Knowledge on the Nordics

The Scandinavian Modern Breakthrough

March 22, 2021 Janet Garton, Paul Larkin Season 1 Episode 10
Knowledge on the Nordics
The Scandinavian Modern Breakthrough
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Listen to this nordics.info podcast on the social, political and literary movement from around 1870 to 1900 in Scandinavia! Dubbed the Modern Breakthrough, it was a backlash against conservatism, both culturally and politically, and led to countless challenging and fascinating pieces of fictional and non-fictional literature and art. Authors were like celebrities, propounding social justice for the poor, emancipation and rights for women, taking up naturalist ideas post-Darwin, and kicking against the overriding religion.

Spoiler alert!: If you listen to this podcast, several endings of famous Scandinavian novels will be disclosed!

Sound credits from freesound.org including oboe horn tune & audience r.aif by IEDlabs and Historical Museum lounge area ambience.wav by Halfofthesky.  

Janet Garton:

Literature is not something to be contemplated to be enjoyed passively, but it should lead to action, should lead to change, it should wake you up.

Nicola Witcombe:

Welcome to this nordics.info podcast. My name is Nicola Witcombe, and I'm editor of nordics.info, which is a research dissemination website at Aarhus University and part of the Nordic university research hub Reimagining Norden in Evolving World (ReNEW). We are planning to cram into this short podcast, an overview and analysis of a crucial defining and even revolutionary time period from around 1870 to 1900 in mainly Norway and Denmark. That was the voice of Janet Garten, emeritus professor in Scandinavian studies speaking about one of the key tenants of what became known as The Modern Breakthrough in Scandinavia. She is a translator and editor with a main interest in 19th and 20th century Norwegian and Danish literature, and she has a particular focus on the Norwegian author, Amelia Skram. Janice is also one of the founders and a director of Norvik Press, and independent publishers based at University College, London's Scandinavian Studies Department. My second guest is Paul Larkin, who is himself a writer of fiction and essays. He is also a translator whose recent works include the Danish Klaus Rifbjerg's Terminal Innocence, and the Danish Henrik Pontoppidan: A Fortunate Man. The latter was a feat of nearly 800 pages that took seven years to translate. Paul is also interested in philosophy, linguistics and art, including the Danish philosopher Sren Kierkegaard and the Danish modernist painter Asger Jon. Well, thanks ever so much for agreeing to be here. I've been looking forward to speaking to you. So let's go to the first question which is what was the modern breakthrough? Briefly, I know lots of books have been written about it, and also maybe bring out why it was so important. Janet, would you like to go first?

Janet Garton:

Sure. Yes. Well, yes, the term the modern breakthrough is a kind of shorthand, I suppose for a movement, which involves enormous changes in all areas of society with social, cultural and political values, over the whole of Scandinavia in the period, roughly the period 1870 to 1900. I mean, you could, I suppose, call it the coming of the modern age. It was a time of a questioning of fundamental values of the accepted views of religion, of class, of sexual morality. And, indeed, of the general distribution of power in society, a questioning of traditional authority. And there were many reasons for this. One of them was the advances in scientific understanding. Charles Darwin's book, The origin of species, was published in 1859. And that led to a new understanding of evolution. It led to naturalism, which we'll perhaps talk about later, and also to our questioning of the accepted religion of Christian beliefs and linked with that, the growth of atheism. So that was one thing. Another thing was political developments. A move away from a belief in divine authority and absolute monarchy, away from the conservative dominance based on inherited wealth on class, and the growth of left wing political parties. This happens both in Norway and in Denmark. The left wing parties are founded during this period, the party's loosely referred to as vents through. Both in Denmark you've got Venstre being formed, but taking a very long time to gain any real power. And in Norway, Norway's lens through actually gained power in 1884 under Johan Sverdrup, although, again, a rather checkered history. And the third thing, which I think is important, in the background to the modern breakthrough is the International Women's Movement, which spread started in America and spread across the world. And this involved the questioning of all the social structures, women's property rights, for example, married women were not allowed to own any property in the mid 19th century, inequality in marriage, inequality in work, the evils of prostitution, and led to the demand for the right to vote for universal suffrage, which didn't actually happen until after the turn of the century, but for several decades was an important issue. So basically, the status quo was upset during this period and traditional belief systems were questioned. And things were really never the same again.

Nicola Witcombe:

Thank you. Well, there's an awful lot to unpack there. Basically, all of society. So that's great. And, Paul, have you got anything to add or a different perspective or how you came to it, perhaps when you first approached Scandinavian studies,

Paul Larkin:

I mentioned it in the way the Scandinavians and particularly the Danes reacted to the modern breakthrough, which wasn't as we know. And not just by right wingers, by the way, wasn't entirely warm in my view, and welcoming in any in the whole through the whole period. But what I think excites me about the modern breakthough group, personally, is the idea of the critic. The first time, I think it was called the critic is the 10th muse. And I think that's one of the more underplayed aspects of the modern breakthrough that the role of the critic came through not just as literary critics, but actually as people with something to say in society. So I suppose I've comment more from a literary and static view than the descriptive description that Janet gave.

Janet Garton:

Of course, one of the most important results of the modern breakthrough is this wonderful flowering of literature. In the second half of the 19th century, I mean, you get a string of amazing authors writing, to some extent, in the modern breakthrough, spirit, I mean, I don't want to give the impression that, you know, from 1870 onwards, everybody was singing from the same hymn sheet, and that everybody was in wonderful agreement about what ought to be done. The modern breakthrough was a period full of conflict, and not only conflict with the established order, but internal conflict, and the people that the writers and the artists as well who are very important of the modern breakthrough, disagreed furiously with the with one another. So it's not as if you know, there was a unified movement. It was a time of great disagreement. And really interesting figures clashing. I mean, they, looking at it from the Norwegian point of view, the interest most interesting clashes that between Brandes and Bjrnstjerne Bjrnson, who is a towering figure in this period, in not only in Norway, but in Scandinavia, and who disagreed furiously with brand is about a large number of things, even though technically they were on the same side.

Nicola Witcombe:

So Georg Brandes is just to bring it down to absolute basics was a key figure in the modern breakthrough, but he was Danish.

Janet Garton:

Yes, correct. He was. I mean, he was a critic, as Paul was saying, He's the critic really, in Denmark, and he was the one who spearheaded the biggest of the modern breakthrough. And he was an independent scholar, he didn't have a university position. But he gave lectures in the University in Copenhagen. There's a series of lectures he gave in 1871, which is called, 'Hovedstrmninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur', Main Currents in 19th Century Literature, where he informed people about the major European literatures and pointed out how old fashioned Scandinavian literature was, what he saw really as kind of escapist literature of the Romantic period, and urge them to get more up to date, just to take up the issues of the day. So what he wanted was to encourage Scandinavian writers to write realistic studies of contemporary life. So not a kind of imagined ideal world, but, you know, to look at what was happening in their own society and to criticize it, to expose social injustice, or set a problem not only there but is the slogan that's often quoted, when it comes to brand is you're supposed to have a debating literature. So literature is not something to be contemplated, to be enjoyed passively, but it should lead to action, it should lead to change, it should wake you up. And that was what he was urging authors to do. And what several of them did, then not only because he said so.

Nicola Witcombe:

And Paul, would you just give us a few very basic details about Henrik Pontoppidan. I guess what I understood is that Pontoppidan, sort of half agreed with Brandes, and half didn't agree with him. Is that correct summary, or?

Paul Larkin:

It was more than a question of disagreeing about certain literary motifs, I think it went, it's much more fundamental than that. Both of them read Kierkegaard, in fact, Georg Brandes and Kierkegaard were brilliant. Georg Brandes read Kierkegaard extensively, and if I remember right, he wants us, you know, he hoped aspire to be the secular Kierkegaard. And I think that if we actually look at Pontoppidan, in this sense, of the Danish national identity, if you like, I think that's one of the issues that comes through join with their celebrations for Georg Brandes' 70th birthday, Pontoppidan wrote a poem, a famous poem, which effectively was a kind of a dirge about what Brandes didn't achieve with a modern breakthrough. You know, I remember one of the lines of remember from university when it came across in English, you call to bring the light forth, and darkness descended upon us. You know, I think that he felt that literally that Brandes wasn't able to plant the modern flowers, blooming flowers in a Danish or Scandinavian soil. And I might, you've asked me what my personal view about that is. And I think it's a shame that Brandes, who said that he wanted to embrace reality, and embrace the life of people and so the art should reflect that. But actually, if you look at what was going on in the country, in particularly in rural areas, we had, at the same time, as a modern breakthrough was happening, we had the growth of conflicts, and folk movement. So those things are going on, and they found this was arguing that that shouldn't be reflected in literature, which is what he tends to suggest, then Pontoppidan I can understand why Pontoppidan would say, hold on a minute, I'm not quite happy with that view. And we should be reflect reflecting the life within the in the countryside. And I think where they both came together was this view of the hypocrisy of the clerics pontoppidan love to write about things like that. And you see that from all he his famous trilogy the the hypocritical clerics, one of his greatest works in my view is sounding a man who's standing a congregation, which describes these do got a grant On va bronze, again is from Copenhagen, coming out to the sticks and hoping to rescue these poor souls. These poor downtrodden souls, take them back to Copenhagen that employ them as maids and servants in their houses, so I think that's why they both came together most closely. They will never duce. Go plan isn't consulted, and they never use the do the personal form of address they were always D. And in fact, founders used to write to Pontoppidan and say, Why won't you come and visit me? Pontoppidan rarely ever visited Georg Brandes in Copenhagen or anywhere else for that matter.

Nicola Witcombe:

Okay, that's really interesting. It's also really great to get some very specific, concrete examples of both literature and history. So Janet, I just like to go back to what you were saying. Brandes had big discussions or disagreements with one of the Norwegian figures. Could you just very briefly describe who he was. And then afterwards his relationship with Brandes briefly.

Janet Garton:

Yes, Bjrnson is relatively unknown these days, at least outside Norway, but he was really a more important figure in 19th century Norway then Ibsen was outside the theater world. Bjrnson was was an all rounder, and the Norwegians have this habit in the 19th century of seeing their writers as a kind of prophets. I mean, there is an enormous respect for writers. Bjrnson was perhaps the most well known writer, but not just a writer, he was active in all walks of life. He agreed with many of the modern breakthrough ideas. I mean, many of his plays are about social injustice. But he definitely he was temperamentally very different from Brandes. And also had different views particularly about sexual morality. The problem with as far as the sexual morality debate went was the inequality between men and women, the men were encouraged to have sexual experience before they got married. Women were supposed to be chased. Well, the obvious problem with that was that you actually needed a second class of women who were available as sexual partners. Just to put it very simply, one of the major disagreements between Brandes and Bjrnson was, if you have any equality between the sexes, and you want to achieve equality, there are two ways of doing it. One is that you encourage women to have as much experience as men so that they can meet on equal terms. And the other is that you encourage men to have as little experience as women so that they can meet on equal terms. And broadly speaking, Brandes was believed in the first of those things, what was referred to as free love, and Bjrnson some believed in the second that both sexes should remain chaste before marriage, he didn't actually advocate that as a young man, but when he got older, less energetic. And you can see this very clearly in a play that Bjrnson, published in 1883, which was called En Hanske, which means a glove or a gauntlet. And it's a play about a young couple who are engaged, going to get married. And during the play, the girl discovers that her fiance, has had a mistress, and is absolutely horrified that he has not been as chaste as she and and then later discovers that her father also has not been faithful to her mother. And this is really shattering to her view of the world. And the play ends in the original version with her throwing down a gauntlet and challenging her Fiancee to live as chastely as she does, and then eventually, one day possibly they might get married. I said this was the original ending. Bjrnson had to change it and make it less defiant in later versions, because it was a bit too much for the audience to swallow.

Nicola Witcombe:

That's that's really interesting, Janet, and you're at the moment you're talking about two men who were talking about the relations between men and women. Were there any female voices in this whole debate?

Janet Garton:

Oh, yes, indeed. They were certainly. I mean, there were important female writers in the 19th century, who took quite a long way. To be recognized the movement for the rights of women was in many ways male dominated and it was because of Championship by men that it really got started in the first place. People like Ibsen for example with A Doll's House (Et Dukkehjem) but there were some important women writers, Camila Collett in Norway was a pioneer. And she actually wrote the first Norwegian novel not the first novel by a woman but the first Norwegian novel Amtmannens dtre, the district Governor's daughters, which came out in 1854 to 55. This is a novel about a provincial family, where the father is the most important official in the district, but their social circle is very limited. They have four daughters, who need to be married off. It sounds a little bit like Jane Austen, but the ending is by no means so positive, as in Jane Austen's novels. So it's basically a novel about the lack of opportunities for women. The second writer I'd like to mention is Victoria Benedictsson, whom a Swedish writer, she is perhaps best known as being the lover of Georg Brandes. And, in fact, she killed herself when he rejected her. But she was also an important author, especially with a novel called 'Pengar' (Money) which was published in 1888, which tells the story of a young girl who is completely ignorant of the facts of life, as many were in those days and is practically bought by her rich husband. And then finally, you won't be surprised to know that I want to say something about Amalie Skram. Amalie Skram was the most important naturalist writer in Norway. And yes, we've only just briefly mentioned naturalism. Perhaps I could just say that naturalist writers were taking up some of the ideas which we owe to Darwin about the way in which evolution proceeds and looking at the importance of heredity and environment for the development not just the development of species but for the development of human beings. Naturalistic novels tend to focus on the way in which people's lives are determined by the circumstances into which they had been born and the way they they've been brought up. And this is very clear in Amalia Skram's novels. Amalie Skram was had an unusually adventurous life. When she was only 17. Her father went bankrupt in Bergen and fled to America leaving behind his wife and a number of children and Amalie escaped from this by getting married to a ship's captain, and sailing around the world with him. They had two sons, and lots of adventures before the marriage broke down. I mean, she, she basically was a young girl who got married without knowing the facts of life like so many others and her husband was not a very sensitive man. And their marriage was a disaster. And she did manage to get divorced, which was very difficult in those days and quite a stigma to be divorced. But after this, she began writing and started writing as a critic, in fact, in the newspapers before she met Erik Skram, the Dane who is an important writer in his own right. And they, he was living in Copenhagen in Christiania, later Oslo. They exchanged passionate letters, which I would maintain are the love story of the century. I've edited these letters and published them and they fill three big volumes. Six hundreds or so letters written during the time between when they met and got married and even later during their marriage. After they got married in 1884, Amalie Skram moved to Copenhagen and set about writing novels which draw quite heavily on her own life. If I could just mention one of them, the novel Forrdt (Betrayed) which was published in 1892, tells the story of a young girl who marries a ship's captain and set sail with him around the world, you will see the similarities. The result is predictably disastrous. But the interesting thing about this novel is that the fault is not all on one side, it's not innocent on happy young girl and exploitative, older man. The young girl or daughter has been betrayed in the that's why the novel's called betrayed by an educational system and the mother who keeps her ignorant of sex and ignorant of how society functions. But her husband is also betrayed by a system, which gives him a wife who cannot understand him. And he is he's a good man, although he's has had mistresses in various ports, as sailors are supposed to do. But he makes an honest attempt to explain the world to his wife to get her to understand how things are. But she can't do so, she reacts with hysteria. So basically, the novel is about how both partners have been betrayed.

Nicola Witcombe:

So the time we've got this, these two forces pulling together, pulling in opposite directions, I guess we've got sort of religion on the one side and Darwinism and naturalism on the other. And this was explored by Pontoppidan, was it not Paul?

Paul Larkin:

Really, he, I think mirrored the Danish kind of psyche, if you like much, in a much more rounded way than Georg Brandes. And I think it's, it should compound his detriment. They weren't able to embrace the particular genius of genius, if you like, of the Danish people. And by the way, in those days, people forget that Norway and Denmark, Denmark in terms of cultural interchange, were very, very much almost have a warning, not not in terms of that they all agreed, but the interaction that was going on. I think that Pontoppidan wanted to keep that all embracing view of the Danish nation, the Danish psyche, and that's indeed why he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1917. So that was a tension that was going on between Pontoppidan kind of naturalist or rather than nativist, in a way view, wheras Georg Brandes is kind of, autocratic aesthetic, which Pontoppidan kicked against, if that makes sense.

Nicola Witcombe:

That does make sense, could you just give a brief summary of the story for 'Lykkeper' for 'A Fortunate Man', because that sort of exemplifies some of the issues you're talking about?

Paul Larkin:

It does indeed, Lykkeper, it's a typical bildungsroman from that time. It's a story of the son of a priest from a large, quite poor family. based in, in Rander, which was where Pontoppidan grew up. And really, it's a description of growing up after the war with Bismarck's Prussia and the Prussian soldiers coming up, and Austrian soldiers, I think, by the way, as well into Joplin. And so that is the influence of that. So you have that reaction against Germany, which, by the way, is very important in the Danish psyche, as well as that antipathy towards Germany, which, again, is, you know, sometimes went too far, but is understandable in terms of the animosity of what happened in 1864. So that's a context to of this character pair. Peter Andreas Sidenius comes from a long line of Sidenius who were priests. So then he goes off to Copenhagen to seek his fortune. What I think is very interesting is that his crisis in the end, becomes quite Dostoevsky. Georg Brandes called Dostoevsky a barbarian. And he had no patience with Tolstoy, either most of the time. And yet, we see these massive events going on, not to the west, but to the east of Denmark, by what was happening, but I think Pontoppidan, too, was influenced by this by questions of anarchism by questions of how peasants can gain freedom, which of course was a great issue for Dostoevsky, it was a thing of serfdom that was given to them by the seconds are. So I think those issues very much were coming to the fore. And then Pontoppidan describes this, this young poor, Peter Sidenius, who wants to achieve a breakthrough as an engineer he can't, and then eventually becomes impoverished. And then, because he basically is nowhere with all he falls in love, partly because he has to fall in love, because he needs the economy of household. Peter's crisis in Copenhagen, if you read it in the book, and I was extremely moved as translators are, and he was literally impoverished, eventually had to go begging which he didn't want to do to his elder brother who was Jan and typically what he was as a person, to beg for money. And that whole scene to me is very, very reminiscent if you read crime and punishment. I mean, the two counts is not the same, but last call and the cost poverty. And the poverty of people generally, is very, very much something which is forgotten in Pontoppidan. But he actually describes poverty and in extremely graphic terms. Pontoppidan was very, very concerned with that issue, in my view, and once this character, Peter Sidenius get back to Jutland, and tries in the spiritual crisis, to have a kind of Grundtvig type family scenario, he finds he can't do that either. And essentially, the story really boils down to the fact that this person and an imposter parentvue danger as a whole, have a predisposition to be quite melancholy, and to withdraw and to be quite private, and to ponder things over a period of time. And don't forget, the opposite of that is the extraordinary character of Jacobi, Solomon, this well to do Jewish Harris, who abandoned all our wealth, and actually found us as a school for orphans, in Copenhagen. And at the end of the novel, these two poles if you like, the modern Jewish Hara shoe abandons, oh well for, for philanthropic reasons. And Per has a kind of, if you like metaphysical or philosophical coming together, and he leaves a large amount of money for that orphanage and find some kind of release in his own isolation, having thought through things and come to a conclusion about who he is. It's not, Pontoppidan was not portraying the dangers, people who are incapable of coming to those conclusions, but the fact that because of their history, and the way they've and particularly farm of the Lutheran Church and religion, and so on hypocritical priests, and hypocritical clerics, that all these things come together to cripple the people of Denmark in many ways. And so we have the Jacobi figure who hasn't had that baggage to carry with her. So in a way, we mustn't forget Jacobi and all this, and the two poles of attraction and the Danish one and the modern Harris, a sophisticated, who decides to opt for the poor, if you like. So it's an extraordinary level. It's an extraordinary ending in that way that you don't normally see in a typical Bildungsroman. It's an incredible book.

Janet Garton:

Yes, I just wanted to pick up on what Paul said about about the importance of Copenhagen as a cultural center. And this is really important for Norwegians during this period, because, as you know, Norway, and Denmark split at the beginning of the 19th century, Norway had been ruled from Denmark until the early 19th century, and then from 1814. Norway was in a union with Sweden, for the whole of the 19th century, really Norway and Denmark were very close culturally. And Christiania was really a small provincial town in the 19th century. And if you wanted culture, you went to Copenhagen, and that's what nearly all important Norwegian writers did. And we've talked about Bjrnson and Ibsen. The four greats, as they're usually called of Norwegian literature, who were all men of the modern breakthrough, Ibsen, Bjrnson, Alexander Kielland and Jonas Lie all passed through Copenhagen as as did many others. So Copenhagen was where it was all happening really. Also for artists, not just for writers,

Nicola Witcombe:

So we've talked about Danish and Norwegian writers. where were the other Nordic nations in this whole debate, what was their position on it?

Janet Garton:

Well, it's very interesting that they, they don't figure so largely. I mean, yeah Brandes wrote a book in 1883 called the Men of the Modern Breakthrough (Det Moderne Gennembruds Mnd) and they were all men and they were all Norwegian and Danish. There were no others. But I think one person who ought to be mentioned in anything to do with the second half of the 19th century is Strindberg. And as you know, Strindberg is many things to many people, but he did play a part of the model breakthrough played a part in his work. He, I mean, the play is like, through Miss Julie and Father and the Father explore themes of heredity and environment in various ways. And he also wrote a collection of short stories called 'Giftas', Getting Married, it's been translated as was 1884 short stories about modern marriage, and there you see many of the same themes coming up. And, to some extent, defense of the emancipation of women, although, of course, Strindbergs attitude to women was complicated to say the least.

Nicola Witcombe:

I'm afraid we don't have time to go into into that now.

Paul Larkin:

There's one other issue that with regard to the wider pan Scandinavian view and that is that all of them all of the people regardless of their view of, of idealism, naturalism, and so on, were interested in Icelandic sagas, it's forgotten that God is actually translated some sagas are I think, elements of the many way polyglot that he was on topic, a similar view of the influence of the importance of the sagas, for example, I think, he aspired to write to do this, he and his last book in his great trilogy and in the style of elk saga, and the style of you know, this very brief term, you say from nosaka, yo, model, there was a man called Nile now, you know, that kind of spa. So they did the sagas did Islamic literature as a whole and then Saxo. Saxo was influenced subsequently. And so on the question of Hamlet, which, of course, is very important for you haven't seen, and I'm talking about the original Hamlet armload from Joplin now, for all important for those writers, too. So they're from Iceland, and also a view of Norway in a as a kind of, I mean, Kirkegaard described Grundtvig because assumptions have an Nordisk view of things, you know, and we might call it an ale Nordic view. he regarded one called Vega, someone who's also of course, translated Icelandic sagas as someone who was almost a pastiche of, of what a scowled should be, sort of was that Icelandic influences well.

Nicola Witcombe:

That's great. And through this conversation, Zola has come up, Dostoevsky, also Jane Austen. I'm not a historian, but presumably similar things were happening elsewhere. I'm interested in why the modern breakthrough has been recognized as such in the Nordics. What were the aspects that were particularly Nordic? Yeah, what what is what has led it to be a defining period that people study even nowadays?

Janet Garton:

So it's not called the modern breakthrough in other countries, but similar things were happening. Of course, I mean, Paul mentioned the Industrial Revolution, which is also part of it. Just changing the way that society is imagined and constructed.

Paul Larkin:

I think, I think that what we've forgotten is actually you can argue that there was no breakthrough. The was part of Pontoppidan's point with his poem is his lacerating poem in a way, what would you call it? A thanks, but no thanks kind of poem. And again, I think that if they'd have actually looked ironically deep more in a much more deep way, what's happened in Scandinavia than they might have managed to achieve what founders wanted, which was that great, kind of inspired by Hegel originally, his idea of the world spirit, an inquiry that what, what gain or gain was the new age. But instead, what we got was the first world the horrors of the First World War. So I think scholars should be looking more at why it failed, rather than because breakthrough is a very positive word, you know, Oh, great, you made a breakthrough? Well, we've discovered a new thing, when actually it collapsed into the trenches on the awful mass massacres and slaughters of the First World War.

Nicola Witcombe:

But that actually leads to one of my final questions, which is, how did the thinking of the modern breakthrough have an effect on Nordic societies at the time? And obviously, Paul, you've just said, Well, actually, it didn't have an effect, or it didn't have a sufficient effect. And I appreciate it's difficult to summarize when there were so many different aspects to it.

Janet Garton:

I mean, it's you can't talk about non breakthrough as a unified thing, really, obviously, these idealists, these writers, these critics did not achieve everything they set out to achieve. That goes without saying, really, but I think if you ask women, they would say that the modern breakthrough made a great difference to their lives, or the ideas of the modern breakthrough, the progress that happened during this period, really was important for the independence of women. So I think in that area, at least, it succeeded, even though in many other areas, it obviously fell short of what they'd hoped.

Paul Larkin:

I think that I agree with Janet, in terms of the progress that women made in terms of establishing a persona, rights, the vote and although they came very late, in lots of societies, by the way, in Ireland, people didn't have the right to vote, not for a while at least, there was no one man one vote for a long, long, long time after that. I think the the, the pressure for women's emancipation was going to happen anyway.

Nicola Witcombe:

I'm also interested in I mean, are you able to comment on this connection between, you know, the thinking of literature and politics and policy,

Paul Larkin:

If the modern breakthrough people that actually managed to achieve what Karen Blixen did with Barbette's Feast, for example, enhanced calf was discolor where they actually refracted the lives of those people, but in a way accepted the the life warts and all of those people and didn't seek to look down upon those people, if you like in the way that Brandes ended up doing, and not so much Pontoppidan. My view current direction, if you read out of Africa and also hands care from his position, they had a much greater empathy, if you like, with the folk idea, meaning the end of day Pontoppidan described himself as a folk author. And I think if the modern breakthrough had been able to be have been more all embracing if you like, rather than if you are more snobby about the views of the proletariat, and the landed classes, I think it would have actually had a much greater success. That's essentially what I'm saying.

Janet Garton:

The Scandinavians, generally speaking are, are very focused on books. You know, literature is important, or has been at least I'm not quite sure whether it's quite the same now, but until fairly recently. I think the Scandinavians read more books and write more books than most countries in the world. If you went to an outlying Norwegian farmhouse, you will no doubt find the collected works of Ibsen, Bjrnson, Kjelland and Lieand the Norwegian 'folkeeventyr'. You know, they'd all be there on the shelves in their splendid volumes. So people did read and do read, perhaps a lot more than one might expect and literature was important. I mean, this is part of you know, seeing writers as profits they were regarded as celebrities in a way which perhaps what seems strange to us, but I think I think that is, in many ways still true.

Nicola Witcombe:

Great, thank you. So I think we're nearing the end now you'll be pleased to know. And so my final question is some argue that the foundations of the welfare state were put down in the latter part of the 19th century. What are your views on this? And can this be in any way attributable to the thinking that was prevalent during the modern breakthrough period?

Janet Garton:

Well, I think that if you think back about what we've been saying about the aims of the thinkers of the modern breakthrough, aiming for a more equal society, for better education, for fairer distribution, for political democracy, for the eradication of poverty, etc, etc, you know, you can you can see all these things as a kind of build up a background to the welfare state, because those are the things that the welfare state aims for as well. So, in that sense, yes. It's a kind of precursor, perhaps, to the welfare state. I don't know whether Paul would agree with that=

Paul Larkin:

No don't think I do. I think that kind of idea of an aristocracy, which got boundaries and some of the modern breakaway people came to in the end, meant that they didn't embrace that kind of folk idea that folk concept not in in a Nazi vault, interpretation of it a more empathetic folk view. I think that militated view of the aristocratic, you know, what, what need to call the evil mansion or women Huskers? God man is polish, you know, the person who would lead other people through culturally speaking, I think that was something that wasn't quite didn't reflect the, you know, the ideas of social welfare that Janet has been described, and I think other authors, other people came through, like, yep, Orko described the you know, the travails of the landed classes and so on, subsequently made that move, but I think it was going to happen anyway, this, I think it's a shame that they didn't embrace all things, you know, the folk view that led to things like social welfare and emancipation for women, you

Nicola Witcombe:

It was interesting that you honed in on know. the word, folk. Because, you know, this idea of folk hjem which was sort of more maybe Swedish based, and folk up loosening, which, you know, is still such an ingrained part of society. Maybe Paul, you could just talk a little bit about this issue of folk cwhere you where you saw it coming from, was it particularly Nordic?

Paul Larkin:

We did have, you know, we were the same thing, just match that was happening in England, you know, takings, like was wanting whiskey to reflect what was happening within societies or both in rural areas of England and, and in the towns and so on. You can see those concerns with Thomas Hardy and other people as well, being J. S. Mill, of course, was rejection of women, of course, Brandes is translated J. S. Mill's, subtraction of one. So the world of social movements going on there and in turn, and one that came into Scandinavian society. And I suppose, as you say, folk, the folk concept is very important. It's a shame the modern breakthrough wasn't, in my view, able to embrace that folk idea. In a way, for example, which is why one of there was a great tension between Pontoppidan and Brandes in my view was that was that concept of folk

Nicola Witcombe:

Yeah, and and what better place to stop than that, the word 'folk', and mentioning the two sides that we have discussed throughout the podcast. Thanks so much for your time, Paul and Janet, and for such an interesting wide ranging discussion.

Janet Garton:

It's been great fun.

Nicola Witcombe:

Thanks a lot. Bye. So first and foremost, I take away from our discussion, that there are great many stories to be read out there from this period, some of which sound like more down to earth versions of Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell or Jane Austen. Secondly, it may well be that the thinkers of the day could and should have made more Have a difference to society and that they didn't go far enough. But what particularly strikes me is that when you look at the black and white staring and unsmiling pictures on Wikipedia of Georg Brandes, Bjrnstjerne Bjrnson and even Amalie Skram, they seem distant, historic with no link or like today, but really they were interesting characters themselves too. Players in a kind of cultural and sexual revolution, a backlash against conservative thinking. While inevitably more staid than that other famous cultural revolution of the 1960s, it surely held some of the same traits, influence from thinkers abroad, emancipation and rights for women, celebrity thinkers, spreading the word about new ideas, a push to understand and do something about social injustice, the poor and needy rather than blaming them for their own condition. And that all important pull away from traditional perceptions of a religion as something that had to be conformed to, rather than something that was freely embraced. You've been listening to nordics.info podcast. Many thanks go to the participants, Janet and Paul, to our very own research hub, Reimagining Norden in Evolving World (ReNEW) and our funders. NordForsk. If you would like to find out more, please visit nordics.info.

What was the Modern Breakthrough?
Role of the critic
Who was Georg Brandes?
What did Henrik Pontopiddan think?
Who was Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson?
Sexual mores between men and women
Where were the women in all this?
Naturalism vs Religion
Copenhagen as a cultural centre - where were the other Nordic countries?...
Did it have an effect on the Nordic society?