Text: J. Lasley Dameron, “Poe in Scandinavia,” Poe Studies, June 1974, Vol. VII, No. 1, 7:26-27


[page 26, column 2, continued:]

Poe in Scandinavia

Anderson, Carl L. Poe in Northlight: The Scandinavian Response to His Life and Work. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1973. 228 pp. $5.75

Professor Anderson, in a comprehensive 228-page study of Edgar Allan Poe’s reputation and influence in Scandinavia, demonstrates very clearly that Scandinavian interest in Poe accompanies the rise of contemporary symbolism in European literature. The author’s close acquaintance with Scandinavian literature and culture is apparent throughout this study. After a brief introduction, he concentrates on Poe’s significance in Scandinavia before 1890, devoting his first chapter to Denmark, his second to Norway and Sweden, followed by a third chapter on Ola Hansson, and a fourth on August Strindberg. His sixth and final chapter discusses Scandinavian response to Poe after 1890.

It is understandable why Professor Anderson pays so much attention to the Swedish poet and critic Ola Hansson. Hansson, above all others in Scandinavia, praised the merits of Poe’s writings in a frequently translated essay “Edgar Allan Poe,” initially published in 1889 in an abbreviated German translation. In an appendix, Professor Anderson presents his carefully edited English translation of a Swedish printing of the essay appearing in 1921. HanssonC along with J. P. Jacobsen and Johannes J,0rgensen of Denmark, Nils Kjaer of Norway and others — reveals [page 27:] engaging insights into Poe’s artistic effects. Their appraisals seem quite perceptive in spite of their dependence upon French criticisms and upon the somewhat circumscribed commentaries on Poe’s work found in George E. Woodberry’s biography of 1885. Unfortunately, the inaccuracies of Poe’s biography stated in Baudelaire’s essays on Poe were often repeated throughout Scandinavia before 1890. Professor Anderson also finds that the Scandinavians tended to echo Baudelaire in their estimate of Poe as a sensitive but artistic genius who was victimized by American materialism. Some, however, had opportunity to read Woodberry’s biography, drew accurate facts from it, and were largely unaffected by Woodberry’s unfavorable criticisms. Many related Poe to the French decadents and symbolistes and, like the French, admired Poe’s “genius for rational analysis of the irrational.” But Professor Anderson is careful to emphasize that Poe’s direct influence in Scandinavia was much less than in France. Scandinavian appreciation of Poe, argues the author, can be understood in the light of a concerted reaction to the precepts of literary naturalism and social realism exemplified by Georg Brandes in his Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature.

In his chapter on Hansson, the author devotes most of his attention to a critical analysis of Hansson’s opinion of Poe. In drawing from contemporary theorists of psychology like Theodule Ribot, Hansson adopted the psychoanalytical approach to Poe thirty years before the approach took hold in the United States. Interestingly enough, in line with some contemporary critics, Hansson emphasizes Poe’s visionary insights into the “night side of the human soul.” In a subsequent chapter on Strindberg, Professor Anderson finds that the noted dramatist was not affected by Poe, although Strindberg exuberantly extolled Poe in his correspondence with Hansson.

In his final chapter entitled “After 1890,” Professor Anderson traces Poe’s reputation by surveying a variety of criticisms like Gunnar Bjurman’s thirty-chapter dissertation on Poe completed at Lund University in 1916. Critics like Vilhelm Ekelund, Alf Larsen, Egil Rasmussen and Thorkild BjoravigC all publishing after 1900 — attest Poe’s historical significance as a writer who dwells upon the dark inner-self of man’s nature. Bjurnvig, for instance, finds that Poe’s “The Man of the Crowd” illustrates a contemporary theme in depicting a socially isolated narrator overcome by the urgent need “to be with other people no matter what the price” (p. 159). But Poe’s influence upon Scandinavian writers after 1900, observes the author, “was seldom intense enough to lead to their drawing on Poe in their own work” (p. 143).

Professor Anderson’s text is a bit littered with footnotes; however, one can appreciate his attempt to be comprehensive and at the same time to convey much bibliographical information. The thread of his arguments is in most instances easy to follow, although at times his discussions of the literary milieu in Scandinavia seem overly detailed. The chapter on Strindberg seems belabored largely because the author is apparently faced with the tricky task of explaining how Strindberg did in fact praise Poe, but was not affected by Poe in any significant respect. The author’s introduction is most helpful in briefly defining the literary attitudes in northern Europe when Poe was first received in Scandinavia, and the index is very useful [column 2:] in that it includes a goodly number of author references as well as titles of Poe’s works. In short, Professor Anderson effectively acquaints the reader with the Scandinavian response to Poe that, among other things, reflects the rising interest in literary symbolism throughout Europe.

J. Lasley Dameron, Memphis State University


Associated Article(s) and Related Material:

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