Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Article: Anna Kalskov Skyggebjerg - God, King and Country: The Depiction of National Identity in Danish Historical Novels for Children

Some extracts I found, I have the original article filed if anybody wants the whole thing, cannot guarantee the page numbers are accurate as I looked at this many years ago and was a bit naughty with writing the page numbers down at the time! 
God, King and Country: The Depiction of National Identity in Danish Historical Novels for Children

Anna Kalskov Skyggebjerg
'Being part of a more of less official national curriculum, historical novels for children have been highly influential in children’s and young adults’ understanding of history and national identity. According to Benedict Anderson’s well-known definition the concept of nation is an imagined community: ‘the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion’ (15.) In children’s literature research, national identity has been defined, by Margaret Meek, as ‘a stylistic way of identifying differences between “us” and “others,” chiefly in terms of origins, optings and associations’ (ix).  The historical novel for children not only incorporates representations of nation identity' (27).

'..can also be said to be responsible for creating such images. I suggest that the historical novel for children has moved away from the purely heroic images and eulogies of king and nation, but it is still rooted in national history. Although there has been a shift in the view of the specific historic period and a change from a political to a social focus, even today there remains a strong emphasis on power relations established as a result of war.' (28)

The Historical novel

 ‘The writing involves a historically referential reading and yet it functions on fictional premises, with no obligation to refer to any reality beyond literature. This paradoxical ambivalence is the cornerstone of the genre.’ ‘“History” combines both objective and subjective meanings for it denotes the historia rerum gestarum as well as the res gestae themselves, the historical narrative and the actual happenings, deeds, and events – which in the stricter sense, are quite distinct from one another’ (Hegel 135)' (28).

'Lukacs (The Historical Novel 1937 is a pivotal text) believes the historical novel should be committed to historical accuracy and its aim should be authenticity. Lukacs proclaimed Walter Scott’s Waverly (1914) the first real historical novel. The story of the time Scotland lost its independence to England is told through the perspective of Waverly, a neutral hero in whom the historical conflicts meet and through him we see how history impacts on the individual. ‘What is lacking in the so-called historical novel before Scott is precisely the specifically historical, that is, the derivation of the individuality of characters from the historical peculiarity of their age’ (Lukacs 15)' (29).

'For Lukacs, the depiction of specific ways of thinking is as important as physical time markers such as events, objects and symbols, and he prioritises the description of everyday people in the historical novel. He praises Scot for having ‘a deep understanding for the peculiarity of different historical periods’ and an ability to ‘combine historical grandeur with genuine human qualities’ (Lukacs 47.) From my point of view Lukacs’ credibility criterion – consistency between historical events and human psychology-seems reasonable at face value, however the problem is that it is hard to verify. The historical novel is always written at some remove from historical events. The dramatisation of any individual’s thoughts and actions at a moment in history is and will always be an illusion.'

'In Metahistory (1973) Hayden White made the point that all accounts of history are just that: accounts or representations but not ‘the truth.’ By definition the writing of history is a construct, and one of White’s points is that writers of histories borrow features from fiction.'

'Children’s Literature researchers John Stephens (1992) and Astrid Svensen (1999) have explained how children’s authors of historical novels use special point of view techniques to link the past and the present, and how the belief is a common human and ahistorical ethic dominates a considerable number of these novels (29).

'The genre often carries an assumption that there are transhistorical values such as love, honour and loyalty. The authors have a tendency to project their own time’s (humanistic) values onto the past, which of course is a problematic issue. Svensen, in her analyses of modern children’s writing in Scandanavia, has shown how writers try to create authenticity by using old words as well as references to rituals and customs of the time, while – generally speaking – creating a view of the past as somewhere where people were frightened, starving and frozen (Svenson 202).'

National Identity in the Historical Novel

'The emergence of the historical novel coincides with the creation of nation states in Europe. The genre is, so to speak, born with a vested interest in creating a nation’s history in order to create a common identity. Even though today very few historical novels for children are unequivocally patriotic in intent, patriotism can still be said to be one of the genre’s didactic aims, in that a large arsenal of stories helps to create a common historical consciousness within the delimited national, linguistic or cultural community (for further discussion see Ole Birlund Andersen, Den faktiske sandheds poesi: studier I historieromanen I forste halvdel af det 19. arhundrede [the poetry of factual truth: studies in the historical novel from the first half of the nineteenth century] (34)). According to Anna Adamik Jasco it is essential for historical fiction that the idea of ‘us and others’ is established (34.) In Danish children’s novels, a national core fable is created about the original Danes, their victories and defeats. It is difficult to prove whether this overwhelmingly national focus is also true of other nation and language communities, but it can be demonstrated that every area has its own genre-specific canon (Stephens Language and Ideology and Glasenapp Was ist Historie?)'

'In the first half of the C19th Danish literature discovered its own Walter Scott in B.S Igemann who wrote four historical novels about the birth of the Danish Nation, including Valdemar Sierer (Valdemar Victory) (1826.) Ingemann’s novels were not intended to be children’s literature, but they enjoyed huge popularity as family reading in the nineteenth century. It centres on Valdemar II, the Danish King who was nicknames ‘Sejr’ (Victory) because of his crusades and conquests in thirteenthe century Estonia, and the novel describes the backdrop to Valdemar’s wars. It is a psychological portrait of a king, and the consequences of his actions are described from a number of different points of view; there is a definite link between the larger and the smaller story – the country and the individual are in step. We follow a boy who becomes an attendant to the king and see the events unfold through the young queen’s eyes. Valdemar Sier thus satisfies Lukacs’ demands with respect to the historical novel, and at the same time is typical of early historical novels, iin that it focuses on a famous person and his role in history.' (30)

‘In Denmark the first historical novels written and published explicitly for children came out at the beginning of the twentieth century. The development of the genre is closely tied to the teaching of history in schools, and writers were frequently teachers who had employed the narrative in lessons with success. One such schoolteacher/writer was Marius Dahlsgaard (1879-1941.) His forty-one books were published in the period from 1915 until 1943 (the last was published posthumously). Like many of his predecessors, Dahlsgaard chose national events as the historical frame for most of his novels (Wienrich 388-9.) One of them is an attempt to write a supplement to or a revised version of Ingemann’s novel. Ingemann’s protagonist is the king, while Dahlsgaard focuses on a young Dane of humbler origins. Whereas Ingemann in his wide-ranging novel portrayed the historical period and the political conflicts from several different angles, Dahlsgaard prioritised his own picture of a typical Danish naval hero.’ (31)

The Dichotomy of Friend and Foe.

'Arius Dahlsgaard’s Thorkild’s Trael features 23 yr old Thorkild and his band of soldiers disguised as merchants who rescue an Estonian boy from drowning. He becomes a slave but is treated like Thorkild’s son and is repaid when Saka saves his life twice later in the battles.'

‘The Danes are represented as heroes;’… ‘tall, muscular and blond and they wear shining chain mail and steel helmets. Thorkild, in particular, is an extraordinarily strong and talented leader, and despite his youth he has a natural authority which enables him to deal with warfare and also tackle complicated personal relations, such as the upbringing of Saka. By contrast the army of Estonians are ‘a horde of savages wrapped in cow skins with horns on’ (82.) One Estonian commander is describes as ‘a stocky man with huge shoulders, twisted features and a large billowing beard as black as ravens feathers’ (84).’ ‘When the Estonians attack, Thorkild can see the enemy’s ‘great yellow and white canine teeth gleaming in a frothing mouth (84.) The Danes (and their allies) are Christians while the Estonians are heathens. Saka, the boy, is the exception among the Estonians, but Saka comes to feel more and more Danish as time goes on and in the end asks for permission to carry the Christina cross. The Dnaish victory is described as a miracle: a group of Maltese knights bearing a flag come to the rescue of the hard-pressed Danes.' (31)

 'Omniscient narrator retells the legend of the Danish flag that fell from heaven. Today, the day is National Flag day. Strongly nationalistic text, black and white picture of friend and foe. Only Danish perspectives considered. The novel is historical in the sense that it is about past events through the perspective of a fictional character. However, the novel also employs some features from the fairy-tale genre: Thorkild overcomes tests to receive honour by the king and wins the hand of a Swedish Earl’s daughter.'

'..aim to impart knowledge about our seafarers and their contribution to Danish history so that the nation – especially young people – can learn to respect and honour them. Unmistakable ideological standpoint; national revival. The novel is of its time; the 1930’s a time of intensifying nationalism not only in Denmark but throughout Europe.'

'The protagonist is an outsider in his community and may be said to be the readers agent in an alien universe. The values he develops are those of modern day thinking, with the rights of the individual set above those of the community. He fights most for individual causes-freedom. He is a great advocate of romantic love. A critical and independent young man. The inscribed readers position is therefore not far from Svend’s own. Life in nature is presented without any further reflection. Utopianism.'

Different Views of History.

The historical novel for children exhibits a clear line of development from Thorkilds Trael to Sagaen om Svend Pindehugger. The first borrows from fairy tale and hagiography the second alludes to the saga (as in the title,) bildunsroman and in the end, also the adventure story with utopian elements (34.) The masculine ideal of Svend is like in saga but also psychological analyses of his progression and maturation. Sagaen avoids national sterotypes of Thorkilds. Danes are no longer, by definition, courageous warriors fighting for a just cause. Doubts are raised about the moral scruples of the invading Danes. The friend or foe dichotomy does not coincide with national identity. Svend meets good and bad amongst Estonians and Danes. The focus shifts from a national to an individual mission to discover the protagonists own ambitions. His antagonists are the fixed social order, the power hungry army commanders and religion. (34)

'Olsen (Sagaen) shifts focus from national heroes to everyday people and is more fascinated by the story of the flag and Danish lit than nationalism. Olsen devotes considerable space to methods of hunting and cultivation, flora and fauna. Both writers imply however that there are trans-historical concepts and values. For Dahlsgaard it is pride and loyalty to family and country. For Olsen it is love, respect for the individual and justice. There is no reflection on the transcience of the essence or value of the extolled concepts in either.'

'However the novels can be read as an expression of how values and views of history can change radically over a relatively short time. Between 1932 and 1992 WWII and the Youth revolt of 1968 left their marks. From this perspective, these historical novels say considerably more about the time in which they were published than the time in which they portray. To borrow Benedict Anderson’s terms, the imagined community is no longer consistent with tall blonde Christian soldiers unified by the flag. The contemporary vision of the nation is a self-selecting community in the natural world where the inhabitants are individuals with psychological development to accomplish' (35)/

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