Reading the Surface: The Danish Gothic of B.S. Ingemann, H.C. Andersen, Karen Blixen and Beyond
Kastbjerg, Kirstine Marie
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Despite growing ubiquitous in both the popular and academic mind in recent years, the Gothic has, perhaps not surprisingly, yet to be examined within the notoriously realism-prone literary canon of Denmark. This dissertation fills that void by demonstrating an ongoing negotiation of Gothic conventions in select works by canonical Danish writers such as B.S. Ingemann, Hans Christian Andersen, and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen), as well as contemporary writers such as Peter Høeg and Leonora Christina Skov. This examination does not only broaden our understanding of these culturally significant writers and the discourses they write within and against, it also adds to our understanding of the Gothic - an infamously malleable and indefinable literary mode - by redirecting attention to a central feature of the Gothic that has not received much critical attention: the emphasis on excess, spectacle, clichéd conventions, histrionic performances, its hyperbolic rhetorical style, and hyper-visual theatricality. As genre markers of trivial entertainment, these characteristics are often dismissed, but to understand how the Gothic works one must take into account its foregrounding of surface mechanisms and its peculiar surface-depth perspective, which informs all levels of narration, setting and characterization. When meaning is not buried in the depths but is played out on the surface, an extremely unstable sense of personal identity is the result. This is the most important contribution of the Gothic counter-narrative to the representation of the human predicament and it clashes dramatically with the Danish discourse of self-formation, Dannelse (Bildung), which governs the national consciousness to the present day. By dressing up reality - and realism - in excess in disorienting narratives of fragmented subjects, Danish Gothic provides an important correlate to the construction of a harmonious Golden Age Romanticism and of Danish literature as wholesome, moderate and realistic in nature. Danish Gothic challenges the ways in which Danish literary histories have been written since the early 1800s, and the reception history of these writers reads like a Gothic tale of repression and persecution in itself. The aesthetics of the depthless image, which governs the Danish Gothic, seems, however, supremely relevant to the simulated, post-heteronormative hyper-reality of today.