Nordic Gothic
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Nordic Gothic

Yvonne Leffler, Sofia Wijkmark, Maria Holmgren Troy, Johan Hõglund

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eBook - ePub

Nordic Gothic

Yvonne Leffler, Sofia Wijkmark, Maria Holmgren Troy, Johan Hõglund

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About This Book

Nordic Gothic traces Gothic fiction in the Nordic region from its beginnings in the nineteenth century, with a main focus on the development of Gothic from the 1990s onwards in literature, film, TV and new media. The volume gives an overview of Nordic Gothic fiction in relation to transnational developments and provides a number of case studies and in-depth analyses of individual narratives. It creates an understanding of this under-researched cultural phenomenon by showing how the narratives make visible cultural anxieties haunting the Nordic countries, their welfare systems, identities and ideologies. Nordic Gothic examines how figures from Nordic folklore function as metaphorical expressions of Gothic themes and Nordic settings are explored from perspectives such as ecocriticism and postcolonialism. The book will be of interest to researchers and post- and- undergraduate students in various fields within the Humanities.

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The past that haunts the present: the rise of Nordic Gothic

Yvonne Leffler & Johan Höglund
There is a long non-realist tradition in Nordic literature and film that goes back to the Romantic period. This tradition frequently employs typical Gothic tropes, it seeks to evoke feelings of terror and horror, and it negotiates, as Gothic is understood to do, the complex tension between the human subject and Enlightenment modernity. Due to a striking reluctance by generations of Nordic literary critics and scholarship to recognise a Gothic tradition in the region, it was not until the late 1980s that the existence of Gothic fiction in the Nordic countries began to be systematically explored through a number of studies by Yvonne Leffler.1 Since the turn of the millennium, different Nordic writers and aspects of Gothic have been investigated by Scandinavian scholars such as Mathias Fyhr, Henrik Johnsson, Sofia Wijkmark and Kirstine Kastbjerg.2 Some introductions and surveys of the Scandinavian tradition have also been published.3 Building on this scholarship, this chapter will trace the Nordic Gothic tradition from its beginnings in the late eighteenth century to the present moment. The aim is to provide a picture of how the Gothic tradition emerged in the Nordic region and to show how Nordic writers, filmmakers and, towards the end of the twentieth century, game producers, make use of Gothic tropes and themes. Several of the authors and filmmakers mentioned in this chapter will be discussed in more detail in other parts of the book.

The rise of Gothic in the Nordic countries

The emergence of Gothic is commonly understood to coincide with the publication of Horace Walpoles's The Castle of Otranto, subtitled A Gothic Story, in 1764. The new genre quickly gained momentum until, at the turn of the century, it had spread across Europe, into the United States and many European colonies. Many of these well-known English, German and French novels were available to Nordic readers and some of them were quickly translated into Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. As an example, Matthew Lewis's The Monk (1796) was translated and published in sections during 1800–1804 in Sweden.4 Many of Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novels were translated into Swedish during the first decades of the nineteenth century, as were those by Charlotte Brontë a few decades later. Some of the most popular Gothic novels were also adapted for the theatres. For example, Radcliffe's novel The Italian (1794) was staged as Eleonora Rosalba, eller Ruinerna i Paluzzi in 1801–1802, followed by FranÇois Guillaume Ducray-Duminil's French novel Victor, ou l’Enfant de la Forêt (1796) as Victor, eller skogsbarnet at the same theatre, Arsenalen in Stockholm, in 1803–1804. The influence of British Gothic is easy to perceive in Danish author Bernhard Severin Ingemann's Varulven (1834; The Werewolf) and in Victor Rydberg's Swedish serial Vampyren (1848; The Vampire), both inspired by John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819).5 While Rydberg rewrote and expanded Polidori's story, Ingemann transformed it into a complex story about a werewolf character and the devastating conflict between his bourgeois mask and his sexual drives.
The British writers that belonged to the first phase of Gothic (1765–1820) thus had a considerable impact on Nordic Gothic and helped to inspire the production of similar texts. However, the German and French traditions were arguably just as important and influential. Early Gothic by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, Eugène Sue and Ducray-Duminil were widely read around 1800 and more often translated into Swedish than the British authors were. In particular, Hoffmann's works Die Elixiere des Teufels (1815; The Devil’s Elixirs) and Der golden Topf (1814; The Golden Pot) influenced many Nordic writers. These writers developed their own kind of Gothic fiction by locating their stories in distinct social and geographical environments, but they also show themselves as unmistakably genre aware by explicitly referring to internationally well-known works. Ingemann's Sphinxen (1820; The Sphinx) is a rewriting of Hoffmann's The Golden Pot about a young protagonist who increasingly confuses dream and reality with the text he is writing. Although there is no evident source text for the Swedish writer Clas Livijn's Gothic-fantastic tale ‘Samwetets fantasi’ (1821; ‘A Fantasy of a Bad Conscience’), it is one of many Nordic stories about a supernatural stalker in the tradition of Hoffmann's The Devil’s Elixirs. In Livijn's story, a homecoming soldier finds himself followed by a grey man with an axe, who he believes to be connected with his earlier wrongdoing; his former girlfriend was executed for infanticide because he refused to help her when she became pregnant. The pursuer can be interpreted as either an avenging ghost or an image of the soldier's bad conscience and punishing ego. Also, the Swedish writer Erik Johan Stagnelius published several dramas in the Gothic tradition. His drama Riddartornet (1821–1823; The Knight’s Tower) revolves around forbidden passions and incest, with many references to Walpole's The Castle of Otranto.6 The knight, Rheinfels, has imprisoned his unfaithful wife in a desolate tower of his castle to enable him to seduce their daughter Mathilda. The horror reaches its climax when Rheinfels tries to force his daughter to become her mother's murderer.
The motif of the double or doppelgänger was also repeatedly used by Hans Christian Andersen, who is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. Although his Danish fairy tales and stories are more obviously influenced by Germanic folktales than easily recognisable Gothic fiction, several of his stories stray into clearly Gothic territory. Of particular note is Andersen's short story ‘Skyggen’ (1847; ‘The Shadow’). This is a dark tale of a devious doppelgänger and illustrates the transformation of shadow into body, and how the shadow drains the original body of life.7 Another version of a gradually stronger double is illustrated in Andersen's ‘De røde sko’ (1847; ‘The Red Shoes’), a cruel story about losing control and blurring the distinction between clothing and body, the ego's willpower and bodily motion, in which the red shoes end up articulating and defining the captive subject and owner of the shoes, the girl.8 Because of the popularity of his stories, Andersen's work was widely translated and he travelled both within and outside the Nordic region, exerting considerable influence on a number of authors.
As in other European countries, many women writers adjusted the Gothic genre to speak about their own social and geographical context, and the challenges that women faced during the era. The actions take place in a recognisably Nordic environment, often a named location, where local history, myths and customs are important for the plot and Gothic atmosphere. The most prolific and explicitly Gothic author of this period is arguably the Swedish female writer Aurora Ljungstedt. In Hin Ondes hus (1853; The House of the Devil), about a ghostly house in Stockholm and its afflicted owner, she explicitly refers to Radcliffe's novels about haunted houses.9 In another story about a man and his evil double, ‘Harolds skugga’ (1861; ‘Harold's Shadow’), she both alludes to Hoffmann's Die Elexiere des Teufels (1815) and precedes Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), in the way that she transforms the motif of the double into a narrative about the civilised and primitive parts of a man's ego.

Fin-de-siècle writing, early filmmaking and interwar Gothic

In Britain, as in many other European nations, the late nineteenth century was a period of fervent colonial expansion into Africa and Asia, but also a time of increasing geopolitical turmoil and, as the century drew to a close, of fin-de-siècle anxiety. The emergence of the ‘new woman’, degeneration fears, class turmoil, economic depressions and competition between colonial empires coloured popular discourse in general and Gothic writing in particular. In fact, Gothic experienced a renaissance, particularly in Britain, at this time. Some seminal Gothic texts that influenced Nordic writers’ novels are Stevenson's aforementioned The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), Florence Maryatt's provocative Blood of the Vampire (1897), Edgar Allan Poe's American short horror stories and Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes.10 Also, many of the most recognised modernist writers, some of whom have been described as Gothic, were translated into Scandinavian languages. The most prominent include Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde and Charles Baudelaire, who all had a well-documented impact on Nordic authors. Thus, fin-de-siècle writers and the first generation of filmmakers in the Nordic region were influenced by late-Victorian Gothic and the heavily gendered and racialised categories that informed it.11 It can also be argued that Gothic powerfully influenced the iconoclastic project that much fin-de-siècle and modernist writing launched in the Nordic region and beyond.12
In contrast to the British and continental European traditions, for a significant time the Gothic works that were published in the Nordic region during the turn of the century were all but erased from Nordic literary history. Even more importantly, when canonical writers in the Nordic region made extensive use of Gothic, it was not recognised or theorised as such, despite obvious references to Gothic tropes in the works and their wide use of affective terror. Yet even a cursory reading of the writers of the era reveals a profound preoccupation with Gothic motifs and discourses. The motif of the male double in combination with avenging ghosts is frequently used in August Strindberg's and Henrik Ibsen's works. In Strindberg's Swedish story Tschandala (1889), the male protagonist decides to kill his male companion as he starts to identify with his friends, and in so doing progressively fears to lose what he calls their battle of minds and his individual identity. In Spöksonaten (1907; Ghost Sonata), Strindberg combines the motif of doubles with that of ghosts and the Nordic fylgjur, who drain the living of life and blood. The drama gradually exposes a distorted version of reality where the distinction betwe...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Nordic Gothic
APA 6 Citation
[author missing]. (2020). Nordic Gothic (1st ed.). Manchester University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)
Chicago Citation
[author missing]. (2020) 2020. Nordic Gothic. 1st ed. Manchester University Press.
Harvard Citation
[author missing] (2020) Nordic Gothic. 1st edn. Manchester University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
[author missing]. Nordic Gothic. 1st ed. Manchester University Press, 2020. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.