Brandes, Georg

Brandes, Georg
   A Danish literary critic, Brandes is the greatest and most influential critic Scandinavia has produced. A very talented man, he played a crucial role in both Danish and Scandinavian literary life for three decades. Brandes had a long and productive life, during which he wrote a large number of books on European writers and artists. He was translated into all of the major European languages and was very influential not only in Scandinavia, but internationally as well.
   Brandes came from a secular Jewish background and used his outsider status to launch an incisive and much needed critique of Danish literary and intellectual life. Having first been influenced by the Danish literary lion Johan Ludvig Heiberg, he traveled abroad and became taken with the ideas of the French critics Hippolyte Taine (1828-1893) and Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869). Taine practiced a positivistic historical-biographical form ofcriticism that also emphasized the psychology ofthe author; Sainte-Beuve preferred a systematic criticism based on historical determinism. An early collection of critical essays by Brandes entitled Kritiker og Portræter (1870; Critiques and Portraits) shows the influence of both French critics.
   Brandes's prominence in Scandinavian literary life dates to 3 November 1871, when in the first lecture of a series held at the University of Copenhagen he called for a literary practice that would use literature to debate modern problems and issues. His strong personality either attracted or repelled people, and he soon gained a large following for his ideas, but also much opposition from the conservative Danish literary and political establishment. His lectures were eventually published as his most important work, the six-volume Hovedstrømninger i det Nittende Aarhundredes Literatur (1872-1890; tr. Main Currents in Nineteenth-Century Literature, 1901-1905).
   Progressive Scandinavian writers generally found Brandes's ideas attractive, and the ensuing two decades, roughly 1870 to 1890, is a period referred to as the Modern Breakthrough in Scandinavia. Such realists and naturalists as the Danes Henrik Pontoppidan and J. P. Jacobsen, the Norwegians Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Alexander Kielland, Arne Garborg, and Amalie Skram, and the Swede August Strindberg were all deeply influenced by him, as were many others.
   Together with his brother Edvard, Georg Brandes published the literary journal Det Nittende Aarhundrede (1874-1877; The Nineteenth Century), the chief forum for his radical critique of literature and culture. Brandes also summed up the early achievements of the Modern Breakthrough in his book Det moderne Gennembruds Mænd (1883; The Men of the Modern Breakthrough). In the 1880s he discovered the work of the German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900), whose writings he discussed in his essay "Aristokratisk Radikalisme" (1889; Aristocratic Radicalism) in the journal Tilskueren (The Spectator).

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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