Georg Brandes (4 February 1842 – 19 February 1927), born Morris
Cohen, was a Danish critic and scholar who greatly influenced
Scandinavian and European literature from the 1870s through the turn
of the 20th century. He is seen as the theorist behind the "Modern
Breakthrough" of Scandinavian culture. At the age of 30, Brandes
formulated the principles of a new realism and naturalism, condemning
hyper-aesthetic writing and also fantasy in literature. His literary
goals were shared by some other authors, among them the Norwegian
"realist" playwright Henrik Ibsen.
Georg Brandes held a series of lectures in 1871 with the title
"Main Currents in 19th-century Literature", he defined the Modern
Breakthrough and started the movement that would become Cultural
Radicalism. In 1884 Viggo Hørup, Georg Brandes, and his brother
Edvard Brandes started the daily newspaper
Politiken with the motto:
"The paper of greater enlightenment". The paper and their political
debates led to a split of the liberal party Venstre in 1905 and
created the new party Det Radikale Venstre.
1.2 The Modern Breakthrough
1.3 Later authorship
1.4 Personal life and last years
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Georg Brandes was born Morris Cohen in
Copenhagen into a non-observant
Jewish middle-class family, the elder brother of prominent Danes Ernst
Brandes and Edvard Brandes. He became a student at the University of
Copenhagen in 1859 where he first studied jurisprudence. From this,
however, his interests soon turned to philosophy and aesthetics. In
1862 he won the gold medal of the university for an essay on The Idea
of Nemesis among the Ancients. Before this, indeed since 1858, he had
shown a remarkable gift for verse-writing, the results of which,
however, were not abundant enough to justify separate publication.
Brandes did not collect his poems until as late as 1898. At the
university, which he left in 1864, Brandes was influenced by the
writings of Heiberg in criticism and
Søren Kierkegaard in philosophy,
influences which continued to leave traces on his work.
Georg Brandes in his youth. 1868 drawing by Godtfred Rump.
In 1866, he contributed to the discussion of the works of Rasmus
Nielsen in "Dualism in our Recent Philosophy". From 1865 to 1871 he
traveled much in Europe, acquainting himself with the condition of
literature in the principal centers of learning. His first important
contribution to letters was his Aesthetic Studies (1868), where his
maturer method is already foreshadowed in several brief monographs on
Danish poets. In 1870 he published several important volumes, The
Aesthetics of the Present Day, dealing chiefly with Hippolyte
Taine, Criticisms and Portraits, and a translation of The Subjection
of Women by John Stuart Mill, whom he had met that year during a visit
The Modern Breakthrough
Main article: Modern Breakthrough
Brandes now took his place as the leading northern European critic,
applying to local conditions and habits of thought the methods of
Taine. He became Docent or reader in
Aesthetics at the University of
Copenhagen, where his lectures were a great success and gathered
huge audiences. His famous opening lecture on 3 November 1871,
Hovedstrømninger i det 19de Aarhundredes Litteratur (English: Main
Currents in the Literature of the Nineteenth Century), signalled the
beginning of his lifelong struggle to modernize Danish literature.
After the professorship of aesthetics became vacant in 1872, it was
taken as a matter of course that Brandes would fill it. But the young
critic had offended many sensibilities by his ardent advocacy of
modern ideas; he was seen as a Jew (which he did not consider himself
to be), his convictions were Radical, he was suspected of being an
atheist. The authorities refused to appoint him, but his fitness for
the post was so obvious that the chair of
Aesthetics remained vacant
for years, since no one else daring to place himself in comparison
Danish first edition of Brandes' Hovedstrømninger i det 19de
Aarhundredes Litteratur – Emigrantlitteraturen from 1872.
In the middle of these polemics, Brandes began to issue volumes of the
most ambitious of his works, Main Currents in the Literature of the
Nineteenth Century, of which four volumes appeared between 1872 and
1875 (English translation, 1901–1905). The brilliant novelty of this
criticism of the literature of major European countries at the
beginning of the 19th century, and his description of the general
revolt against the pseudo-classicism of the 18th century, at once
attracted attention outside Denmark. The tumult which gathered round
the person of the critic increased the success of the work, and the
reputation of Brandes grew apace, especially in Germany and Russia.
In 1877 Brandes left
Copenhagen and settled in Berlin, taking a
considerable part in the aesthetic life of that city. His political
views, however, made
Prussia uncomfortable with him, and he returned
in 1883 to Copenhagen, where he found a whole new school of writers
and thinkers eager to receive him as their leader. He headed the
group "Det moderne Gjennembruds Mænd" (The Men of the Modern
Breakthrough), composed of J.P. Jacobsen, Holger Drachmann, Edvard
Brandes, Erik Skram, Sophus Schandorph, and Norwegians Henrik Ibsen
and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, but a conservative reaction against
his "realistic" doctrines began around 1883, headed by Holger
Among his later writings must be mentioned the monographs on Søren
Esaias Tegnér (1878),
Benjamin Disraeli (1878),
Ferdinand Lassalle (in German, 1877),
Ludvig Holberg (1884), Henrik
Ibsen (1899) and on
Anatole France (1905). Brandes wrote with great
depth on the main contemporary poets and novelists of
Norway, and he and his disciples were for a long time the arbiters of
literary success in the north. His Danish Poets (1877), containing
studies of Carsten Hauch, Ludvig Bødtcher,
Christian Winther and
Frederick Paludan-Müller, his Men of the Modern Transition (1883),
and his Essays (1889), are volumes essential to the proper study of
modern Scandinavian literature. He wrote an excellent book on Poland
(1888; English translation, 1903), and was one of the editors of the
German version of Ibsen.
The most important of his later works was his study of William
Shakespeare (1897–1898), which was translated into English by
William Archer and was highly acclaimed. It was, perhaps, history's
most authoritative work on Shakespeare not principally intended for an
English-speaking audience. He was afterwards engaged in writing a
history of modern Scandinavian literature. In his critical work, which
extended over a wider field than that of any other living writer,
Brandes was aided by a singularly charming style, lucid and
reasonable, enthusiastic but without extravagance, brilliant and
colored without affectation. In 1900 he collected his works for the
first time in a complete and popular edition and began to work on a
German edition, completed in 1902.
He published Main Currents in Nineteenth-Century Literature in 1906
(six volumes). This book was among the 100 best books for education
selected in 2008 by Will Durant. Durant and Brandes were both
contributors to the Mother Earth magazine. In Volume 2 Brandes says
about Kierkegaard, "It is not merely in name that this irony bears a
fundamental resemblance to Kierkegaard's, which also aristocratically
"chooses to be misunderstood". The Ego of genius is the truth, if not
in the sense in which Kierkegaard would have us understand his
Subjectivity is the truth", still in the sense that the
Ego has every externally valid commandment and prohibition in its
power; and, to the astonishment and scandal of the world, invariably
expresses itself in paradoxes.
Irony is "divine audacity". In audacity
thus comprehended there are endless possibilities. It is freedom from
prejudice, yet it suggests the possibility of the most audacious
defense of all possible kinds of prejudices. It is more easily
attainable, we are told, by woman than by man. “Like the feminine
garb, the feminine intellect has this advantage over the masculine,
that its possessor by a single daring movement can rise above all the
prejudices of civilization and bourgeois conventionality, at once
transporting herself into the state of innocence and the lap of
Nature". The lap of Nature! There is an echo of Rousseau's voice even
in this wanton tirade. We seem to hear the trumpet-call of revolution;
what we really hear is only the proclamation of reaction. Rousseau
desired to return to the state of nature, when men roamed naked
through the pathless forests and lived upon acorns. Schelling wished
to turn the course of evolution back to the primeval ages, to the days
before man had fallen. Schlegel blows revolutionary melodies on the
great romantic "wonder-horn".
Personal life and last years
Brandes in 1904
In the late 1880s, Brandes fought against what he saw as the hypocrisy
of prudish sexuality, which caused a rift with Bjørnstjerne
Bjørnson. Between the years of 1886 and 1888 Brandes was engaged
in a relationship with the Swedish author Victoria Benedictsson, who
wrote Penningar and Fru Marianne under the male pseudonym Ernst
Ahlgren. Benedictsson committed suicide in a
Copenhagen hotel room,
and the relationship with Brandes has later been blamed as the cause
for her death.
In the late 1880s, Brandes turned to concentrating on "great
personalities" as the source of culture. In this period, he discovered
Friedrich Nietzsche, not only introducing him to Scandinavian culture
but indirectly to the whole world. The series of lectures that he
gave on Nietzsche's thought, which he described as "aristocratic
radicalism", were the first to present Nietzsche as a world cultural
figure in need of full intellectual notice. Of Brandes' description of
his philosophy, Nietzsche himself remarked: "The expression
'aristocratic radicalism', which you employ, is very good. It is,
permit me to say, the cleverest thing that I have yet read about
myself". In 1909 the lectures were edited and published as the
monograph Friedrich Nietzsche, which included the complete
Nietzsche/Brandes correspondence as well as two essays in homage to
the late Nietzsche's life and thought. Translated into English by A.G.
Chater, the volume was published by Heinemann in 1911 and Nietzsche's
thought was thus able to reach a significant English language audience
before World War I. It was Brandes who, in an 1888 letter, wrote
to Nietzsche advising him to read the works of Søren Kierkegaard,
with whom his thought had much in common. There is no evidence,
however, that Nietzsche ever did read any volume by Kierkegaard.
The key idea of "aristocratic radicalism" went on to influence most of
the later works of Brandes and resulted in voluminous biographies
Goethe (1914–15), Francois de
Voltaire (1916–17), Gaius
Julius Cæsar 1918 and
In the 1900s, Brandes fought the Danish political establishment on
several occasions, but eventually had to curb his acidic attacks.
However, his international reputation was growing. In many ways he
emulated his own assessment of Voltaire, as an author against habitual
thinking, hypocrisy and the thin veneer of morality. He condemned
the maltreatment of national minorities, the persecution of Alfred
Dreyfus, etc. During World War I, he condemned the national aggression
and imperialism on both sides and his last years were dedicated to
anti-religious polemic. In this late period he made new connections to
Henri Barbusse and
Romain Rolland when he was
co-signer in the foundation of Clarté, as well as E. D. Morel.
Brandes argued against the historicity of jesus and was a proponent of
the Christ myth theory. He published Die Jesus Sage which was
translated as Jesus: A Myth in 1926. He was an atheist.
Brandes stands as one of the most influential inspirations of Danish
culture, an equal of Holberg, Grundtvig and Ansgar. Among his
supporters, Brandes' work was seen as a liberator from repressive
norms, authority and hypocrisy, and he served as an inspiration for
many contemporary writers. On the other hand, conservative circles
condemned him as an immoral, unpatriotic and subversive blasphemer; as
he became the lynchpin of criticism against modernity in its
entirety. At the same time, some socialists criticized his elitist
attitudes, while some feminists have regarded his attitude of sexual
equality as being inconsequential.
His brother Edvard (1847–1931), also a well-known critic, was the
author of a number of plays, and of two psychological novels: A
Politician (1889), and Young Blood (1899). He became an outstanding
political figure of the party Det Radikale Venstre.
"It would be as impossible for me to attack Christianity as it would
be impossible for me to attack werewolves."
"I was very much surprised when Mill informed me that he had not read
a line of Hegel, either in the original or in translation, and
regarded the entire
Hegelian philosophy as sterile and empty
sophistry. I mentally confronted this with the opinion of the man at
Copenhagen University who knew the history of philosophy best, my
teacher, Hans Brochner, who knew, so to speak, nothing of contemporary
English and French philosophy, and did not think them worth studying.
I came to the conclusion that here was a task for one who understood
the thinkers of the two directions, who did not mutually understand
one another. I thought that in philosophy, too, I knew what I wanted,
and saw a road open in front of me."
Reminiscences of my Childhood and Youth (1906), pp. 276–277
^ a b c d e f g h i This article incorporates text from a
publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911).
"Brandes, Georg Morris Cohen". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.).
Cambridge University Press.
^ Ole Friis Thellufsen, Artikel: Georg Brandes, Aarhus University, 29
^ a b c d e
Georg Brandes at Gyldendals Åbne Encyklopædi
^ Holger Henrik Herholdt Drachmann at Gyldendals Åbne Encyklopædi
^ "Will Durant's 100 Best Books for an Education on Lists of Bests".
Listsofbests.com. 12 April 2008. Retrieved 2012-08-17.
^ See p. 72 Main Currents in Nineteenth, Century Literature Vol. 2
Georg Brandes, 1906.
^ a b c d e f
Georg Brandes – Forfatterportræt ved Jørgen Knudsen
at Arkiv for Dansk Litteratur
Victoria Benedictsson at Gyldendals Åbne Encyklopædi
^ Georg Brandes: A Biographical Note – Edouard d'Araille /
Introduction to 'Friedrich Nietzsche' (2002, LTMI)
^ Nietzsche, Letter to
Georg Brandes – December 2nd 1887.
^ Georg Brandes, Letter to Nietzsche – January 11th 1888.
^ Weaver, Walter P. (1999). The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth
Century: 1900-1950. Trinity Press International. p. 300.
^ Stewart, Jon (1 January 2013). "Kierkegaard's Influence on
Literature, Criticism and Art: Denmark". Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.
Retrieved 9 December 2016 – via Google Books.
^ "Sketch: A Journal of Art and Actuality". Ingram brothers. 1 January
1893. Retrieved 9 December 2016 – via Google Books.
^ From Selected Letters of
Friedrich Nietzsche (1921): Brandes to
Nietzsche, 23 November 1888.
Allen, Julie K. Icons of Danish Modernity:
Georg Brandes and Asta
Nielsen (University of Washington Press; 2012) 280 pages; DExplores
issues of Danish cultural identity through a study of the lives and
friendship of Brandes and the silent film star (1881–1972).
Essays on Scandinavian Literature by
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen 1895
Some Modern History-Makers of Scandinavia III, Jonas Lie and George
Brandes, Self culture, Volume 11, by Winfred Lee Wendell
pp. 434–440, Werner Co., 1900
The Most Influential of Living Critics, Current literature, Volume 40,
edited by Edward Jewitt Wheeler, Edward Jewitt Wheeler – 1906
Bertil Nolin: Georg Brandes. Gloucester, Mass., 1976.
Hans Hertel (ed.): The Activist Critic. A Symposium on the Political
Ideas, Literary Methods and International Reception of Georg Brandes.
Doris R. Asmundsson: Georg Brandes. Aristocratic Radical. N. Y., 1981.
W. Glyn Jones (ed.): Georg Brandes. Selected Letters. Norvik Press,
Wikiquote has quotations related to: Georg Brandes
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Georg Brandes.
Wikisource has the text of a 1921
Collier's Encyclopedia article about
Georg Brandes at Project Gutenberg
Works by or about
Georg Brandes at Internet Archive
Georg Brandes at
LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
The Atlantic Monthly, Vol 37, 1876 "Recent Literature. Brandes pp.
505, 755–758". Retrieved 28 September 2010.
Georg Brandes, 1880 "Lord Beaconsfield; a study". Retrieved 24
Georg Brandes, 1886 "Eminent authors of the nineteenth century.
Literary portraits". Retrieved 24 September 2010.
Georg Brandes, 1879 "Sören Kierkegaard: Ein literarisches
Charakterbild (German translation available)". Retrieved 24 September
Georg Brandes, 1899 "Henrik Ibsen: Critical Studies". Retrieved 24
Georg Brandes, 1889 "Impressions of Russia". Retrieved 24 September
Georg Brandes, 1898 "William Shakespeare: A Critical Study Vol.
1". , "Vol. 2". , "Vol. 3". Retrieved 24 September
Georg Brandes, 1906 "Main Currents in Nineteenth Century Literature,
Vol. 1". ,"Vol. 2". , "Vol. 3". , "Vol. 4". ,
"Vol. 5". , "Vol. 6". Retrieved 24 September 2010.
Georg Brandes, 1901–06 "Main Currents in Nineteenth Century
Literature, Vol. 1–6". Retrieved 26 February 2013.
Georg Brandes, 1906 "Reminiscences of my childhood and youth".
Retrieved 24 September 2010.
Georg Brandes, 1908 "Anatole France". Retrieved 24 September
Georg Brandes, 1915 "Friedrich Nietzsche". Retrieved 24 September
Georg Brandes, 1915 "Wolfgang
Goethe Vol. 1". , "Vol. 2".
Retrieved 24 September 2010.
Georg Brandes, 1917 "The World at War". Retrieved 24 September
The Return of
Georg Brandes The New Republic Volume 31, The Republic
Pub. Co., 1922 p. 44–47 Retrieved 2012-01-15
Julius Moritzen 1922 "
Georg Brandes in Life and Letters". Retrieved 3
Modern Breakthrough in
Denmark (c. 1879–1910)
Immigration to America
Johan Daniel Herholdt
Hans Jørgen Holm
Ulrik Adolph Plesner
Peder Severin Krøyer
L. A. Ring
Jens Ferdinand Willumsen
Niels Hansen Jacobsen
Jens Peter Jacobsen
Niels Ryberg Finsen
Peter Ludvig Panum
Politics and industry
Jacob Brønnum Scavenius Estrup
Rasmus Frederik Hendriksen
J. C. Jacobsen
Carl Frederik Tietgen
Royal Academy of Fine Arts
Royal Danish Theatre
Den Frie Udstillingsbygning
Kunstnernes Frie Studieskoler
ISNI: 0000 0000 8338 9314
BNF: cb11986490v (data)