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Reviewed by:
  • Nordic Romanticism: Translation, Transmission, Transformation ed. by Cian Duffy and Robert W. Rix
  • Ellen Rees
Nordic Romanticism: Translation, Transmission, Transformation. Ed. Cian Duffy and Robert W. Rix. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022. Pp xxxvii + 300.

Romanticism as a field of cultural endeavor is notoriously difficult to define, a point famously made by Arthur O. Lovejoy in his 1924 essay "On the Discrimination of Romanticisms" (PMLA 39:229–53, 1924). The editors and contributors to Nordic Romanticism: Translation, Transmission, Transformation have chosen a generous delineation of the term "Romanticism," including widely varying discourses dating from the 1780s through the 1890s. At the same time, the contributors operate with a surprisingly narrow definition of "Nordic," with eight of the ten articles dedicated to Danish topics and two that examine the Swedish context; there is no attention paid to the other Nordic countries, and indeed a key figure such as the painter J. C. Dahl is misidentified as "Danish," which [End Page 552] is bound to raise the hackles of any scholar of Norwegian Romanticism (p. 167). One gets the impression that, having determined that national concerns are at best secondary to the transnational, the contributors ignore the real differences in how the non-hegemonic Nordic countries negotiated the field of Romanticism, at times in direct opposition to Danish and/or Swedish cultural dominance. Nevertheless, the desire to transcend national chauvinism and trace the transnational circulation of Romantic discourses and culture is ultimately a strength of the book. It would simply have been interesting to see how considerations of examples from Finland, Iceland, or Norway might have added to or altered the book's account of the network of ideas flowing primarily between British, German, and Danish contexts. For example, there could have been a discussion of the extraordinarily transnational Norwegian Henrik Steffens, who not only positioned himself at the heart of Jena Romanticism and almost single-handedly brought this new movement to Scandinavia through his controversial lectures in Copenhagen starting in 1802, but also published short stories, memoirs, and essays in German, paradoxically promoting an independent Norwegian identity to a domestic audience in a foreign language.

Robert W. Rix's article on the role of a poem by Goethe in the reception and transmission of a Danish ballad tradition perfectly illustrates these dizzying transnational flows. It also shows the sense of exciting newness and innovation in that material we today might think of as antiquated—Scandinavian ballads—encapsulated for writers and audiences across Europe. Rix's examination of multiple rewritings of Goethe's "Erlkönig" (Elf-King) provides an excellent point of entry to the anthology's aim of mapping modes of transnational circulation that challenge literary historical accounts of romanticism based on the nation as a clearly delineated unit.

Andreas Hjort Møller compares multiple early translations of one specific Old Norse poem, the Biarkamál fragments, in order to demonstrate the influence of translator Bertel Christian Sandvig on the Romantic poetics of Danish writers such as Adam Oehlenschlager and N. S. F. Grundtvig. For a non-specialist, the overarching argument gets a bit lost in rapid toggling between translations from different versions to various languages by many translators throughout the early modern period, but it is ultimately convincing.

For those interested in critical reassessments of nationalist literary historiography, Anna Sandberg's article offers two fascinating and rich case studies of "border crossing" writers, namely, Jens Baggesen and Friederike Brun, both of whom moved freely between Danish-language [End Page 553] and German-language contexts throughout their careers. This is a well-argued and thought-provoking article in which the broader implications of transnational and/or multilingual writers for literary historiography as an inherently nation-building endeavor are clearly and thoughtfully laid out.

Cian Duffy's article on "locating" Adam Oehlenschläger within broader European discourses on Romanticism reveals itself to be much narrower in focus than the title promises, zeroing in on the treatment of Oehlenschläger in a single essay, "The German Drama," published in the English periodical Literary Miscellany by Julian Charles Hare in 1820. While Duffy aims to explore larger questions related to translation in the context of national versus universal literature, the overarching argument...