Danish literature as world literature

Update: KU hosted a literary festival on 1 September, with a paper by Anna Sandberg on German-Danish transnational literature and a panel on TOPOS, issue 123 of Kultur og Klasse on literary topology (nice to see but nowt of particular interest). A further nod to poetry festival Reverse, with Sunday sessions on the anthropocene, writing through networks and the Nordic literary journal. Sadly was away for both so no networking for me.

As part of my struggle with Danish writing and investigation into place writing in Denmark I availed myself of Danish literature as world literature (2017; Amazon w long excerpt) from the library. But just what is world literature?

  • David Damrosch (2003) defined it as literature circulated beyond its culture of origin, ie a phenomenon of reception; what is gained in translation – works take on a new life as they move into the world
  • Pascale Casanova (2005) explored economic factors, eg Marx as world literature characterised by markets and production dynamics

See LJMU’s World literature critical toolbox for more. VG! There are however two threads at work here: the reception of Danish literature in the wider world and, conversely, the reception of ‘world’ literature in Denmark.

“The much-willed international orientation of HC Andersen and Karen Blixen stand out”, sighs the introduction, while Georg Brandes‘ 1871 lectures on Hovedstrømninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur offer up a cosmopolitan view of literary history founded in Hegelian dialectics of action and reaction and the metaphor of the wave. (See also Om verdenslitteratur, 1899.)

The wave of action from the French Revolution never quite made it to the European periphery of Denmark, but the Romantic reaction did reach its shores, “never left and wound up as a poor replica of itself”. This is typical of the literatures of small nations – some currents never reach them while others linger too long: “people have felt and thought, only on second hand, weaker and more feebly than elsewhere”. However Brandes’ Det moderne Gjennembruds Mænd (1883; kicking off Det Moderne Gennembrud) led to the flourishing of a common Scandi literary culture (challenging his understanding of centre and periphery), an intermediate context as defined by Kundera in Die Weltliteratur, (2007), helping literature to think beyond itself.

Lots of hat-tipping to Moretti, whose tree metaphor is seen in the Danish Golden Age; influenced by German idealism, founded around Oehlenschlager, Steffens and Ørsted, embraced by Andersen, Kierkegaard and Grundtvig, passé by 1871. Using distant reading techniques Julie Kjær Markussen has measured the reception of Danish literature from data on translations (UNESCO’s Index Translationum) and literary holdings (WorldCat; see Ireland example), plus Google search, Google Books Ngram Viewer, Google Trends, Amazon Sales Rank, Goodreads…

Being brought up with the border ballads (Get up and bar the door!) of passing interest was the chapter by Lis Møller (Aarhus). Robert Jamieson’s Popular ballads and songs (1806) included a few Danish ballads, which he translated himself into a Scottish idiom of sorts, followed by 18 more in 1814. Jamieson was an associate of Walter Scott, whose Alice Brand (1810) was inspired by a Danish ballad. Shifting gaze to Germany, Goethe’s Erlkönig is based on a Danish ballad collected by Herder. Grimm also translated several, and Heine cited or paraphrased several more.

The chapter on HC Andersen by Karin Sanders (Uni of California, Berkeley) finds him impatient to plant his words in a wider world; he saw himself as an “orange tree in the swamp” and Denmark as a “duck yard”, stating in 1836: “I am doomed to write for a small country”.

As one of the 10 most widely translated authors in the world HCA “practised two sets of double articulations”: he wrote simultaneously for both a local and a global audience – several of his novels were targeted at a foreign (German or English) audience – and, in his fairy tales, for the child and the adult.

Andersen’s life was a perpetual self-promotional book tour, counter to the accepted social norms of the Danes. His travels allowed him to escape the cultural conformity of a small nation, seeing more clearly what would be muddled up close.

Moving on to Kierkegaard, Isak Winkel Holm (CPH) notes that his reception in Denmark starts out with the peculiarities of his biography and ends with the power of his terminology, in particular im Einzelnen, giving meaning to a lawless and shapeless modern world. His influence on world literature came in three waves:

  • Scandinavian – Georg Brandes’ 1877 monograph, influence on Ibsen, Strindberg, JP Jacobsen and Pontoppidan; later on Karen Blixen
  • Germanophone – on the fin de siècle generation, inc Rudolph Kassner (1906), Lukacs (1909); Rilke learnt Danish to be able to read the original; also Hofmannsthal, Schnitzler and Karl Kraus
  • French – Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, via Kafka

His Anglophone reception was smaller, via WH Auden.

Back to Brandes once more with Annegret Heitmann (Aarhus), who notes that the international significance of the ‘Brandes generation’ was long neglected in Denmark. Once again the Germanic world played a pivotal bridge-building function, with key roles also for Ibsen and Strindberg (the Scandi – transnational – context), leading to a wide overseas reception for all three, with citations by influential readers inscribing them in the global canon.

The prolific Brandes (cf Nietzsche) travelled widely and was possibly the best connected intellectual of the 19th century, writing books on Berlin, Poland and Russia, although his heart belonged to France. Despite his early use of the term ‘modern’, his writing may be seen as akin to naturalism, ie pre-modern.

Of Brandes’ contemporaries, JP Jacobsen (cf Rilke) also travelled, but his life was short and overshadowed by disease, while Herman Bang (cf Thomas Mann) had a curious and cosmopolitan outlook, which together with his homosexuality, led to long periods of exile. He died in an American railway carriage while on a lecture tour intended to span the globe.

Jon Helt Haarder (SDU) looks at two Nobel winners whose novels were at odds with genre conventions and had the general success of Scandi naturalism as a prerequisite:

  • Johannes V JensenKongens fald (1900-01), set in the 15th and 16th centuries, voted best Danish book of the 20th century (Nobel 1944; known also for Paa Memphis Station, poem written in 1903, and his prose poetry)
  • Henrik Pontoppidan – Lykke-Per (1898-1904) voted 2nd best; see also Danske Billeder (1889); one of the greatest chroniclers of his own country, working with irony, hidden narrators and unreliable narration (it says; Nobel 1917, co-winner with the lesser known Karl Gjellerup)

Which brings us to Karen Blixen (Lasse Horne Kjældgaard, RUC). Known under several names, it is easier to assign her to the category of world literature than any single national literary tradition. Her Danish reception has focused on biographical and literary approaches (and canonical status), while overseas she has been subject to relentless post-colonial criticism.

Blixen’s works do not fit into any of the conventional narratives of Danish literary history. Her Danish authorship even consists of derived texts – she wrote all her major works in English first (with phrases and syntactic structures which betray her Danish background) and then translated them (with ample Anglicisms) into Danish (a citizen of nowhere, perhaps). As an emigrant she could perceive Denmark and Europe from both the inside and the outside. She did not see herself as a ‘Danish’ author, with Seven Gothic Tales written for a global audience.

She also used intertextuality – Seven Gothic Tales contains more than a thousand literary quotations and allusions. Working like a bricoleur, she used all available ingredients including pieces from classical Danish literature, recycling characters and places imbued with literary significance. Interesting.

Anne-Marie Mai (SDU) looks at Danish poets “in the intersection between modernism and postmodernism”, reflecting a global orientation after WW2. Klaus Rifbjerg travelled to the US shortly after the war, while Villy Sørensen was more into Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Kafka and Thomas Mann.

However Rifbjerg quickly became the father figure to revolt against, with new influences from post/structuralism, Japanese poetry and European avant-garde art – see Per Højholt and Inger Christensen, followed by inter alia Hans-Jørgen Nielsen, Dan Turèll, Klaus Høeck (trans John Irons), Peter Laugesen (see Konstrueret situation, 1996), Johannes L Madsen, Kirsten Thorup and Charlotte Strandgaard.

Turèll’s 12 volumes of crime stories were widely translated, although he was so humbled by the Beats he did not even attempt to have his poetry translated: “There are lots like me in America”. It was not until 2016, when Thomas Kennedy translated 24 pages of Vangede Billeder for New Letters (RU sure; also see article in Politiken), that his other writing appeared in translation, perhaps a broader reflection of a revived interest in place.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s enter (personal favourite) SUT and Michael Strunge in a more open literary landscape, erasing the division between high and popular culture.

All the above are barely published overseas, although occasional Nordic Literary Festivals are staged, and Louisiana Literature, where “world literature becomes a Danish cultural context” attempts to fly the flag. (This does surprise me, as Danish is eminently well suited to #mopo. Maybe it’s tricky too translate without sounding just too barsk.)

As a final hurrah, UCL’s Thomson and Stougaard-Nielsen) look at cultural mobility, crime fiction and television drama. Just what is fuelling Scandimania, beyond the endless media content? Answer: form, in the narrative sense, but also “the material, technological and institutional forms in which they are instantiated, the forms that are the condition of possibility for their mobility”.

Denmark is currently enjoying culturally and historically significant zones of contact, mobilisers who facilitate cultural exchanges and exploit the tension between individual agency and structural constraint, the balance and tension between local and global, new and familiar, setting and story:

Literature does not travel solo and nor does it travel light; it is carried and accompanied by films, television series, translators, publishers, state subsidies, and all manner of lifestyle goods stamped Brand Denmark…and by interlingual and intermedial translation.

Both HCA and Nordic Noir are framed by internationally recognisable genre conventions plus an elementary simplicity of form and content. Danish film and TV drama policy since the 1980s has also played an important role, but key is the concept of the other local, “a kind of tamed local, an aspirational Nordic otherness which returns as a utopia in the guise of a dystopia”, articulated in the shared experience of live blogs and #some, with lots of handy memes:

a process of imagining Denmark, projecting their fantasies onto the dreary backdrop of crime-ridden CPH and its exotic artefacts…in doing so they are also (re-)imagining their own society, often by identifying what is different and lacking…a peculiarly distilled and nebulous version of wider British utopian imaginings about Scandinavia”

Media convergence fostered by social networking, increased mobility and disposable income, a cycle of conversation, ‘buzz’ and consumption understood as a participatory culture or collective intelligence, has led to a world where the at best workmanlike Dicte: Crime Reporter can be featured in the Gdn’s Watch this column.

See also Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen at the Rethinking Scandinavia conference in June 2017, exploring Nordicness noir: the British construction of a Scandinavian utopia for the 21st century and coining his own neologism, a utopian Nordientalism: “Nordic social realities are here treated as alluring, homogeneous, utopian and exotic tourist destinations” (my bolding). Interesting. He also made points re the British creation of its own Nordic culture, eg (the rather less homogeneous) Fortitude. Note also that in a further stab at renaming Scandimania we have Beyond Borealism.

And finally…the latest issue of Scandinavica has the theme of Peripheral figures: British and Irish receptions of Nordic literature and culture, with an historical survey (full text) and articles on inter alia Nordic literary traditions in Orkney and Shetland, poems by RS Thomas on Kierkegaard and Seamus Heaney on the Danish bog bodies.

Advertisements

Bybilleder: writers and artists on Copenhagen

Update: I’ve now also had a look at another new find, Her er DK (2017) – see the foot of the post for details

Place writing in the British mould is thin on the ground in Denmark so I have to take what I can get.

Bybilleder: kunstnernes og forfatternes København (2016) consists of 75 snippets from Danish literature over the past 250 years set against 75 paintings, selected and presented by art historian Bente Scavenius and literary critic Bo Tao Michaëlis; 360 pages for DK 399. Reviews: Kopenhagen Magasin, Litteratursiden, Love Copenhagen.

Another of those too-big-to-handle offerings from Strandberg, this one had generøse bidrag from a total of nine fonde, but still could hardly be considered an impulse buy. Borrowed from the library on a 14 day loan, so an academic style read will have to suffice. And I’m not likely to buy it as a trophy to sit on a shelf.

In the authors’ respective forewords there’s lots of the usual glowing prose which sucks the life out of me: for BSc it’s a hyldest to Copenhagen, an oplevelse, noget til inspiration for hjerte og hjerne…then we’re heads down into the paintings and the extracts, some on different coloured paper, mainly poetry, often so short as to feel pointless (probably the shortest contribution is eight lines Uden titel (1969) from Inger Christensen), and in largish print, introduced at considerably more length by our two authors, with brief biographical notes pointing to the subject’s main works.

We are taken chronologically through the great and the good, uncritically and seemingly unselectively. It’s an encyclopedia, a reference book – a text book, even – in presentation and style. What aids are there? Zilch – just an a-z list of authors and source without page numbers, nothing for the paintings. I’d quite like to know there are two pieces from HuskMitNavn, feks, and an index by place and a timeline wouldn’t go amiss either. There are some nice pieces, but it doesn’t come together as a whole, lacking comparisons between the genres and any form of analysis. And psychogeography it ain’t – the excerpts may mention a place, but it’s rare they are _of_ a place. Which tends to be the problem, as identified already.

The usual place related suspects (from Kierkegaard and Hans Christian Anderson to Amalie Laulund Trudsø via Hermann Bang and Tom Kristensen) are represented in the 75 strong selection, of which I have probably heard of around two thirds of the writers and a third of the artists. Sadly, there is no space for Asger Jorn’s Fin de Copenhague – he is instead represented by Døddrukne danskere (1960) –  but there is room for a poem apiece from half-Danish film actor Viggo Mortensen and a certain Prins Henri (husband of the queen), which I originally thought was a performance art style joke. It passes without comment from BTM.

A quartet of artworks which caught the eye:

  • Allan Otte’s Nørrebro udtræk (2014) – a 10m x 1ocm frieze of Nørrebrogade, with places moved around to fit and no people (which is his thing); commissioned by Nørrebro Teater
  • Niels Strøbek’s Gårdparti i seks dele (1970) – representation of a typical apartment building in the brokvartere
  • Peter Land’s Copenhagen 11. December 1999, Hurricane II (2000) – portraying Copenhagen’s great storm, when everything was up in the air
  • Jesper Christiansen’s Ved et torv om morgenen (2013) – Gammeltorv, one of a series of paintings produced for Københavns Byret; Kierkegaard lived nearby, taking his daily menneskebad down Routen, as Strøget was called at the time

This last is complemented by Morten Søndergaard’s M for Marmor (2011), taken from Bakkehusalfabet (in lib) which he wrote while in residence at Bakkehuset, and more than short enough to reproduce here:

M for Marmor

Carrara-marmor med indskrift

Husene taler med deres mærkelige marmorpladstemmer: “Her skrev Grundtvig”, “her boede Søren Kierkegaard”, “her blev Hans Christian Andersen født”. Men hvem er det, der taler? Det er, som om husene er udstyret med stenstemmer, so hakkes ud på gavle og facader. Hvem siger noget? Er det tiden selv? Her! Der! Den! Dengang! Vi går forbi og tænker hvert sit. Aha, det var altså mindeværdigt, aha, den person var altså værdig til marmorens evighed. Stenord og stensætninger finder plads i arkitekturen, det bløde kød skal mindes i hård sten. Men hvem er det, som siger noget med husets mund?

Søndergaard is musing on the voices behind the marble plaques found in Copenhagen, emanating from houses and cut out of facades. Who is speaking – is it time itself? Is one person more worthy of an eternal memory in marble than others? Flesh memorialised in stone…who is speaking through the mouth of the house?

BTM sees the setting of plaques on buildings as the Protestant equivalent of the pilgrimage to relics and shrines. Dating from the 19th century, when public interest in the lives of artists exploded and the enlightened bourgeoisie began to make pilgrimages to cultural places, today it is a form of tourism, encouraged by turistbranchen.

This tickled me, not least because there are so few plaques in Copenhagen, and those there are, are so understated as to be practically invisible. Signage is also limited. Evidence of history is hard to find on the streets.

To finish…the more Danish books I look at the more I wonder at the differences between the UK and Danish markets, a reflection perhaps of general cultural differences. For many Danes the UK is bad taste corner, while Brits gape at Danish lampshades. Style, design, call what you will, is downplayed in the UK in favour of verbal dexterity and understatement. While in Denmark another new place-based title, Her er DK, is hailed for its lovely design.

And Strandberg do lovely things, if shading into something to look at rather than to read. For the record, here’s a pick of their other publications from urbanist corner:


Her er DK (2017; FB): “en bog om ukendte steder og oversete seværdigheder”; 217 writers contribute overlooked places throughout Denmark; examples include Cykelslangen (hardly overset, Martin Zerlang!); for the record, it’s DK 349 for 270 pages, some weird sub-A4 size; reviews: Jyllands Posten (paywall), Søren Ryge in Politiken (seemingly not asked); all very lovely and unlikely to scare the horses.

Purloined from the library, I note that the book is described as “et geografisk opslagsværk”, ie it’s not intended to be read from cover to cover; and it certainly feels like something to leaf through rather than read, although that may be because it’s brand new and from the library. It’s so pristine you feel like you should be wearing white gloves to handle it.

A Peter Plys (aka Winnie the Pooh) epithet at the start sets the tone: “Hvad slags historie holder han mest af? Han vil helst høre en historie om sig selv.”

There’s a geographical arrangement, starting with Nordvest, by coordinates rather than region, now that’s novel. The contributor is noted with initials not by name at the end of each piece. The contributions are often v short, too short to make much of a lasting impression. We have registre by place and name, which cross-refer to page number rather than place, that’s just annoying; I couldn’t be bothered to juggle the book to refer back to some, and I have a hunch that the list is on the website anyway (yes! See Hvem og hvor). As ever, I’m left wondering who the target market is (and how much quasi-public support it got) – for me, disappointing, although alternative forms of presentation might have helped.

While the choice of place tends mainly to the lovely, Vestegnen has three entries:

  • Rødovre: Damhustorvet, or “porten til Vestegnen”, by MSQ (Maria Skov Quistgaard, journalist, Information)
  • Albertslund: photo of Bytorvet, by VCB (Vesle Cosman Brøndum, kunstner)
  • Hvidovre: Friheden by NEO (Najat El Ouargui, strategisk analytiker ved Rigspolitiet)

#FLRobert Burns: the Robert Burns MOOC

Quick look at Robert Burns: poems, songs and legacy (#FLRobertBurns) from the Centre for Robert Burns Studies at the University of Glasgow kicked off on 25 Jan, obv, for three weeks.

Who was Robert Burns? What made Robert Burns a poetic genius? And what made Robert Burns a global icon?

You’ll examine archive material, original publications and manuscripts by Burns himself, recordings of Burns songs and examples of objects used to commemorate the poet. You’ll also look at and learn to interpret a selection of Robert Burns’ works in the context of Scottish history and culture.

Setting things in a wider context, you’ll also develop your understanding of Robert Burns’s reputation – from the rise of Burns Clubs and Burns Suppers following his death, to the continuing celebration of the poet today through Burns Night, Hogmanay (New Year) and beyond.

A counterpoint to #FLfairytales and #FLwordsworth, then.

Who was – and is – Robert Burns?

Rabbie wordcloudKicking off by debunking Rabbie related mythology, the first week proper had 21 steps, the sort of thing which makes me groan. Anyway, step 1 invited a one word response on something called AnswerGarden to the question: who was Robert Burns? I went with ‘Scot’. There’s quite a nice wordcloud emerging (see right).

How are we to understand the man and his reputation? What transformed him from the ‘heaven-taught ploughman’ first discovered in the 18th century into the instantly recognised celebrity he is today? Burns occupies different roles throughout his life – poet, farmer, exciseman – and has indeed meant different things to different people at different times.

For some he is a ‘national bard’ and Scottish patriot; for others he is a major British poet; while others still might argue that Burns is a citizen of the world. Burns has also been regarded a somewhat contentious figure. His many romantic liasons, for example, have raised controversy, yet they have also provided inspiration for some of the most memorable love poetry ever written. For some Burns is more a radical figure, one who speaks on behalf of the common man (and woman).

Three things from the intro I didn’t know:

  • he brought Scots poetry back into vogue
  • he was an avid collector and editor of Scots songs, as well as writing many new ones himself
  • by the time of his death at the age of 37 he had made at least five women pregnant on at least 13 occasions and sired at least 12 children

Edwin Muir (1887–1959): Burns is ‘to the respectable, a decent man; to the Rabelaisian, bawdy; to the sentimentalist, sentimental; to the socialist, a revolutionary; to the nationalist, a patriot; to the religious, pious’.

Hugh MacDiarmid (1892–1978) ‘Mair nonsense has been uttered in his name / Than in ony’s barrin’ liberty and Christ’!

Born in 1759, in April 1783 Burns began a first Commonplace Book (a type of scrapbook or notebook), marking the beginning of his sustained endeavours as a writer. In 1786 that he published his first volume of poetry: Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, printed by John Wilson in Kilmarnock. The success of the Kilmarnock edition put an end to his supposed plans to emigrate to the West Indies. Instead he travelled to Edinburgh to promote his poetry and prepare for the publication of a 2nd edition, the ‘Edinburgh Edition’, in April 1787.

In the years that followed Burns produced several of his most famous works, however in the latter part of his life he moved away from poetry, investing much of his time and creative energy collecting and composing songs.

Burns was a freemason and wrote numerous poems inspired by and for his Masonic brethren. The Freemasons played an important part in the posthumous commemoration of the national bard, securing the tradition of the Burns supper and commissioning and/or contributing to numerous statues and memorials.

Lots of poetry reading and textual analysis!

Poet or songwriter?

We take a closer look at Burns as poet and songwriter…We also take a trip to visit our friends at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway to look at some of the publications and manuscripts held in their extensive collection, and you’ll even try your hand at transcribing a manuscript in Burns’s own handwriting. Together, we’ll examine some of the influences on Burns and his career collecting and reworking traditional songs.

Robert Burns wrote or collected two songs for every poem he produced, and was clearly both a success as a poet and as a songwriter. It is probably true to say, however, that his song-writing is thought of as a subset of his work as ‘a poet’.

  1. It is probably Burns’s love of ‘rhyme’ that led him into an increasing interest in song from poetry.
  2. However it might also be noted that his first creative production was the song, ‘O Once I Lov’d A Bonnie Lass’ (1774), and that among his earliest work is a number of other songs.
  3. Burns selected and adapted tunes for his songs, but he did not write original tunes.
  4. Many of his works such as ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘A Red Rose’ were often published without music in editions of his work as though these were poems.
  5. Burns refers to himself as ‘poet Burns’ and as a ‘rhymester’ rather than as a songwriter.

Among Burns’s most celebrated songs are his Jacobite pieces, such as ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’ (from the mid-1790s), his love songs, ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ (1791) and ‘A Red Rose’ (1794), and also ‘Auld Lang Syne’ (1788). As with ‘Charlie He’s My Darling’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ existed in a number of versions going back to the 16th century, but it is Burns who really popularises the title-phrase, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, reworking its emphasis and the material within the song. Burns made the song into something appropriate to a new age of emigration, a more universal sentiment where friends and families are rendered asunder.

What made Burns an international icon?

Hundreds of biographies, edited collections and critical studies of Burns’s life and works have been published since the bard’s death in 1796, and there are over 3000 translations of Burns’s works into foreign languages, but Burns’s literary works are just one aspect of his legacy.

Since the 19th century Burns has been celebrated at Burns Suppers, in Burns related statuary and memorabilia and at grand centenary celebrations such as those held across the globe in 1859 and 1896. Innumerable composers, artists and performers have been inspired by Burns.

Statues and public memorials to Robert Burns were being erected across the globe as early as the mid-19th century. By 1909 over 40 had been commissioned in the UK, and a minimum of five in Australia, three in Canada, one in New Zealand, and nine in the USA.

Some trivia related to Burns’s reputation:

  • Burns coined the popular phrase ‘Man’s inhumanity to man’ in his poem ‘Man Was Made to Mourn’
  • like Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, the title of JD Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye comes from one of Burns’s poems – ‘Comin’ Thro’ the Rye’
  • US President Abraham Lincoln was a real fan of Burns and could recite pieces of Burns’s poetry by heart

For dedicated fans only! It may be my heritage but I had no idea yer man was quite that huge, and it’s definitely not my period. Having said that, listening to the songs easily brings a tear to the eye.

Rabbie linkage:

#FLfairytales: HC Andersen and place

Updates:

  • Walking the same streets: Hannah’s postcard from Copenhagen
  • Henriette Steiner at Writing Buildings (Friday session 6): “tracking down Andersen’s ‘home’ in Copenhagen can be a rather perplexing undertaking as he lived in around 25 different places in the city (vs James Joyce’s 2o Dublin homes, then 10 in Trieste, eight in Zurich and 19 in Paris)…writing about these very concrete buildings, allows a range of themes, such as representation, temporality, daily life and urban order, to be approached alongside questions concerning the value placed at buildings for being sites of production of writing, the role of these sites in the experience of the literary tourist, and how this negotiates themes left-over from Romanticism and thus from Andersen’s own time” (full paper)
  • in this connection it is interesting to note that proposals for a HC Andersen visitor centre on Langelinie were put forward by the government in 2014, aimed particularly at Chinese tourists, however Politiken reports that nothing has happened as yet; meanwhile Odense is planning on opening a new HC Andersen Eventyrhus in 2020
  • and never mind his own houses, he also spent lengthy periods staying with Denmark’s great and good
  • Anne Klara Bom (Academia.edu) on HCA as cultural phenomenon, glocal traveller etc; A story of experience (from p22; uses discourse analysis)
  • Hans Christian Andersens Orient – interesting ARTE doc; in 1841 HCA traveled east, tapping into Orientalism and Classicism on a sort of Bildungsreise; one of the first to visit Athens as a traveller; interesting factoids: his mother described him as a ‘wilder Vogel’, an Einzelgänger with an ‘unruhiges Ich’ who wanted to be famous, HCA visited 29 countries in Europe and North Africa, spending nine years of his life on the road and buying his first bed at the age of 61; fame came first in Germany and Sweden, then France and England, and last in ‘totbringende Dänemark’; he made sense of the world through the eyes of a child
  • new Danish biog out (732 pages)…the CPH Post has an update on all those statues

Notes from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, from the Hans Christian Andersen Centre (English) based at SDU in Odense, new on Twitter for the MOOC. Six weeks, started 19 October. New translations of nine (of a total of 157) fairy tales (defined as an original tale written by a specific author, central in German Romanticism) covering 17 years of HCA’s life (1805-75) on offer.

As with #FLwordsworth it’s the place and cultural heritage stuff I’m after – fairy tales aren’t my thing, although the one about the hens (Det er ganske vist) came as a pleasant enough surprise when I was learning Danish.

In week 1 HCA was presented as a ‘mouldbreaker’ in the established literary community, having come from a working class background, with his fairy tales both universal and culturally specific. Still read all over the world, they are rooted in a Christian culture confronted with modernity.

We were asked to take a moment to consider the man behind the writer:

  • How did he think of himself as an artist? In what way can we understand his role as a mouldbreaker in the established, literary community in relation to his background as a working class lad?
  • What is the connection between HCA’s special use of the fairy tale genre and the way his life was shaped?
  • How can we understand the fact that the author never really – not even as a confirmed celebrity – succeeded in settling down, neither in the outside world, nor in his own imaginary world?

HCA achieved fame and acknowledgement as an artist in both Europe and America while he was in his prime. He was a traveller who undertook long journeys in especially Europe, but he also reached North Africa and Turkey. In his native Denmark, he also travelled a lot, taking residence at manor houses and castles which were, at that time, significant cultural meeting places.

HCA was a restless person who did not create a home for himself but felt ‘at home’ in the journey itself. He travelled in a Europe that was getting ready to become modern. This HCA registers with both delight and fear in his writing. This is also registered in the form of artistic reflections on time, place and distance. When HCA said To travel is to live, he was not only referring to outer journeys but to travelling as a form of existence.

HCA had many homes, for home was the artistic universe and the journey itself, one could say. He travelled all over Europe, time and time again, something that is reflected in his novels, travel accounts, fairy tales and stories as a treasure trove of localities. HCA visited counts, kings and artists, locations and landscapes, because he was full of an insatiable thirst for experiences and a restless longing for the inner balance he probably found in his art, but never wholly in his life.

On 28 October the team sent out a message with details of HCA’s three autobiographies, not least The fairy tale of my life (1871): “HCA wished to present his own life as a fairy tale and wrote in a poetic style. All this lead to a “a strong interest in the personality…during his lifetime and the fantastic story of his life…the beginning of the creation of a myth surrounding the author, which appeared to be a kind of mythologization of the relation between life and art. It offers strong evidence of the romantic belief in genius.”

Then a definite tut tutting about this approach, not helped by word order and general obfuscation: “to judge Andersen from a biographical point of view only is to reduce his great and challenging work. It has been and still is the task of interpreters of Hans Christian Andersen’s life and work to adjust this picture and to try to discover his work independently of the romantic figure of the author – and not least to evaluate the modernity of his original fairy tales.”

Biographies (which the team may/not approve of) include Jackie Wullschlager (2000; Amazon) and Paul Binding (2014; reviewAmazon). Internationals in Denmark in particular will enjoy Michael Booth’s Just as well I’m leaving (2005; Amazon), his first riff on Denmark and its idiosyncracies, framed round HCA’s European travels.

The fairy tales

Week 2 looked at the folk tale inspiration and two analysis models (how many?), comparing The tinderbox and the Grimms’ The blue light with the folk tales that provided inspiration:

  • the actantial model: the quest
  • the narrative pattern ‘home-away-home’, also found in the Bildungsroman

actuant

The protagonist – or hero – of the folk tale is the key element. The upper axis represents the fact that a donor gives an object to a receiver – the latter being the protagonist. This is often the king which gives his daughter, the princess, to the protagonist. The lower axis represents the fact that the protagonist has to overcome various obstacles in his quest for the object and that he will have to face and conquer an antagonist and will receive assistance from a helper as a part of this process.

Much was made of HCA’s humour and irony, plus the violence found in many tales, all of which I’m thinking has a specific Danish flavour, although the Grimms had their moments.

Week 3 contrasted two versions of the same tale, drawing out HCA’s particular narrative style and language:

The spectre (1830) adopted the sophisticated style typical of the literary fairy tales (Kunstmärchen) developed by German Romanticism (writers like Chamisso, Tieck and ETA Hoffmann), whose approach was often marked by ironic reflection. Far from reproducing the impersonal style of the folk tale, The spectre was a piece of literary art, showing the signature of a cultivated writer cumulating explicit references to the Arabian Nights, the Bible, Goethe and Danish contemporary authors.

Its reception, however, was negative, with HCA accused of having missed “the epic tone” of the folk tale. Disappointed, HCA gave up this kind of experimental rewriting and decided to revisit the folk tale genre as part of a literary project of another kind: storytelling for children.

The travelling companion (1835) adopted the more familiar form of the folk tale. HCA purified and simplified his narrative style, aiming to revive the folk tale material and to refresh its imagery. The style resulting from this effort became HCA’s special signature, and to some extent imitates the tone of the folk tale. Nonetheless, he still wrote literary fairy tales. His art was to develop a strategy of storytelling that appears to be simpler than it is.

The ‘exemplary’ analysis of The Spectre makes it sound a gadzillion times more interesting than the more popular fairy tale, almost modernist, a fairy tale about a folk tale. Chief linguistic differences highlighted are general verbosity and description – place and nature writing, very on trend! – vs simplifying the artistic expression.

Week 4 and The little mermaid (1837), one of HCA’s first self invented tales. These meant something special to him and marked his breakhrough as a writer, making him an international star. The tale touches upon traditional questions related to Christianity and ‘modern’ questions such as the identity crises of the main subject. It doesn’t conform to the models (above), doesn’t have a Happy Ending and is open to many interpretations. OTOH Disney’s 1989 version does, and isn’t.

Published along with The emperor’s new clothes, now that is a good one.

Week 5 focused on HCA’s ‘modern’ approach, via two new fairy tales: The story of a mother (1847) and The snow queen (1844):

From 1835-42, HCA carried out his project of writing a series of Fairy tales told for children with increasing success. However, in 1843, he gave his work with the genre a different orientation. The appellation ‘told for children’ disappeared as he published a collection entitled New fairy tales, composed of four tales of his own invention without any immediate debt to folk tales, including The ugly duckling.

In these tales HCA managed to raise religious questions by the means of apparent transgressions of genre conventions, eg qualifying tests, the fight with the antagonist, religious meaning…His intention was to fictionalise – or allegorise – a ‘basic idea’,  a project completely incompatible with the folk tale’s perception of the world.

Week 6 looked at The red shoes (1845) and invited participants to write an essay on HCA’s topicality and cross-cultural relevance, quite interesting as it goes. A quick look at the sections on The red shoes confirms that it is just as traumatic as remembered.

The longer the MOOC went on the more distressing the tales became – are the later ones read to children today, undoctored? Part of the Danish canon? They seem to belong to another time, with the illustrations on the MOOC and most collections evoking the last century.

Perhaps as a result retellings abound – see Angela CarterTransformations (1971; Anne Sexton’s retellings of the Grimms; article inc a diagram by Kurt Vonnegut) and A wild swan and other tales (2015; Michael Cunningham retells the Grimms and HCA; “The steadfast tin soldier turns out happy”; interview). Also Marina Warner’s Short history of fairy tale.

The course took a standard litcrit line, seemingly very popular in Danish higher education, however more innovative approaches must be around somewhere, for example #corpus analyses, distant reading, dataviz of the models? A social network of the Golden Age, based on who HCA rubbed shoulders with, not least Kierkegaard? Should anything be read into the fact that the last conference seems to have taken place in 2005, the year of his bicentenary? Also, how about HCA’s reception and (re)interpretation in Denmark, influence on eg Lars von Trier? How much are his other writings read and performed today? While at rejse er at leve gets cited fairly frequently in newspaper travel sections, is it more than a quote?

As Most Famous Danes HCA and contemporary Kierkegaard make a troubling pair. What is quite fun is that both enjoyed a walk in the city, but while Kierkegaard relished his menneskebad HCA became an old snob, preferring to hobnob with the nobility, or to travel.

HCA and place

HCA plays a key role in Denmark’s (rather limited) literary tourism offerings, focused exclusively around the fairy tales. See Visit OdenseVisit Fyn and HCA’s Odense (app and PDF) for full coverage. I have paid duty visits to his hus (aka museum, opened 1908) and barndomshjem (childhood home, opened 1930) in Odense, officially Denmark’s fairy tale city – even the pedestrian crossings pay homage.

It’s possibly all a bit much, a theme explored by KØS, the museum of public art, in their tour of Denmark’s memorials. See the talking statue version of the 1888 HCA statue in the city and accompanying debate.

pedestrian crossing in Odense

pedestrian crossing in Odense

HCA left Odense in 1819 aged 14 for the big city. He lived in countless/18 places during his 56 years in Copenhagen – see Indenforvoldene for details. Highlights include the kvistværelse (attic room) at Vingårdsstræde 6, now part of shopping mecca Magasin’s museum, where he lived from 1827-28, and three locations on Nyhavn. From 1834-38 he lived at nr 20 – an unreadable plaque marks the spot on the first floor. From 1848-65 he lived at nr 67, and from 1871-73 at nr 18 (reconstruction), now housing an HCA themed shop in the ground floor, plus smart apartments owned by the National Bank upstairs. He is buried in Assistens Kirkegård.

There are two statues in CPH, on HCA Boulevard and in Kongens Have. The eternally disappointing Little mermaid perches on a rock on Langelinie (1913, a gift from Carl Jacobsen) – the domestic reaction may perhaps be seen in Bjørn Nørgaard’s genetically modified twin, installed just round the corner in 2006. We also have Hanne Varming’s Hyldemor on Kultorvet, and the story of The Ugly Duckling appears on Carlo Rosberg’s mural in Hvidovre town hall.

HCA elsewhere

Museums Odense offers full details of HCA’s travels, with 30 itineraries from 1831-73 and contemporary maps. Having done a double take in Bratislava in December it’s nice to confirm that HCA visited Pressburg on 3 June 1841 on his way home (journey 6). When asked to write something about the city he said that there was no need to, as it was already a fairytale. Bless.

HCA statue in Bratislava

HCA statue in Bratislava by Tibor Bártfay, erected on the 165th anniversary of his visit in 2006

Another anecdote to enjoy is HCA’s relationship with Dickens. A search brings up their first meetings in London and Ramsgate, and then HCA’s doomed visit in 1857, where he over-stayed his welcome by nearly a month (story) – according to the CPH Post the “bony bore” with the “clammy hand” was the model for Uriah Heep (rhymes with…). Update: in the Gdn.

At rejse er at leve has a full list of his travel writings for further exploration, while writing about Denmark includes Fodreise fra Holmens Canal til Østpynten af Amager i Aarene 1828 og 1829 and Fodrejsen (1829).

Linkage:

#FLwordsworth and place

Updates: see The Romantic poets and Bristol, with 23 new Lyrical Ballads, a series of Coleridge Lectures inc Kathleen Jamie on Poetry, the land and nature and Melissa Harrison on Reimagining the city, a nature writing day and a walking guide (app; papers by Rebecca Hutcheon)…series of historical walks at Being Human 2015, fab…Romantic landscapes: geography and travel (event report)…the Wordsworth Trust’s Wordsworth Countryside app (article)…the Lake District as world heritage site

More new projects and finds: Geospatial innovation: a deep map of the Lake District (@LakesDeepMap)…Re-Imagining Wordsworth in Ulster (storymap; @NBWordsworth)…Reading and mapping Swallows and Amazons in the digital ageMapping Wordsworth’s residence in London…Alex Cochrane on walking with ColeridgeMapping literary visions (The Age of Innocence)…@RomanticismEHUWilliam and Dorothy Wordsworth: ‘All in each other’ reviewStanding up for the curmudgeon in tweedsRomantic LondonBy Duddon’s SideLiterary mapping in digital space (HuffPo | Chester)…

William Wordsworth: poetry, people and place (courseTwitter), from Lancaster, on FutureLearn, started on 7 September for four weeks.

Explore the influence of the Lake District on Wordsworth with this free online course, filmed at his home…Through readings and discussions focusing on Grasmere and the landscape of the Lake District, the course will explore why this location was so important for Wordsworth.

Wordsworth lived at Dove Cottage in Grasmere from 1799 to 1808, producing much of his greatest work, including ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (aka Daffodils) and The Prelude. As an intro we are invited to pen a poem about a favourite place in the Romantic style and share it on #some tagged #NaturesPoets. So it looks like it’s more about the poetry, which I hated at school, than (the) place, which as a Scot I find rather tame, but we shall persevere, in particular as one of the team, Sally Bushell, was behind Mapping the Lakes (and v2) and is writing a book on reading and mapping.

Introducing Wordsworth and Lyrical Ballads

Week 1 is made up of 16 steps, yikes. Most useful is Sally on key principles of the ‘Preface’ to Lyrical Ballads (1800), identifying Wordsworth’s four key ideas:

  • the poet – “a man speaking to men”, ie a communicator speaking on behalf of others representing ‘the common man’, speaking directly to all rather than a writer, no different from you or I
  • subject matter:
    • the everyman, equally capable of feeling deeply and responding to the world; “it is not just gentlemen who have strong feelings…those living a rustic life have a truer, more authentic relationship to the land”
    • common things and situations
    • place, ie the world around you – celebrating the power of the mind to internalise the natural world and be strengthened by it, asserting the power of a subjective, individual response; Wordsworth liked a private space, where he could pace up and down as he wrote his poetry; he often wrote poems on the spot, in a direct response to the natural world
  • language – as close to everyday speech as possible, but with a certain colouring of the imagination to freshen the experience
  • “all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”; it should communicate directly and to the heart

Also a useful PDF on close reading poetry and a vid on how to read and interpret manuscripts, stressing context and their uniqueness.

Sadly the two poems for the week have simply served to remind me of my issues with the Romantics, but it’s all very well done, even with a ‘make your own manuscript’ task. Best takeaway so far has been the brief account of Will and Dorothy’s trip to Germany in 1798 – I have a feeling he visited Copenhagen too. (Hmm…at the very least he wrote a poem called The Danish Boy and owned a copy of Molesworth. Maybe have a closer look at Romantikstudier.dk.)

‘Spots of time’: childhood, education and memory in The Prelude

The week 1 round-up states that “Wordsworth has evoked powerful responses, not all of them favourable” and Sally admits in the summing up vid that he is uniquely polarising, so I feel partly vindicated in skipping the pomes. Maybe I will re-visit epi 3 of The Trip, which I haven’t watched yet this year. There’s more than one form of engagement in these changing times…

OK, week 2, with The Prelude and its 24 manuscripts spanning over 40 years.

Central to The Prelude are the two themes of childhood and memory. While much of the poem describes Wordsworth’s childhood adventures in the Lake District, the poet is equally concerned with how he remembers these episodes and what ongoing influence they have in his adult life. Wordsworth describes his most influential childhood episodes as ‘spots of time’…key moments in our life that continue to have an important influence on us, especially if we reflect back on them.

‘Spots’ are powerful memories where you can’t quite get to the root of that power, often involving an element of transgression, making you see the world differently – plus a process of defamiliarisation or even distortion when remembered. The spots themselves are often visual, and not a continuous memory.

From the week 3 email and summing up vid it’s clear that the team just love the Padlet exercise for the week, seemingly FutureLearn’s new thing: “Wordsworth’s concept of ‘spots of time’ has been inspirational for many of you and we’ve been particularly struck (and sometimes moved) by participants’ descriptions of their own ‘spots of time’.”

There’s also a make your own Goslar Letter task, which asks:

  • How does the letter-form affect your response to the poetry?
  • What difference does it make to read the poem in this context?
  • How important is Coleridge (the recipient of the letter) to Wordsworth, as the first reader of this poetry?

The letter was a joint production from William and Dorothy to Coleridge, and is named after the German town in which it was written. It contains passages of poetry that would eventually be included in The Prelude. Very nice! In particular that the MOOC isn’t all about discussing.

‘Michael’ and Greenhead Gill: Wordsworth and the importance of place

Week 3 visited Greenhead Gill near Grasmere, the setting and inspiration for ‘Michael’, Wordsworth’s tale of a shepherd, first published in the second edition of Lyrical Ballads (1800):

About half a mile from Wordsworth’s house, it was also the place in which the poem was written. At the opening of the poem Wordsworth invites us to come to this place and think about the poem being set and written there – it’s very space specific. He describes the fields and hills as a living being even more than his own blood. It’s almost as if Michael is a human embodiment of the landscape…

Wordsworth wrote the poem in a sheepfold. He takes this sheepfold, an ordinary, everyday object we might take for granted or overlook, and turns it into the key symbol for the poem, loading it with human meaning and emotion and significance. The poem makes you notice the sheepfold – it makes you think about it, an ordinary thing. So loading that ordinary object with meaning is making it stand for something greater than itself – it becomes a symbol. The role and meaning of the sheepfold as symbol changes throughout the course of the poem…

Is Michael’s relationship to the place unique and special or universal? Think about the ways in which we connect to the place in which we live, or the place in which we were brought up, and how this shapes our identities.

It’s a tragic tale, and by the end of the poem there is no trace of Michael’s cottage – nothing remains except the poem telling the story. (They weren’t called the Romantics for nothing…)

Next up, a personalising place exercise (NFM) to be posted on this week’s Padlet wall, while in manuscripts corner we looked at Wordsworth’s difficulty in writing the poem as well as writing outside. By linking the writing of the poem in the sheepfold to the representation of place in the poem he creates multiple layers of meaning:

He doesn’t just wander about aimlessly or roam the hills. He does have very specific sites and also he likes to walk up and down, sort of pace up and down, and various critics have make the point that the rhythm of the poetry that he’s writing is then sort of matched to the rhythm of his walking.

How important is setting and context for writing or working well? Can you think of examples in your own life of working better in one place than another, or of needing certain things around you or having particular rituals before settling to write?

Being Dorothy

Week 4 (24 steps!) explores the process of homemaking and engages more fully with Dorothy’s life and work.

The siblings arrived in Grasmere in December 1799 and established a household at Dove Cottage – see from Goslar to Grasmere. They made it into a ‘true home’ through their domestic arrangements, through cultivating the garden and through their writing. They also established a sense of community, frequently visited by friends.

Their writing included letters, such as one written by William to Coleridge on Christmas Eve in 1799, which is compared and contrasted with his unpublished poem, Home at Grasmere:

What differences in response to the Wordsworths do you experience between reading the account of coming home in prose and in poetry? What does the writer choose to emphasise, and why, in each case? How does the form (a private letter a poem written for publication) and sense of audience (to a close friend; to all readers) affect the writing?

See Letters of Note and Davy Letters for more letters, plus:

Think about how important letters have been in your own lives. Are there particular letters that you remember vividly? What role did letter writing have in your life and has this role been taken over now by email and social media? Is there something different about the experience of writing and receiving a letter to these forms of communication?

William and his friends are generally referred to as The Wordsworth Circle. In the summer of 1802 William, Dorothy and their close friends, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Mary and Sara Hutchinson, carved their initials into a rock face, aka ‘The Rock of Names’ – the importance of inscription and the naming of places as a process of settling in to somewhere.

Marking local objects is important for the Wordsworths in developing their sense of home. The rock, now in the garden of Dove Cottage, was halfway between the cottage and Coleridge’s lodgings at Greta Hall in Keswick, hence a literal meeting place and personal landmark, symbolic of their friendship and illustrating their relationship to landscape…Have you created any names or nicknames for special places? Think about the type of places you named, how you named them and who uses these names.

Other Wordsworth places that took on special meanings:

  • Sara’s Gate – named after Sara Hutchinson and described in a joint letter
  • John’s Grove’  named after William and Dorothy’s younger brother
  • Wordsworth’s Poems on the naming of places – marking local objects, naming them at a particular site where they can see a very nice view of the landscape, maybe along a favourite walking route or where a particular memorable incident happened (see also William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes (1810/35), reviewed by Virginia Woolf, and Longfellow’s Poems of places anthology; 31 vols)

What do you notice about the process of naming? What different elements are involved? How do you think the different stages involved in the naming process contribute towards place-making? Naming as a kind of ‘possession of the local’ – what do you think this means? What are the positive and negative elements of taking possession of the local landscape and of local meanings?…

[Inscription] marks our being in a particular place at a particular time, celebrating a code of the private known to a few… a kind of possession of the local…relying on the fact that people won’t know them…it’s about personalising place…ordinary objects that could be easily overlooked…

So their relationship between landscape and writing is operating at a number of levels here. They’re marking the landscape, carving their names into it. They’re naming the landscape, giving these particular places special names, and they’re also writing about the landscape…for the Wordsworths, a sense of place and particularly home is something that has to be made, and it has to be practised. And it also has to be shared by a very close group of friends, and it requires a very active relationship between the landscape and those that use it…a shared use of landscape can enhance friendship and friendly experiences in places can bring forth feelings of togetherness, community, and a sense of home…for Dorothy, these names are particularly important because she uses them in a very specific way to recollect feelings of friendship – the names are as important as the places.

Dorothy wrote a journal in Grasmere (new illustrated edition) between 1800 and 1803, recording her and William’s life in Dove Cottage, writing about the natural world, the people she met and those who lived in the village, and about William’s poetry. The MOOC concluded with that old favourite, a comparison between her account of seeing daffodils in 1802 and William’s account of the same incident in his most famous poem, ‘I wandered lonely’, written in 1804 and published in two versions (1807 and 1815).

How would you describe the way that Dorothy’s journal entry is written? What does she tell us in this passage about her daily life, her social circle, and the mundane physical experience of walking? Consider the encounter with the daffodils particularly. How does Dorothy come upon them? What is her relationship to them? How does she describe them? Do you think that there are aspects of this journal entry that are poetic? Do bits of it seem more like poetry than prose?

The wrap-up vid explored the importance of walking to the Wordsworths, for example as offering a sense of arrival after an epic and memorable event (on arrival in Grasmere), but also as an activity they chose for its own sake. Walking in (and into) the Lakes was part of their process of ‘claiming’ and (place)making a home. Also, in 1790 while at Cambridge William walked 1000 miles across Europe over the course of three months, taking in not least Revolutionary France, but also Switzerland and Italy. Some of his poetry (and Coleridge’s) has the meter of a walking pace within the lines.

Thorougly enjoyable and thought provoking throughout, even without going near the dreaded poetry!

For the record, there was a fair amount of Wordsworth (and Coleridge) at Placing the author. See also Mapping ‘Wordsworthshire’: a GIS study of literary tourism in Victorian Lakeland. And while we’re touching on poetry, here’s CAMPUS Poetry School, the social network for poets.

Literary geography: what is it?

Updates: see also the reading from RHUL’s GeoHumanities’ introductory workshop: Geography within the humanitiesEditorial from the first issue of the GeoHumanities journal | What might GeoHumanities do? | Narrating space /Spatializing narrative (review; has a chapter on streetnames)

At the Poetic Places launch event David Cooper gave a good introduction to the topic, starting with Willam Sharp’s 1904 Literary geography (review), referring everyone to De Certeau and subdividing #litgeogs into inter alia mapping a text, big data across a corpus, deep mapping and (broadly) field trips, including Mapping Bristol and just going for a walk. Shout-out too for Nottingham’s Centre for Regional Literature and Culture. See also the special issue of Humanities on Deep mapping edited by Les Roberts, a typology of geohumanities from the launch of the RHUL Centre for the Geohumanities, and Sheila Hones’ Literary geographies: narrative space in Let the great world spin.

See also Robert Tally’s Routledge handbook of literature and space and the Palgrave handbook of literature and the city, both 2017.

Sightings of Danish literary geographers – Elisabeth Skou Pedersen (AUPhD abstract), have come across her writing here and there. Martin Leer (Geneva), nothing else traced.


The first issue of Literary Geographies (blog cum bibliography) is out! Lots of litcrit, which I’m a bit sniffy about when it appears på dansk, plus a couple of useful articles exploring what we are actually talking about here.

The editorial sees litgeogs going beyond human geography to embrace literary criticism, literary cartography, geocriticism, comparative literature, and the digital and spatial humanities, situating it in the intersection of literary studies, geography and cartography. The journal takes the general position that literary geography is essentially a way of reading, “an approach to literary texts, a geographically-attuned way of reading fiction or poetry or drama” but also “making connections while reading scholarly work in geography and literary studies”.

Up to the 1980s the term was generally taken to refer to the kind of literary gazetteer aimed at reader-tourists discussed by Virginia Woolf in a 1905 review for the Times Literary Supplement. It was not until the ‘spatial turn’ took hold in literary studies nearly a century later that a contrastingly critical literary geography started to gain traction. More recently, the division between academic and creative work on literary geography has also started to be broken down, while literary geographers working on different national canons have also begun to collaborate.

Taking this a step further, Neal Alexander writes in Thinking Space that litgeogs might be regarded as one specific articulation of the cultural turn in human geography. The term can be traced back to 1904, when it meant “little more than the particular places, landscapes, or regions associated with individual writers…a kind of literary geography [which] continues to manifest itself in the form of literary tourism ventures and coffee-table books”, oh dear. In a more academic context he cites Moretti, Andrew Thacker and Sheila Hones, who “offer[s] a model of the literary text as a ‘spatial event’, produced ‘at the intersection of agents and situations scattered across time and space’” (see Narrative space in Let the great world spin). Interesting…

Literary geography is often carried on under other names (imaginative geography, literary cartography, geocriticism, geopoetics, geohumanities) and takes many forms drawing on ideas from a range of disciplines:

  • generating maps from quantitative data as a means of correlating genre with geography or charting the lineaments of a narrative trajectory
  • the nature of the relationship between material and metaphorical spaces
  • literary representations of places and spaces
  • the histories and characteristics of specific genres, such as landscape writing
  • the spatial properties of the text itself as a material object
  • literary geographical readings of early modern drama, realist novels, modernist poetry, and contemporary science fiction

Not quite sure where my ventures might fit in!

LitLong Edinburgh: exploring the literary city

Update: LitLong 2.0 launched at the 2017 Embra BookFest; see article

Edinburgh has just celebrated its 10th anniversary as UNESCO city of literature (Facebook | Twitter). The original city of literature, here’s Edinburgh’s literary story and details of tours and trails (guided | self guided | virtual – a bit lacking in the maps department, mind). Edinburgh is also home to the Scottish Poetry Library (Facebook | Twitter), the world’s first purpose built institution of its kind, it says here, and the Scottish Storytelling Centre (Facebook | Twitter), ditto, adjacent to John Knox House. Not forgetting the Book Festival (Facebook | Twitter), the “largest festival of its kind in the world“. 

The UK has one other city of literature, Norwich (see City of stories), and further literary cities include Dublin (great writers museum), and, pleasingly, Dunedin (about). Update: Nottingham has a bid in! If But I know this city! (tweets | David Belbin | report) is anything to go by, it should be successful. And there’s even Literary Dundee (@literarydundee). Unexpected update: Literary Odessa.

I suspect not entirely coincidentally, 30 March saw the launch of LitLong (@litlong), the latest output from the AHRC funded Palimpsest project (@LitPalimpsest) at the University of Edinburgh (see Nicola Osborne’s liveblog and #litlonglaunch, esp @sixfootdestiny). An “interactive resource of Edinburgh literature” currently based around a website with an app to come launched for iOS, LitLong grew out of the prototype Palimpsest app developed three years ago, taking a multidisciplinary team 15 months to build – geolocating the literature around a city is no trivial matter! See about LitLong for some of the issues.

550 works set in Edinburgh have been mined for placenames from the Edinburgh Gazetteer, with snippets selected for “interestingness” and added to the database, resulting in more than 47,000 mentions of over 1,600 different places. The data can be searched by keyword, location or author, opening up lots of possibilities, such as why is Irvine Welsh’s Embra further north than Walter Scott’s Edinburgh? Do memoir writers focus on different areas than crime writers? See too Mapping the Canongate.

Part of the point of Palimpsest is to allow us to explore and compare the cityscapes of individual writers, as well as the way in which literary works cultivate the personality of the city as a whole.

On the down side, while there is a handful of contemporary writers in the mix, the majority of the content necessarily comes from copyright free material available in a digitised corpus, ie old stuff they made you read at school. Plus search results can be rather overwhelming (339 hits for the Grassmarket) – filters for genre, time period, might be an idea. However the data is to be made available enabling interested parties to play around as they wish, with open source code and data resources on GitHub.

I’ve had a look at the data around Muriel Spark, who would surely be delighted to be considered contemporary. The prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961) has a section set in Cramond, near where I grew up. Drilling down using the location visualiser quickly brings us to:

“I shouldn’t have thought there was much to explore at Cramond,” said Mr. Lloyd, smiling at her with his golden forelock falling into his eye.

Searching the database brings up three pages of Cramond results to explore, including 17 Brodie snippets. Note that here you can filter by decade or source.

A search for Cammo, even closer to home, brought up a quote from Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys, although the map shown was different depending on which tool I used:

Edinburgh is a city of trees and woods; from the magnificence of the natural woodlands at Corstorphine Hill or Cammo, to the huge variety of splendid specimens in our parks and streets, Alexander argued, a pleasing flourish to his rhetoric. — Trees and woodlands have an inherent biodiversity value, whilst providing opportunities for recreation and environmental education.

location visualiser map - quill not in park

location visualiser map – quill in back gardens rather than the “natural woodlands” #picky

database search map - not Cammo!

database search map – not Cammo!

At the other end of the scale a search for ‘Bobby’ brings up 72 snippets from Eleanor Atkinson’s book, that’s a lot to handle…TBH I don’t really want them, I want a nice map of locations mentioned in the book, or at least a list, to create my own Greyfriars Bobby trail. At the moment it’s not possible to switch between the text and the map from the location visualiser, although you can do this snippet by snippet from the database search.

As things stand LitLong feels like an academic project rather than a user friendly tool – some use cases might be an idea.Hopefully the same approach will be applied to other cities in due course.