The Scandinavian Countries Since the War


A FEW years ago it was possible to make use of one of the Scandinavian languages in the Finnish railway station in Petrograd. If one continued one’s journeying westward, the same language served all purposes until one reached the shores of Greenland. In Finnish towns and cities Swedish was spoken by practically all educated people, and partly understood by perhaps most of the people, though only about one tenth of the population of Finland is Swedish. In the new independent country of Iceland people speak Icelandic generally, but Danish is quite commonly used also. If one regards Finland as partly Swedish in language, culture, and tradition, one may count about twelve million people in the Scandinavian part of the world, including therein Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Farö Islands, Iceland, and Greenland.

In each of the Scandinavian countries strong nationalist trends were apparent long before the war; but the great struggle seems indirectly to have accentuated such tendencies among these peoples, though not in the same manner as in the states which have come into being subsequently. Norwegians demanded, and peacefully secured, independence from Sweden in 1905, and Iceland has become an independent state since the War, as has Finland. Denmark’s territory was enlarged in consequence of the treaty of peace, and now includes the Danish parts of Schleswig, thus settling, it is hoped, the complicated and difficult question of Schleswig-Holstein, and satisfying aspirations which have meant much to this little country, since 1864 in particular. The Åland Islands, inhabited by Swedes, have become a part of Finland as the result of a decision made through the League of Nations.

The only serious present question of a territorial and nationalist nature among the Scandinavian countries themselves relates to Greenland, the Danish sovereignty of which the Norwegian government is inclined to dispute, or wishes to limit to some extent. Historical bases for dispute seem rather far-fetched as between any two of the Scandinavian countries, however. Parts of Sweden once ‘belonged to’ Denmark, other parts to Norway. Sweden once held sway in Finland and along the shores of the Baltic. The history of the northern countries is intertwined, and irredentas can hardly be of serious concern to any one of them now.

But still Swedes insist on being Swedes, and Norwegians insist on being Norwegian and developing a distinctly Norwegian language, though their great poets (Wergeland, Ibsen, Björnson) have all written in what may fairly be called Danish. Icelanders insist, too, on particularism in language and culture; and though the population of the island is hardly a hundred thousand, they now have their own university. The exhibition of national consciousness in bilingual Finland presents a peculiar situation, but it is symptomatic of the times, as is Denmark’s interest in the minority Danes south of its present territory.

Denmark has become about as rational a national entity as is possible in most parts of Europe to-day, and has given a commendable example of tolerance of minority rights to those Germans who now live within its boundaries. At the Interparliamentary Conference which took place in Copenhagen a short time ago, the rights of minority nationalities was a leading subject of discussion. Minority race representatives complained one after another concerning unfair and unjust treatment accorded them. Apparently the only group that did not feel aggrieved was the German one in Denmark. The spokesman for German Danes, Pastor Schmidt, who is also a member of the Danish Parliament, stated frankly that he had no complaint to make.

Denmark was one of the most neutral of all countries during the war, and the sane politics of its foreign office served to restrain what might otherwise have evolved into dangerous and extreme chauvinism. There are extremists among Danish nationalists, but they are of small practical importance. Fascism and Communism play unimportant rôles in the country, though the tendency of its politics may be characterized as socialistic in a very real but temperate sense.

Finland is the outpost of Scandinavianism in the east as Denmark is in the south, and it now has, for the first time in its history, national independence. The first period of independence brought with it a fierce and bloody civil war, which was in essential features a war of classes. Finnish radicals had naturally been intimately associated with the revolutionary movement in the days of the tsars, and their efforts looked not merely toward national autonomy, in which conservatives shared, but also toward social and economic reconstruction. In the triumph of the Bolsheviki in Russia they wished to share, and their hopes of a better day and a new social order were akin.

However, the Red Revolution in Finland was not successful, though the subsequent government and the political arrangements on which it is based must be regarded as relatively advanced and radical, viewed from an American standpoint. The ‘conservative’ government carried on a war with Soviet Russia over Karelia, the region lying to the northeast of undisputed Finnish territory, as a result of which Karelia received a sort of autonomy in a compromise peace. The dispute with Sweden, as already intimated, left the Åland Islands with Finland, but — by way of compromise again — gave the Swedish population some measure of local self-government.

Inasmuch as the majority of Finns are not Swedish by speech or Nordic by race, the problems relating to cultural coöperation with the purely Scandinavian countries remain unsolved. Racially and temperamentally Finland looks toward the east perhaps more truly than toward the west; and the energetic insistence on the cultivation of the Finnish language as such means that the cultural nexus within the Scandinavian world must become less direct and probably in a short time less real also. The future may then witness a growing rapprochement with the social and economic experimentation of Russia, and an increasing cultural tendency of a non-Scandinavian character. The problem is complex, and connected with the class struggle which seems to have reached a truce only.

Finland is also, by reason of its geographical situation, obliged to coöperate with the other new and smaller Baltic states with which it has real interests in common and for which it is a leading factor. Finland’s relations to these smaller states may be an advantage for Sweden in a political sense, and tend to make Sweden feel greater security. The status and future of Finland are thus seen to have a direct bearing on Scandinavian fears and hopes in more than one sense, and especially on those of Sweden. Any future shifting of the Baltic scene is of concern to Europe as a whole, but not least to Scandinavians.

The country which of all the Scandinavian lands seems to have felt least interest in Scandinavian coöperation and unity is Norway. The situation of the country, facing, as it does, the west; its industrial and other activities, so largely connected with the sea; popular sympathies, drawing it historically chiefly to the west and southwest; the temperament of its people, consisting so largely of isolated peasants and seafaring folk; its suspicions of Swedish as well as of Danish tactics and motives— all unite to make the Norwegian a difficult coöperator from the point of view of his nearest neighbors. And it is fair to add, in view of the history of Norway’s relations to Denmark and Sweden for the past five hundred years, that such a psychology is comprehensible and, humanly speaking, pardonable. During the war there existed a rather close coöperation of these countries with one another, but this has become less since then, though, except for special problems, relations remain quite cordial.

Norwegian interests are intimately related to those of Great Britain, as a shipping nation, and the large commerce with Germany has of course diminished, as Germany’s post bellum difficulties have increased poverty and diminished wealth there. Moreover, Norway has far greater interests in the United States in proportion to its population than any of the other Scandinavian countries. Practically every Norwegian family now has representatives in the American Northwest, and the cultural reaction therefrom is of some importance. Norwegian engineers find opportunities in the United States as well as at home; and Knut Hamsun’s life in the Northwest a generation ago certainly left its mark on this Nobel Literary Prize winner. Knute Nelson and Thorstein Veblen represent in some real sense contrasting types of the Norwegian, though both are also types of the American. Fridtjof Nansen, Grieg, Ibsen, Björnson, Hamsun, represent native types whose variety in turn is a reflection of the isolated independence of the Norwegian, as well as of his cultural and temperamental peculiarities.


It is a fact that the Scandinavian countries experienced a period of unusual, if unsubstantial, prosperity during the war, in spite of the blockade and the restrictions placed by the Allies on their domestic industrial activities as well as on their foreign trade, and in spite of losses due to submarines and the like. Sweden was in the most difficult position economically, inasmuch as prohibition of some of its most important articles for export was very stringent. In consequence thereof there was much unemployment, the prices of necessary imports became exorbitant, and at times many articles were unobtainable. A great deal of credit is due to the Socialist leader, Mr. Branting, in surmounting many of the difficulties which arose. The tonnage of these countries, and Norway’s in particular, became of great importance, to Great Britain especially; and though dispositions were largely in fact forced, there was small reluctance to yield to the inevitable, for the profits made were often fantastic. The abnormally large returns on shipping investments led to exaggerated conceptions of post-bellum possibilities, and speculation soon affected in some way practically the whole commercial class, and many others who could not resist the seemingly golden opportunities.

But with the peace came a great depression and deflation and bankruptcies. The orderly rearrangement of commerce and political affairs failed of realization; and Russia remained long in a state bordering on chaos; conditions in the leading industrial state of the Continent, Germany, grew rapidly catastrophic; and the new rivalries and passions of secession and succession states added to a situation which is still seriously affecting all of Scandinavia.

So far as financial problems are concerned, it seems that Denmark has gone furthest in measures relating to unemployment benefits and similar arrangements for lessening suffering among the masses. Such a policy was necessary if large parts of the people were to be kept from proletarization, a condition from which the working classes in this country had so brilliantly emerged during the last generation. The general standard of life has, as a result, been fairly well maintained, and revolutionary or communistic tendencies have failed to appeal to large masses, contrasting in this respect with Norway and, to some extent, with Sweden.

It is felt, how ever, that such arrangements for the protection of the unemployed have not been free from abuses. During the days of war prosperity the laboring man, like most other people, was tempted by his increased earnings to live on a scale to which he had not been accustomed, in spite of the high prices prevailing. When hard times came between 1920 and 1922, discontent seemed at times to become of threatening proportions, and there occurred an epidemic of strikes and lockouts. Employers insisted on lower wages, and employees wished to have the higher scales maintained unless prices were reduced correspondingly. The result was a series of compromises. Readjustment was painful and expensive. Many a swollen fortune, suddenly acquired, disappeared, and scandalous exposures were not uncommon. The great number of extra bureaus with functionaries, called forth by war needs, could not be disbanded by the state at once, and not least because this would serve to increase unemployment and discontent. When Landmandsbanken, one of the pillars of Danish financial life, fell, with lesser banks, and great industries failed, in 1922, it seemed to many that Denmark was not far from a ruin from which it would take years to recover.

The ultimate saving element proved to be now, as it had been so frequently in the past, Danish agriculture, with its sound technical bases, its coöperative ingenuity, and almost model effectiveness. Danish peasants had, of course, shared in the good times of the war, and from their profits there remained considerable surpluses, while large sums had been invested in improvements of all kinds. It seems now to be a fact that Danish agriculture has found itself again, and that its greatest difficulties have, at least for a time, been overcome. The fact that the great neighbor to the south is no longer able to serve as a market to anything like the extent of ten years ago is a handicap, and a dangerous one. Danish prosperity, it is generally admitted, depends largely on an orderly and prospering Germany. Danish industries have, since the end of the war, suffered much from German competition. Factory owners could nol manufacture their products at even a small profit in the face of German imports based on a wage-scale which was but a small fraction of the Danish.

Similar conditions affected the other Scandinavian countries. Finland suffered less economically from the postbellum depression, partly because its low (depreciated) valuta gave it a competitive advantage not unlike that of Germany, while it did not suffer from Germany’s present handicaps.

Perhaps Norway has suffered more than other countries of the north, though there also the period of greatest economic misery has been passed. The slump in shipping stocks and the decline in freight rates reacted sharply in this country, partly because speculation had been more rampant and partly because ships and shipping play a larger relative part in the economy of Norway than in any other similar population. Fortunes were made and later lost in Christiania, Bergen, and other seaports, in a way reminiscent of the wildest boom days of the West that was, in the United States.

Sweden has likewise lived through a critical period since the end of the war. Its currency has been maintained practically at par continuously, unlike the Danish and Norwegian, which show considerable depreciation; but this has proved a serious handicap in Sweden in all matters relating to foreign competition. This country has far greater natural resources than Denmark and Norway, and its territory is much larger. And, too, Sweden is far more dependent on its industrial products — lumber and iron products especially — and has great waterpower resources. Norway occupies an intermediate position in these respects, lacking Denmark’s agricultural advantages, as well as the more extensive natural and power facilities of Sweden. The present outlook for all of Scandinavia is intimately associated with a settlement of the continental problems as a whole. Unless this comes soon, it seems inevitable that a greater depression than any experienced so far will engulf the northern peoples.


Socio-political tendencies in all the northern countries involve the relations of Social Democracy and Communism to ‘bourgeois’ society; and each of them presents distinctive features in this development.

The Danish Social-Democratic party, which is exceeded in size and influence only by one other party, is strongly opportunistic, and its character is not revolutionary and, indeed, only mildly Marxian. The leadership in labor unions and in the party is held by the same men, or by men whose coöperation in politics and industrial matters is practically perfect. While statements of a typically belligerent sort are to be found in the Socialist press as well as in the more conservative organs, a middle ground is taken by most journalistic agitators. The extreme radicals (Communists) and the extreme conservatives are of small practical import. The middle ground, represented by Denmark’s radical daily Politiken, is fairly typical; and such radicals find no chasm between themselves and the Socialists, only differences of opinion and of tactics which in practice are not of too great importance. The Socialist daily Social-Demokraten stands nearer to its radical contemporaries than it does to the Norwegian paper which until recently had the same name, but which is Communistic. The Danish Socialist party is a party of petitsbourgeois, prosperous, fairly satisfied workingmen, mechanics, and small shopkeepers, and in general its aims are not obstructive, but reformatory. In this respect it might be compared to the Nonpartisan League movement of the Northwest, but it is less hated and feared than this American movement is — or was. The Socialist, laborunion, and coöperative movements in Denmark are all in a real sense conservative of the existing bases of economic society, but critical and reformatory in details.

Conditions are different in Norway, where the Communist movement has swamped the Socialist party. There are a number of possible explanations of this diverging trend. The industrial evolution of Norway is more recent, and its capitalists and employers have no doubt lacked that suavity of character and temperament which is so characteristic of all Danes. Life is not so easy in Norway, with its harsher climate, its greater distances, its bleaker and grander landscapes. Inconsiderate exploitation seems to have been more common and facile in Norway on the one hand, while effective organization against this has just begun, and largely in consequence of conditions which have been very hard for the ordinary man. This conscious and united rebellion against existing evils was reaching its height when the Russian Communist revolution occurred, and Norway proved to be a field where workingmen were eager to listen to proposals from the great eastern empire that had been ruled by the tsars. A number of very capable leaders, some of whom were familiar with capitalistic society in its greatest development, in the United States, happened to be of communist inclinations also, and so a conjunction of circumstances may be said to account in some measure for existing tendencies among the laboring classes. One of the leaders of communist thought and activity in Norway, Dr. Edvard Bull, is at once a professor at the University and a member of the Storthing, and has been a delegate to the International at Moscow. Probably the future of communist tendencies in Norway will depend as much on what may develop in the greater European countries, notably in Germany, Russia, and England, as on its own domestic evolution.

The situation in Sweden differs from that of all of its nearest neighbors. In comparison with Denmark, it seems that there is a more real cleavage between labor organizations and the Social-Democratic party. When Hjalmar Branting was Premier of Sweden, he was less hampered by trades-union obligations than was Mr. Stauning in Denmark while a member of a ministry there. A Danish Socialist minister may therefore feel more certain of having labor sentiment behind him than is the case in Sweden, and such a Dane may also, in consequence, feel more firm in his positions and demands. The Communists are relatively stronger and more aggressive in Sweden than in Denmark, but far less of a factor than in Norway. While Sweden, unlike its immediate neighbors, has a Socialist premier, and, like Copenhagen, Stockholm has a Socialist, mayor, Sweden may not yet be regarded as a strongly Socialist, country. SocialDemocrats represent but a minority of the population, and that part is to be found mainly in the growing industrial centres and cities. The opposition here, as in Norway and Denmark, contains the mass of the peasantry, and the business and shipping interests. It seems probable that the Socialist movement. will gain steadily on the more capitalistic parties within the next decade.

The Finnish radical movement was carried away by the impetus of changes in Russia in 1917-1919, and was of a decidedly social-revolutionary character. The end of the civil social war there brought reaction, of course, and with it anti-socializing tendencies. A considerable part of the Socialists of Finland is not revolutionary, and has now renewed its activities along tradesunion lines and ordinary progressivism. Though the situation is complicated by too many features to be mentioned here, it seems probable that the Socialist movement in Finland will continue to be influenced by that of its great, and potentially very great, eastern neighbor. The experiences of the conservative elements during the Red Revolution must necessarily continue to be reflected in the temper of their present control of Finland’s destinies; and for a time Finland’s domestic economy should show a growing resemblance to Sweden’s. But speculation here is less safe than in many other instances,


It is perhaps worth while to remark that, either shortly before the war or within recent years, women have attained full political equality with men in all of the Scandinavian countries, including Finland. Political suffrage is probably as free and complete as it can be under democratic governments, such as we find them here; for no republic is more democratic in effect than these countries, though all but Finland are monarchies in form. Women play important rôles in the cultural life of all the northern lands, as, for example, the position of Ellen Key and of Selma Lagerlöf in the world of letters and morals indicates. Women occupy positions as professors and even as diplomats, though their activities as ministers of the Gospel have met with considerable opposition. This is a matter of lesser importance, however, for Scandinavians are not so religious either in a formal sense or in an emotional sense as Americans, though the Lutheran Church is the established form in all the Scandinavian kingdoms.

Recent years have witnessed a great, variety of methods of dealing with the liquor problem. Denmark remains a country in which there is no real restriction; that is, to use the American phrase, it is ‘wet.’ The war made it necessary to secure added income to meet the growing budgets, and the internal-revenue taxes have been effective in diminishing the consumption of strong drinks. In the case of the most popular strong beverage, akvavit, the price for a time, and largely as a result, of the fiscal policy, was twenty-five times as high as before the war. The interesting consideration here is, however, the practically undisputed fact that the Danes are a most temperate people, and intoxication is rare—rarer in fact than elsewhere in Scandinavia.

The Swedes have developed what in America is generally known as the Gothenburg system of quasi-state control and monopoly, and to this has nowbeen added a system of ‘rationing,’ which permits all but habitual or notorious drunkards to obtain a limited amount of spirits every month. Evasions occur, of course; but on the whole there is little laxity, and temperance is apparently increasing, as is the demand for prohibition of all strong drinks.

Finland now has what amounts to practically complete prohibition; but in effect — so it has been said on apparently reliable authority — drunkenness has been greater by far since the complete legal prohibition of liquors than it was before, and of course a very active trade in smuggled spirits has been developed.

Norway adopted a system of incomplete prohibition a few years ago, permitting the sales of beers and light wines, including champagne. The results have not been at all ideal, for intoxication has not diminished in the cities, certainly not relatively, and smugglers have done such a flourishing business in the many fjords and inlets along the coast that whiskey has been obtainable in Christiania, where its sale is forbidden, at lower prices than in Copenhagen, where it is permitted. Comparative statistics indicate that in proportion to the size of the cities drunkenness has been greatest in Helsingfors (Finland), with prohibition; somewhat less in Christiania (Norway), with partial prohibition; still less in Stockholm (Sweden), with a rationing system; and least in Copenhagen (Denmark), with its ‘wet’ system. It would be unfair to draw final conclusions from the above; but the present situation seems unsatisfactory to all except the Danes, who are watching the experiments of their neighbors with no little satisfaction so far.

Aside from questions affecting the liquor traffic and unemployment, the Scandinavian peoples have been mainly concerned, in their legislatures and administrative offices, with problems of finance and taxation since the end of the war. For a time budgets were four or five times greater than in 1913; and even to-day the Danish budget is four times as large as before the war. Direct and indirect taxes have therefore been very burdensome, and loans have been the almost inevitable recourse. The efforts to return to something like the old bases have been painful, and so far only partly successful. Many a plan formulated in the golden days of 1917-1919 has been relegated to the uncertain future.

Recent years have witnessed an increasing interest in sports and athletics throughout all these countries. In Norway especially winter sports arouse now a general interest probably not. equaled in any other country. Skiing is, in fact, a national and almost universal sport among the young (though it is not confined to them) in Norway, as anyone may see who happens to be at the Majorstuen electric railway station leading to the Holmenkollen and adjacent mountains near Christiania. It seems almost as if the city were engaged in an exodus en masse every Sunday morning.

In all the Scandinavian countries sailing and yachting, in the warmer months, are also very common, though from the nature of the case not so universal. The large speculative and other gains made during the war have apparently given an impetus to yachting, making it possible for many who theretofore could not afford a small boat, to possess one. But with the following hard times many a yacht passed from Scandinavian hands, and found an owner in England.

Swedes are known throughout the world for their excellent and effective gymnastic training, which has no doubt a great deal to do with the development of the fine physical types one finds among them, not least among Swedish women. Though the Danes are now, as they have been, a people of less robust natures than their northern neighbors, and have displayed less interest in sports, athletics, and gymnastics, a great change is in process, a change which began before the war, but which is gathering strength. Football is a general sport, and cycling is nowhere more common than in Denmark, with its gentle landscapes of water, islands, low hills, and woodlands. Within recent years gymnastics have become very popular, and the leader in the development of this healthful tendency, Niels Bukh, has established a school for the cultivation of all sorts of outdoor and indoor exercises near the charming little city of Svendborg. This institution promises to do much for the Danes, and it is perhaps already the leading one of its kind in the Scandinavian countries.

An institution which has been doing much for Danish culture, and to some extent for culture in Norway and Sweden, is what is known as the höiskole. The English translation of the word is high-school, but the word in its translated form is misleading. Such schools are situated as a rule in quite rural environments, and their constituencies are largely composed of young men and women of fairly mature years, from the countryside. The term is one of six months, and the students may or may not be confined to one sex. Lectures are given in history, literature, art, and so forth, and instruction in the more important other ‘subjects’ relating to ordinary life. There is much singing of Danish and other folk-songs. The teachers are men who are enthusiastically devoted to the cause of culture as such, and Danish culture in particular; and so successful have they been in creating sentiment and interest among wide masses of the people that Danish popular culture is probably of a quality superior to that found in any other country. Of course, these schools are not only the factors involved, but they are perhaps the most important single contributing element of the past generation.

‘Literature’ in the Scandinavian countries was not unaffected by the war; but the reactions of the war extended to all other peoples also. Passions ran high, and the literary work of an author was too frequently subjected, not to artistic or real tests, but to the question whether he was pro-Ally or pro-German. Some writers who had hitherto devoted themselves to their art as such, and who had never found it worth while to mingle with the people and to learn their longings and needs, suddenly became fired with the prevalent. hysteria in their feelings for the Allies and in their fanatical hatred of, and contempt for, all that was German. The opposite happened, too, but to a comparatively small extent, inasmuch as the British press dominated the world, and laid its deep impress also on Scandinavian newspapers, and so on public war-opinion.

During the war and for a time there-after, even within artistic and literary circles (excluding journalists, whose position makes them adaptable instruments, as a rule), conditions were such that old friendships were broken, and arrangements of a social nature became difficult problems for hostesses. It would not do to invite N. N. to dinner with P. P., because the one or the other had recently expressed an opinion favorable to one of the belligerents— and especially if that one happened to be Germany. The extensive war-propaganda literature competed with the morning papers in interest; but it went the way of all flesh ultimately, and served as packing paper, or was disposed of as old paper.

Reconciliation and sanity are returning gradually, though even in the Scandinavian neutral countries there are some ‘bitter-enders’ of hate still. The objectivity of which the war had deprived so many is returning, and the disillusionments of the subsequent peace have been largely instrumental in bringing this to pass. During the war, and for some time after the Armistice and the Peace conferences, anyone, especially in Denmark and Norway, who ventured to point out some failing on the part of the Allies was maligned on all sides, even at times by his nearest friends. Such a questioning attitude was regarded as pestiferous. At least one publishing house, the largest in the northern lands, Gyldendals, — whose director was the late Peter Nansen, who was decidedly friendly to Germany, — managed to maintain a very fair position. It accepted manuscripts that were friendly to both sides in the contest; but, as Nansen smilingly declared, ‘In this way I benefit the German cause indirectly, for I receive thirty manuscripts antagonistic to the Central Powers to one that is friendly.’

Money was made out of everything during the war — old rags, wet canvases of no merit, and rotten sausages exported to needy Germany. Artists, writers, sculptors, artist craftsmen, all became accustomed to comparatively large incomes; but few had the foresight to lay in stores for the seven lean years to come. Even the few who lived modestly, perforce, on their usual incomes were drawn down into poverty in the lean years which soon began.

The following example is typical of many. One of the most distinguished painters of the Scandinavian countries, an elderly widower with several children, lived with his sister in their city apartment. Her little fortune was safely invested and brought dividends regularly. During the war, when necessary expenditure doubled, though the sister’s dividends did not, the brother and sister soon found it necessary to draw on their invested capital. Then, with scarcely any warning, they were obliged to vacate their apartment. It was impossible to find another, and they were compelled to build a little cottage of their own, though it was at a time when such undertakings cost about three times what had been the rule. Finally, the sister sold her remaining available property and bought stock in one of the very best banks of the country. The bank failed, and this meant that the last bit of money they possessed was gone. The cottage was sold at a forced auction, because another bank, crippled by the failure of the first one, held a mortgage on the house and needed the money. The aged artist, who had always been a slow worker, is now — long after the war — in dire straits and is compelled to beg art-dealers to take his canvases for the merest pittances.

What happened to great fortunes in Russia after the Communist Revolution, and to large numbers of the middle class in Germany following the peace, with its depreciated marks and other trials, has happened in large circles of Scandinavians in the natural course of events during these past years, and particularly to artists and intellectuals. The moneyed aristocracy, which in Scandinavia, as in most other parts of the world, was superior to the aristocracy of birth,—and rightly so, — finds itself almost ruined, and superseded by a new, uncertain, and often vulgar set of parvenus. This redistribution of wealth, with all its evils, furnishes a precedent whose reactions may ultimately hasten revolutionary social tendencies.


Two names stand out as preëminent among the writers of to-day in Scandinavia, — Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset, both Norwegians. Their personalities and styles are diametrically opposed. Hamsun’s reputation has increased by leaps and bounds during the last fifteen years, and his is one of the few Scandinavian literary names known in the United States. Sigrid Undset arrived at fame through a monumental work which promises to give her such immortality as a Scandinavian may hope for. This work is an historical novel entitled Kristin Lavransdatter, in three large volumes, written with all of a man’s advantages, though the author is a woman. The work describes the love of a man and a woman for one another, and that still greater love of a mother for her children. The humanity of the work is so real and deep, its feeling so genuine, its art so perfected, that it will yet have a circulation rivaling that of Hans Christian Andersen. The work was written during the war and just after its end; its historical bases are admirable and correct; but he who reads it feels himself living at the time described — and a hundred years from to-day readers will still find it so.

The war has had very slight influence on real literature in these countries, fortunately. Present tendencies are rather remote from the earlier l’art pour l’art, and this is no doubt due in part to translat ions of American novels, with their traditions of swift and exciting action. Such translations in cheap editions have been overrunning the Scandinavian book markets, especially since the end of the war. The hurly-burly of the times demands books that are easy reading, books that may be enjoyed at one’s meals, on street cars or trains, and between telephone calls. The peculiar texture and composition which this implies — it has nothing in common with art, though it pretends to virtues it does not know — are not native to northern peoples. Scandinavian temperament is more vague, speculative, veiled; it loves that which is not said, but which is nevertheless understood; it favors large perspectives. Efforts are now being made by a few to imitate and profit by the style of the imported novel.

Little Iceland has entered the modern literary tournament, arriving with music and a fanfare of trumpets. Iceland is a country of strong, violent action. The traditions of the sagas run in the blood of its people. The Icelander’s insistent force and daring courage, in combination with mystical currents in his nature, promise much in a literary and artistic sense. We who are now at life’s zenith may yet, before the shadows lengthen, live to see the literature of Iceland surpass that of Norway in the days of Ibsen and Björnson.

The stage has produced nothing of epoch-making importance in these countries within recent years. Comedies have never been strong points, theatrically speaking, with them; but it is the comedy which attracts the crowd, and dramatists and playwrights have therefore endeavored to meet the demand. If Ibsen had written his tragedies to-day instead of twenty or forty years ago, they would not have proved so effectively interesting. People do not care to witness such plays as Ghosts to-day; they are too ‘morbid,’ even in Scandinavia, to compete successfully with light, comedy.

Sweden is the land of great dramatists. The sombre nature, the tremendous landscapes, the great lakes, forests, mountains, supply the scenery of tragedy and make its artistic rendition almost a matter of course. Norway, with its long deep fjords and mountain walls, its narrow valleys, the parsimony of much of its soil, is the natural home of dreams and longings, wonderings concerning what may be beyond — beyond the seas, the valleys, the fjelds. Denmark is the land of lighthearted serenity; one wonders there that its art is so serious while its character is so care-free.

The oldest son of Björnstjerne Björnson, — Björn Björnson, — a remarkable combination of poet, musician, actor, and régisseur, has just returned to Norway, after spending a number of years in Munich, to become the director of the National Theatre of Norway in Christiania. This theatre undoubtedly has the best troupe of actors in the Scandinavian countries. His recent production of Thora Parsberg was a real triumph, which is a good omen for the future of the theatre. He and the late Herman Bang have been for years without peers in their technique and manner ol putting plays on the stage, and they both possess a capacity for suggestion which has caused actors to render what often might seem impossible or incredible.

In Fru Dybwad, Norway has the completely modern woman on the stage; her acting, with its tremendous nervous force and realistic qualities, the soulfulness of her voice, and her physical presence, are those of a great, and true artist. She is possibly the greatest actor on the Scandinavian stage, and has often been classed with Bernhardt and Duse.

In Bodil Moltke Ipsen, Denmark has an actress who contrasts sharply with Dybwad. The play sometimes seems unimportant in her hands, while her rôle is all. Her naturalness — which may or may not be combined with art — makes her words seem so spontaneous that one believes for the moment that they are the actual creation of the moment. She cares very little for style or tradition. She is Maria Stuart as she is any modern woman. Her costumes vary, her figure remains the same — and her triumph is certain.

Another great actress is Betty Nansen, who has her own exquisite theatre in Copenhagen. She has, incidentally, demonstrated a woman’s ability to manage and direct a theatre as well as to act therein. The most perfect comedy that Scandinavia has known for years has been presented at her theatre in plays by Strindberg and Björnson, she and Fjelstrup taking the leading parts. This man, who a score of years before had exhibited great talent as a comedian and player of character parts, fell into obscurity for a number of years, but suddenly reappeared on Betty Nansen’s stage and created a furor of enthusiasm. He died two years after he had thus become the talk of Copenhagen again.

In conclusion, it may be worth while to call attention to a new tendency which is developing in a literary way, and which will no doubt, be reflected on the stage later. This has to do with the occult or supernatural; but so far no book of first importance has been written in Scandinavia representative of this mystical religious school. A not very well-known actor, playwright, and instructor, Anker Larsen, who recently won the Gyldendal literary prize with his book entitled The Rock of Wisdom, discusses religious problems in the sense suggested, and his work is the best of its kind so far published. The best, feature of his book is not its tendency, however, but its human and poetical qualities.

Ellen Key is now an old woman, whose name is gradually becoming obscure in this part of the world. Her books, with their fine humanity and pure and humane morality, have accomplished their purpose here. Selma Lagerlöf’s work is also of the past, though her fame remains, in great measure. Georg Brandes — in spite of his eighty years — remains productive and is the acknowledged spiritual leader of Scandinavia. His sense of justice and broad objectivity caused him during the war — as also since the peace—to speak out the truth to all sides, so that he has enemies in all lands. Brandes may be known not only by his friends but by his enemies — and he may well be proud of both. As the shadows close about him he may close his eyes, serenely confident of the future and its judgments.