is not for sensationalist reasons that Nestingen chooses this opening. His point is rather that anecdotes like these, as well as biographical narratives, interviews and critical writings, play an important role in any critical analysis of auteur cinema, as they shape the expectations of the audience and its reception of the filmmaker’s work. All the more important, then, according to Nestingen, to review such narratives in order to reach a fuller understanding of the contradictory nature of the work, in this case Kaurismäki’s cinematic art. This is precisely what Nestingen does, and does well. For from that one incident on the red carpet in Cannes he succeeds elegantly in culling four critical narratives or paradigms that have circulated about Kaurismäki, entitled The Auteur, the Bohemian, the Nostalgic, and the Finn. These paradigms also serve to structure the entire book, with the ultimate aim of showing the degree to which they are ambivalent, harbouring clashing and contradictory elements.

Starting with the Auteur, Nestingen shows how Kaurismäki’s films encourage the scholar to rethink the binary categories that often structure discourse on authorships. For while it is certainly easy to categorize Kaurismäki as a true film auteur, that is one who exercises authorial control as writer, director and even producer, his work also proves highly relevant to revisionist approaches to European cinema, not least in a transnational light, allowing us to see its rich relationship to world cinema. The same can be said for Kaurismäki’s particular directorial style, for instance in the recurring contrast between realism and melodrama or pastiche (say transporting classics like Dostoevsky into modern-day Helsinki). In this context Nestingen makes the fine observation that Kaurismäki’s cinema can be understood as an ‘archiving’ project, which seeks to conserve certain elements of the past, stemming from literature, cinema, theatre and music, as an ‘aesthetic and moral resistance’ against contemporary discourses of culture, economics and politics. Thus The Match Factory Girl, one of his most well-known films, is described eloquently as ‘film history in exile – Bresson in a world of globalized American popular culture’ (p. 44).

Moving on to the Bohemian, and Kaurismäki’s ridiculing of the commercial agenda of the Cannes festival, his films also show allegiance with marginalized characters such as criminals or the homeless, for instance in his adaptation of Henri Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème from 1852. But as Nestingen wisely points out, just as bohemian literature addressed the middle class at the same time as depending on it economically, Kaurismäki too, although occupying a position of symbolic opposition to the mainstream, is ‘historically, institutionally, and economically entangled with it’ (p. 7),not least in being supported by the national Finnish film financing system. Nestingen also discusses other dialectical shifts that have animated Kaurismäki’s take on the bohemian, for instance that it involves both ironic and sentimental components. In this way, to cite the author, we get a fuller view of how his cinema ‘draws from “modern life”, as Baudelaire might say, to fashion a perspective on modern life that explores and tests its conflicts, sites of exclusion, opportunities for emancipation, and utopian aspirations’ (p. 85).

As for the third narrative, the Nostalgic, Kaurismäki’s films are often understood as the construction of an idealized past, be it aesthetic or some other golden Finnish past. Here Nestingen shows how the arguments about nostalgia in Kaurismäki’s films have tended to circumscribe his cinema in narrowly national terms. Instead, he claims that Kaurismäki’s nostalgia, in its contestation of the present via the past, provides a means of studying nostalgia as an intersection between a number of cinematic and cultural discourses, not only the archivist kind, but also what Nestingen names the anachronististic and ethically nostalgic varieties.

Finally, regarding The Finn, Nestingen finds (not surprisingly) reason to cite Bertolt Brecht’s quip that ‘Finns are the only people in the world who are silent in two languages’ (p. 11). But here too he finds that the stories of Kaurismäki’s Finnishness conceal considerable ambivalence, and that the narrative of nationality in his films involves competing accounts, not least regarding the multi-local and multinational composition of a national cinema. Thus Nestingen contextualizes the national dimensions of this paradigm by analyzing it as an instance of small-nation cinema circulating in the realms of transnational cinemas. Particularly important in this context is how Kaurismäki’s films fit into a conjuncture defined by the transnational film festival circuit. Significantly his work has never been that popular with Finnish audiences, but all the more for de-territorialized transnational audiences in large cities.

In sum, then, Andrew Nestingen succeeds in teasing out the strands entwined in the tensions and paradoxes of Kaurismäki’s film art, and how these strands are caught between art and commerce, bohemianism and conservatism, nostalgia and skepticism, nation and cosmopolitanism. More than this, by taking the commonsensical viewpoint, not in order to throw it out of the window but rather to critically review it, Nestingen brings to the fore what remains useful (and in doing so also gives credit to previous scholarship, for instance the works of Anu Koivunen and Tytti Soila), while significantly refining and augmenting the territory. Particularly valuable in this regard is his demonstration of how Kaurismäki’s work lends itself to latterday discussions of European cinema, national cinema and the globalization of visual culture.

Last but not least, the book is valuable quite simply because it is the first full English-language study of this noteworthy filmmaker’s work.





Photo Credits

Cover image: Fårö view, Gotland, 2014, Simon Paulin/

Photograph used on cover of 2014-2 issue