Scandinavian literature or Nordic literature is the literature in the languages of the Nordic countries of Northern Europe. The Nordic countries include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway (including Svalbard), Sweden, and Scandinavia's associated autonomous territories (Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland). The majority of these nations and regions use North Germanic languages. Although majority of Finns speak Uralic languages, Finnish history and literature are clearly interrelated with those of both Sweden and Norway who have shared control of various areas and who have substantial Sami populations/influences.
These peoples have produced an important and influential literature. Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright, was largely responsible for the popularity of modern realistic drama in Europe, with plays like The Wild Duck and A Doll's House. Nobel prizes for literature have been awarded to Selma Lagerlöf, Verner von Heidenstam, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan, Knut Hamsun, Sigrid Undset, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Pär Lagerkvist, Halldór Laxness, Nelly Sachs, Eyvind Johnson, Harry Martinson, and Tomas Tranströmer.
Medieval Scandinavian literature
In medieval times Scandinavia shared first Proto-Norse and then Old Norse as a common language. The earliest written records from Scandinavia are runic inscriptions on memorial stones and other objects. Some of those contain allusions to Norse mythology and even short poems in alliterative verse. The best known example is the elaborate Rök runestone (ca. 800) which alludes to legends from the migration age. The oldest of the Eddic poems are believed to have been composed in the 9th century, though they are only preserved in 13th-century manuscripts. They tell of the myths and heroic legends of Scandinavia. Skaldic poetry is mostly preserved in late manuscripts but was preserved orally from the 9th century onwards, and also appears on runestones, such as the Karlevi Runestone.
The advent of Christianity in the 10th century brought Scandinavia into contact with European learning, including the Latin alphabet and the Latin language. In the 12th century this was to bear literary fruit in works such as the Danish Gesta Danorum an ambitious historical work by Saxo Grammaticus. The 13th century was a golden age of Icelandic literature with Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda and Heimskringla.
The 16th century brought the Lutheran Reformation to Denmark and a new period in the nation's literature. Major authors of the time include the humanist Christiern Pedersen, who translated the New Testament into Danish, and Poul Helgesen who vigorously opposed the Reformation. The 16th century also saw Denmark's earliest plays, including the works of Hieronymus Justesen Ranch. The 17th century was an era of renewed interest in Scandinavian antiquities with scholars like Ole Worm at the forefront. Though religious dogmatism was on the rise the passionate hymns of Thomas Kingo transcended the genre with personal expression. External struggles with Sweden and internal rivalries among the nobility leading to Denmark's absolute monarchy in 1660 are chronicled from a royal prisoner's redemptive perspective in the heartfelt prose of Leonora Christina of the Blue Tower. Later Danish authors include Hans Christian Andersen, Søren Kierkegaard, Johannes V. Jensen, and Karen Blixen.
Faroese literature in the traditional sense of the word has only really developed in the past 100–200 years. This is mainly because of the island's isolation, and also because the Faroese language was not written down in a standardised format until 1890. In the Middle Ages many Faroese poems and stories were handed down orally. These works were split into the following divisions: sagnir (historical), ævintyr (stories) and kvæði (ballads, often set to music and dance). These were eventually written down in the 19th century, providing the basis for a late but powerful literature.
The history of Finland has been tumultuous. During much of recorded history the language of the government was different from that of the majority of the population. This had a strong influence on 'Finnish literature' with many of the greatest works revolving around achieving or maintaining a strong Finnish identity.
The most famous collection of folk poetry is by far the Kalevala. Referred to as the Finnish national epic it is mainly credited to Elias Lönnrot although he worked more as an editor and compiler. It was first published in 1835 and quickly became a symbol of Finnish nationalism. The first novel published in Finnish was Seven Brothers (1870) by Aleksis Kivi (1834—1872): still generally considered to be one of the greatest of all works of Finnish literature.
The Icelanders' sagas (Icelandic: Íslendingasögur)—many of which are also known as family sagas—are prose histories describing mostly events that took place in Iceland in the 10th and early 11th centuries. They are the best known of specifically Icelandic literature from the early period. In late medieval times rímur became the most popular form of poetic expression. Influential Icelandic authors since the reformation include Hallgrímur Pétursson, Jónas Hallgrímsson, Gunnar Gunnarsson and Halldór Laxness.
The period from the 14th century up to the 19th is considered a dark age in Norway's literature though Norwegian-born writers such as Peder Claussøn Friis and Ludvig Holberg contributed to the common literature of Denmark-Norway. With the advent of nationalism and the struggle for independence in the early 19th century a new period of national literature emerged. The dramatist Henrik Wergeland was the most influential author of the period while the later works of Henrik Ibsen were to earn Norway an influential place in Western European literature. In the 20th century notable Norwegian writers include the three Nobel Prize–winning authors Knut Hamsun, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Sigrid Undset.
Sweden ranks third in the list of countries with most Nobel Prize laureates in literature. Famous Swedish writers include Astrid Lindgren, Gustaf Fröding, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, Vilhelm Moberg, August Strindberg, and Tomas Tranströmer.
Nobel Prize in Literature
The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to a number of Scandinavians, including:
- Frans Eemil Sillanpää, born in the Grand Duchy of Finland, a part of the Russian Empire in 1809–1917, 1939
- Halldór Kiljan Laxness, 1955
The Nordic Council's Literature Prize
The Nordic Council's Literature Prize is awarded by a Nordic adjudication committee for literature (novel, a play, a collection of poetry, short stories or essays) written in one of the Nordic languages. The committee is appointed by the Nordic Council and consists of 10 members:
- Two from Denmark,
- Two from Finland (1 Finnish speaking and 1 Swedish speaking)
- Two from Iceland,
- Two from Norway and
- Two from Sweden.