”I am regarded as a kind of Englishman” – a transliterary history of Kierkegaard


  • Troy Wellington Smith


Danish Golden Age, British literature, comparative literature, philosophy


Although the Danish Golden Age is celebrated as a period of autochthonous genius, the success of a Danish author during the reign of critic Johan Ludvig Heiberg depended on his or her ability to appropriate the literary modes of Europe's geographic center, i.e., France and, above all, Germany, the Goethean notion of Bildung being especially important here. Eager to ingratiate himself to Heiberg, the young Kierkegaard, in his review From the Papers of One Still Living and the second volume of his novel Either/Or, strove to prove himself a proficient critic and practitioner of the Bildungsroman. After Heiberg's dismissive criticism of Either/Or, however, Kierkegaard (as Joakim Garff argues) abandoned the Bildung paradigm. Instead of depicting characters who become integrated with their social milieu like Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and Kierkegaard's own Judge Wilhelm, Kierkegaard now turned his attention to exceptional isolates such as Abraham and Job, who appear in Fear and Trembling and Repetition, respectively. Among these radical outsiders, one might also include Shakespeare's Gloucester (Richard III), who is cited as an example of the Bard's mastery in Fear and Trembling. Kierkegaard's sudden enthusiasm for Shakespeare—which first arose with Fear and Trembling and would persist throughout his pseudonymous authorship—is hardly coincidental; rather, I argue, it was part of a concerted effort to both rebuff Heiberg and to distinguish himself from him, since the professor had written disparagingly about English literature in general and Shakespeare in particular in his On the Significance of Philosophy for the Present Age. Furthermore, I claim that Kierkegaard turned to Britain not merely as a geographic periphery but also, in the case of authors such as Byron, Defoe, Ossian, Percy Shelley, Swift, and Young, as a psychological periphery running counter to the Apollonian concept of Bildung propagated by Heiberg.