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Literature from 1800-1850 is dominated by Romantic thinking. Henrik Steffens played a great role in the emergence of this way of thinking in Denmark when, in 1802, he gave the first of his lectures on the relationship between nature, history and mankind, inspiring a large number of writers.

According to romantic thought, the world was dualistic, for behind the prosaic everyday sphere there was a superior, spiritual sphere that could be sensed through nature, history and religion. It was the duty of poetry to point to this superior world.

Among the enthusiastic proponents of this idea were H.C. Ørsted, with Ånden i Naturen (The Spirit in Nature), Oehlenschläger with works including Guldhornene (The Golden Horns) and Hakon Jarls Død (The Death of Earl Hakon). Grundtvig and Ingemann, too, were “Romantics” in their early days. For instance they were preoccupied with history – Grundtvig with his translation of Saxo Grammaticus among other things, and Ingemann with his historical novels.

This line of thought also fostered the romantic genius. The great personality was raised above the demands and moral standards of society and looked sceptically at all generally accepted values. This scepticism was seen for instance in Søren Kierkegaard, who fought a bitter struggle with his own time.

In a class of his own in the literature of the time was Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales renewed the genre. This was done primarily by addressing children and adults at the same time, but also by placing the action in an experienced reality rather than in the magical world of the old fairy tales.


P.C. Skovgaard: Bøgeskov i Maj. 1857. Statens Museum for Kunst (Foto: DOWIC Fotografi)

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