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Literary Impressionisms

Camilla Storskog

Part I: Lirerary Impressionism. A variety of concerns

4. Highlights in the scandinavian debate on Literary Impressionism

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1To prove impressionism’s all but homogeneous connections with Scandinavian literature, I will now concentrate on three moments involving significant actors on the late nineteenth-century literary scene as well as highly divergent views on the relationship between impressionism and literature. An overview of Herman Bang’s poetics of impressionism will be put forward; firstly through an examination of both early and present-day critical reactions to his prose and, secondly, through the scrutiny of the writer’s own reflections on the impressionist revision of narrative traditions.

2Next, I will look at how the definition ‘impressionists’, in the the meaning of «independents», «falangists», and «revolutionaries» (Brummer 2002: 77), lived on in Hans Jæger’s and Christian Krohg’s use of term in the second half of the 1880s and in the radical bohemian social milieu in the Norwegian capital. In addition, I will also consider Jæger’s interpretation of the term as a subjective turn of naturalism, which connects to the idea of impressionism as a displacement, a superseder, or a completion of naturalism that is common, as we have seen, in the handbook definitions scrutinized above. Jesse Matz (2001: 122) also connects to this idea when claiming that «impressionism forever dissociated realism and objectivity».

3To conclude, I have found it indispensable to consider the case of August Strindberg, whose manifold talent and heterogeneous interests make him something of a seismograph, constantly detecting and measuring the intensity of movement in the late nineteenth-century Swedish cultural climate. As we will see, the, presumably, impressionist qualities in his writing have been – and are still being – discussed by several authoritative Strindberg scholars, while the writer’s early exposure and personal reactions to painterly impressionism, which we will also take a closer look at, form an encounter perhaps even more suggestive than any stylistic evaluations of his prose.

4.1. Herman Bang’s poetics of impressionism: den fremstillede Roman

  • 1Æstetiske studier i dansk fiktionsprosa 1870-1900 builds on Møller Kristensen’s doctoral thesis f (...)
  • 2   See also, e.g., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland, 1985: 409-16. Johannes (...)

4The introduction and assimilation of impressionism into Danish literature is mainly due to the writer Herman Bang’s (1857-1912) adaptation of the term and to the literary scholar Sven Møller Kristensen’s influential study from 1955, Impressionismen i dansk prosa, a re-edited version of an earlier work bearing the title Æstetiske studier i dansk fiktionsprosa 1870-1900 (Aesthetical Studies in Danish Fiction 1870-1900) dating back to 19381. Bang’s practice and Kristensen’s theorization have rendered literary impressionism «et veletableret begreb» (Heitmann 1988: 54; «a well-established concept») in Danish literature, an assessment confirmed by the more prominent position that the notion has achieved in histories and dictionaries of Danish literature compared to what is the case in the other Scandinavian countries, as we have been able to observe2.

  • 3   Cf., e.g., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland: «Herman Bang var den danske (...)
  • 4   See e.g., David Lodge’s essay Showing and Telling, which throws light on this aspect of narrative (...)

5Though Kristensen’s work proposes a broad, panoramic view of the aesthetics of the phenomenon through stylistic analyses of texts produced by writers as different as Topsøe, Schandorph, Jacobsen, Drachmann, Bang, Pontoppidan, Gjellerup, Jørgensen, Stuckenberg, Rode, and Wied, among others, the name of Herman Bang remains the one most intimately connected with literary impressionism in Denmark3. In the hands of Bang, literary impressionism became a form of telling that strived to leave the territory of epic narration in an attempt to draw closer to the drama. As such, Bang’s impressionism is modelled by a rather small number of norms regulating the position of the narrator and, as a consequence, the methods of describing and reporting. In the main, Bang advocated the disappearance of the omniscient narrator acting as a mediator between the fictional characters and the reader; consequently, if the narrator is self-exiled from the story, he then has to make every effort to steer clear of authorial commentary and analysis, favouring what is known as the art of ‘showing’ as opposed to that of ‘telling’4. The apparently limited access that the narrator has to the minds of the characters leads to a character description reminiscent of the behaviourist school of psychology: nothing but what can be observed from the outside is reported.

6Similarly, the approach to conversation is seemingly independent of the narrator’s guidance. Speech and dialogue, especially when involving a great number of characters, are reported pell-mell and come together in what Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland, possibly drawing on Møller Kristensen’s terminology (1955: 31), define as a «replikmosaik» (1985: 416; «mosaic of lines»), i.e., conversations that might lack order and clarity but wish to gain truthfulness to life through the author’s attempt to present ‘un-edited’ speech. Again, the narrator does not arbitrate between the scene and the reader, and the task of finding connections and causalities is entirely entrusted to the latter’s ability to piece together details and situations (cf., Møller Kristensen 1967: 153). According to Møller Kristensen (Ibidem), the lack of connectors between phrases and scenes, easily observed in Bang’s novels, is mirrored even on the syntactical level, where Bang organizes his sentences paratactically.

7The paragraphs that follow will seek to trace Bang’s impressionist prose, first through an introductory overview of the major scholarly contributions on the question of Bang’s impressionist style and, secondly, through his own written statements on the subject.

4.1.1. On the subject of Bang’s impressionism

8Scholars like the aforementioned Sven Møller Kristensen (1955 and 1967) as well as the Swede Torbjörn Nilsson (1965) have, in significant studies, concentrated on impressionist features in Bang’s art of writing. Aspects of Bang’s impressionism are also discussed in Sørensen 1986, Bouquet 1983, Holm-Petersen 1971, Lundevall 1953, and Christensen 1918. Georg Christensen’s article Herman Bangs teknik (Herman Bang’s Technique) is interesting as it supplies a very early understanding of Bang’s impressionist narrative mode, here interpreted in terms of a disruption of the balance regulating what the scholar calls «the four basic elements» (Christensen 1918: 65) in epic narration: «referat» («background information»), «beskrivelse» («description»), «ræsonnement» («analysis»), and «replik» («direct speech»). Let us start the investigation of Bang’s impressionism with the guidance of Christensen’s helpful fourfold dissection.

  • 5   See for example the opening lines to Ved Vejen: «Stationsforstanderen skiftede Frakke til Toget. (...)
  • 6   As an example, Christensen compares Katinka’s and Huus’s views of the natural landscape to Bai’s (...)

9When bridging the gap between epic narration and the drama, Bang’s efforts eschewed any background information on the characters’ names, ages, looks, or relations in diegetic passages given by the narrator. Instead, he preferred the in medias res technique and the use of dialogues as a means of channelling these details to the reader (cf., Christensen 1918: 66)5. Secondly, as to description, Bang marked his distance from the meticulous depiction of the naturalistic writers by bringing in, on the one hand, glimpses of significant details only – a method in itself inseparable from impressionist perception, in line with which an abundance of information is not helpful in making the addressee see, the risk being that of ‘not distinguishing the forest because of the trees’. On the other, Bang also attempted to communicate individual impressions through the eyes of the characters6.

10Instead of psychological analysis, the third of Christensen’s four elements, commonly offered through the words of the narrator, Bang unfolds his characters by calling attention to those actions, gestures or intonations that truly reveal them. As Nilsson observes, Bang fully accomplished this aspect of his impressionist technique in the central scene of Ved Vejen, the before mentioned day trip to the market:

Också här sker klarläggandet av känslorna huvudsakligen genom att endast reaktioner noteras. När Huus nämner sin förlovning men ej hunnit säga, att den är uppslagen, tappar Katinka det hon håller i händerna. Det sker inte, som det gärna gjorde i Bangs tidigare produktion, genom en våldsam reaktion, utan händelsen noteras i förbigående, närmast som var den ett tillfälligt slarv. (Nilsson 1965: 181-82)

Here, too, feelings are clarified mainly through the mere annotation of reactions. When Huus mentions his engagement, before revealing that it has been broken, Katinka drops the things she is holding in her hands. There are no violent reactions, as in Bang’s earlier production, the event is instead registered in passing, rather as if it were the result of haphazard carelessness.

11As to direct speech, finally, Bang’s method was one of simultaneity, achieved through the use of polysyndeton and streams of scenes with characters appearing and acting in chorus, all in an attempt to create what Christensen quite appropriately defines as «dramatisk illusion» (1918: 73; «dramatic illusion»).

12Other interesting contributions focussing, even though at times only partly, on Bang’s impressionism, are Lindén 2009, Thomsen 2003, Gravier 1967, and Jacobsen 1957. In Thomsen’s reading of Herman Bang’s 1896 novel Ludvigsbakke, the work is interpreted as «en impressionistisk roman, i den betydning Bang har giver [sic] ordet» (2003: 96; «an impressionist novel, in the sense that Bang has given to the term»). Thomsen subsequently (97) sums up Bang’s literary impressionism as a narrative mode centred, again, on four main approches, through which the non-intruding impressionist writer, desisting from authorial explanation and commentary, is nevertheless able to grasp the thoughts and the feelings of his characters: (1) through the description of actions mirroring the workings of the mind of his fictional creatures; (2) through comments and dialogues pronounced by the characters, and through the use of indirect speech; (3) through the adoption of a mobile point of view; (4) through the use of objects and physical surroundings which, in a famous expression by Bang himself, which we will soon look closer at, act «as transparent shells revealing the inner story».

13The attention Thomsen gives to the author’s treatment of objects and space adds something new to Christensen’s reading of Bang’s impressionism. According to Thomsen, the use of «rum og ting som udtryk for personligheden» (2003: 98; «space and objects as expressions of personality») constitutes a peculiar dimension of Bang’s technique, especially in the way it is conducted in Ludvigsbakke. Thomsen writes: «på denne måde at inddrage civilisationens ting i psykologien er et af de nye træk ved Bangs impressionisme, en teknik der i det videre forløb gør grænsen mellem ting og bevidsthed flydende» (2003: 111; «drawing the objects of civilization into psychology in this way is one of the new characteristics of Bang’s impressionism, a technique, which in a broader sense makes the limit between object and consciousness fleeting»). In its most radical form, Bang’s attempt to establish a connection between consciousness, on the one hand, and objects and space, on the other, leads us, Thomsen further asserts (Ibidem), to literary phenomenology, symbolism and vitalism.

  • 7   Translation by Tiina Nunnally, Bang 1990: 85.

14Phenomenology is also guiding Axel Lindén’s reading of a number of texts written by Bang. When Lindén focusses on the use of objects (the scarf, the tray) in Ved Vejen, he considers their symbolic value more than anything else. Symbolic value aside, as it is unquestionable, the objects present in this novel are however, in my opinion, also reminiscent of the Oriental artefacts that streamed into impressionist paintings at the end of the nineteenth century. In the case of the lacquered tray, Bang takes care to determine its provenance: «Huus havde købt Katinka en lille japanesisk Bakke i Markedsgave» (1920-21: 80; «Huus had bought Katinka a little Japanese tray as a souvenir of the market»7) and also dwells on the scenes depicted on the blue and white Chinese porcelain in Katinka’s childhood home; is it possible, then, that Bang incorporated these objects as props in his narrative, i.e., that he awarded them the function that they have in impressionist painterly compositions? In a commentary directed at the critic Erik Skram entitled “Impressionisme”. En lille Replik (“Impressionism”. A Brief Reply), which we will shortly take a closer look at, Bang had, at any rate, shown his awareness of the two-dimensional aesthetics and the methods of composition in Japanese woodblock prints, and likened the technique of the impressionist writer precisely to this representational mode, which, according to Bang, was of Chinese origin: «han rykker nemlig, tror jeg, hver eneste Enkelthed frem i det samme Plan […] og hans Billede bliver uden Perspektiv. Det synes saaledes, som om han har kinesiske Øjne» (Bang 1890a: 693; «he pulls, indeed, I believe, every single detail onto the same surface level […] and his picture lacks the third dimension. Therefore, he seems to have Chinese eyes»).

15A new reading of Bang’s impressionism was advanced in 2003 by Dag Heede, a scholar who has made it his mission to queer the canon of Danish literature. On the basis of Heede’s understanding of Bang’s article Gedanken zum Sexualitätsproblem (Thoughts on the Problem of Sexuality) – dealing with the conditions of the homosexual literate and artist, posthumously published in 1922 – as «en skitse til en impressionistisk poetik» (Heede 2003: 34; «a draft for a poetics of impressionism»), the Danish scholar interprets Bang’s leave-taking from naturalism and the subsequent adoption of impressionism as a development with a «seksualitetsteoretisk dimension» (Ibidem; «sexual-theoretical dimension»):

Man kan således måske – også – søge en af impressionismens rødder eller forudsætninger i Herman Bangs seksuelle outsiderposition, hvor han ikke mener at kunne give sine følelser direkte udtryk og ikke ønsker “eine ewige Maskerade” (måske som i tilfælne med Kamilla- og Eva-skikkelserne fra Haabløse Slægter). I stedet bliver han så “iagttager”, en position, der kan kobles til den impressionistiske fortællekunst, der opererer med en ekstrem diskret (ikke “passiv”) fortælleteknik. (Heede 2003: 34)

Perhaps one might therefore – in addition – look for impressionism’s roots or conditions in Herman Bang’s sexual outsider-position, from where he doesn’t allow his feelings direct expression and doesn’t wish for “eine ewige Maskerade” (as perhaps in the case of the Kamilla- and Eva-characters in Haabløse Slægter). Instead he becomes an “observer”, assuming a position which connects to the narrative art of impressionism that employs an extremely discreet (not “passive”) technique of narration.

16This «extremely discreet» narrator striving for invisibility has also been discussed by Philippe Bouquet. When Bang, on the level of the graphic distribution of the text, favoured the dash, it was, according to Nilsson (1965: 105), done in order to separate one scene from the other, or to isolate a comment within a scene. Moreover, the dash also plays an important role in managing the speed and the beat of text, and the ellipsis points, which, according to Nilsson, have the function of representing «det abrupta i framställningen: att här fanns mer att säga, men att dramat, en gång satt i rullning, liksom av egen kraft tvingas att spela upp sig själv» (Ibidem; «the abrupt aspect of the narration: [indicating] that there was more to say, but that the drama, once in action, had to rely on its own force»). According to Bouquet, these stylistic features in Bang’s prose are actually at odds with the impressionist ideal of a hidden author. In the article L’Impressionnisme paradoxal de Herman Bang dans Ved Vejen (Herman Bang’s Paradoxical Impressionism in Ved Vejen), Bouquet maintains that the presence of the author, which Bang strived to suppress, was actually made visible through this typographical choice, «par des guillemets et des italiques qui ne peuvent manquer de rappeler son existence» (Bouquet 1983: 423; «through brackets and italics that cannot help reminding [the reader] of his [the author’s] existence»).

4.1.2. Bang on Bang

  • 8   Cf., Nilsson 1965: 111, Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland 1985: 237.

17Around 1885, it is generally agreed, Herman Bang had developed a new conception of the art of the novel8. As Torbjörn Nilsson observes (1965: 111), Bang expressed his opinions in an article published in Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfartstidning on 21 October 1885. If Bang’s insights into the role of the narrator in prose fiction already had been outlined in 1879 in his collection of articles entitled Realisme og Realister (Realism and Realists), Nilsson concludes that a «frontförändring» (1965: 111; «a change of position») occurred with his 1885 article. Here, Bang clearly signalled his distance from works of literature abounding with authorial description and analysis, and declared to favour a different technique, reminiscent of dramatic writing and concentrating on the representation of action, gestures and dialogues. After a first attempt to adopt this new-fangled style in Charlot Dupont (Nilsson 1965: 160), the third short story in the collection Excentriske Noveller (Eccentric Short Stories) from 1885, this method was further developed in Ved Vejen, published as one of the short stories forming the collection Stille Existenser (1886), followed by the stylistically similar Stuk (1887), Tine (1888), and Ludvigsbakke (1896).

  • 9   Cf., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland 1985: 678, who also find it likely (...)

18In in a number of writings published in the following decades, Bang personally presented his particular technique, often by recurring to the expedient of directing the interest to Jonas Lie’s mastering of the same narrative mode: by introducing his viewpoint on Lie’s art of fiction, it has been observed, Bang really spoke of his own ideals9. The five essential texts that Bang produced on the subject of literary impressionism are: (1) the review To Bøger (Two Books), partly dedicated to Jonas Lie’s novel Majsa Jons, published in Dagbladet on 12 January 1889 (Bang 1889); (2) a homage to Lie’s mode of narration entitled Til Jonas Lie (To Jonas Lie), which would come to feature as foreword to Bang’s own collection of short stories Under Aaget (Bang 1890b; Under the Yoke); (3) “Impressionisme”. En lille Replik, a text published that same year and in the form of a letter, in response to the critic Erik Skram who, in a rather harsh tone, had criticized Under Aaget and compared Bang’s impressionism to painterly impressionism, finding this connection a weakness (Bang 1890a); (4) the article Jonas Lie, published in Samtiden 1893 (Bang 1893), and, finally, (5) the homonymous article, Jonas Lie, published in Tilskueren in 1908 (Bang 1908). Let us now take a closer look at the way in which Bang articulated the issue of literary impressionism in these writings.

19In the foreword to Under Aaget, the words of praise directed at Jonas Lie in person stem from Bang’s admiration for the Norwegian writer’s innovative dramatic art of ‘showing’:

De er i et afsides Land i en ny Literatur naaet til at skabe Fremskridt i Romanens Form, som ikke er naaet af nogen Samtidig i selve Romanernes Land: i Frankrig. De aldrig fortæller noget om noget. De viser os alt. Fortælling om en Ting er som et Gevandt om Genstandens Krop. Man skal gætte Legemet, der gemmes bag Gevandtet. Men De henstiller det af Deres Digterhjerne Sete umiddelbart, som det staar og det gaar og det bevæges, for vort Syn, saa vi hører det, sér det, fornemmer det, i sin Bevægelighed, i sit Liv. (Bang 1890a: 15)

Within the young literature of a peripheral country you have managed to renew the form of the novel, something that has not been done by any of your contemporary writers in the land of the novel: France. You never tell us anything, you show us everything. To narrate something is like a draping over the body of things. You need to be able to trace the body hidden in the drapery. But you represent what your poet’s brain has seen immediately, the way it stands and walks and moves, before our eyes, so that we can hear it, see it, feel it, in its movements, in its life.

20In the same foreword, Bang glorifies Lie’s novel Majsa Jons with an expression anticipating the one he would use to explain literary impressionism to the Danish public: «Majsa Jons er et Skuespil. Et fremstillet Skuespil» (Bang 1890b: 16; «Majsa Jons is a drama. A represented drama»).

21The exchange of opinions between Skram and Bang becomes particularly interesting as Skram introduces the question of the interrelation between the arts – a problem hitherto irrelevant to Bang’s discourse on impressionism – when trying to explain the characteristics of literary impressionism. Skram writes: «det ligger nær at jævnføre denne literære Hurtighedskunst […] med Malernes Impressionisme» (1890: 479; «it is easy to compare this hasty art of narration […] to the impressionism of the painters»). As mentioned above, this connection between painting and writing was a flaw and a frailty to Skram, according to whom any form of art transmitting sensorial impressions, without engaging the rational knowledge of the mind in the process of translating the impression to words or visual images, was unsatisfactory and limited in scope:

i Længden vil vi næppe have nok i en Malerkunst, der med velberaad Hu kun fremstiller de blotte fysiske Skranker for Malerens Synsævne, eller i en Digtning, der alene søger at eftergøre, hvad der i det enkelte Øjeblik umiddelbart foregaar. (Ibidem)

in the long run we will not be satisfied with an art of painting that makes a point of simply representing the plain physical obstacles that appear before the painter’s eye, nor with a literature merely seeking to portray that which immediately goes on in one single instant.

22Skram therefore prophesied that Bang’s mode of narration, as well as its painterly counterpart, would both end up being rejected by the public. In response, Bang presented his «lille Replik» in an attempt to counter some of the objections that Skram had directed against «‘Impressionismens’ Væsen og Fremgangsmaade og særlig imod mig» (Bang 1890a: 698; «the nature of impressionism and its representional mode and especially against me»), and set out to prove that what Skram saw as the shortcomings of impressionist narration really were its assets:

  • 10   Emphasis in the original.

Impressionismen i Fortællekunsten er netop Barn af den fuldkomne Mistillid til ‘den psykologiske Romanʼ’s ‘Dvælen og Overvejelser’ […]. Kun den i Handlen omsatte Tanke tror Impressionisten, at hans Erkendelse magter at følge. […] Som al Kunst vil ogsaa den impressionistiske Fortællekunst gøre Rede for de mennesklige Følelser og for Menneskers Tankeliv. Men den skyr al direkte Udredning og viser os kun Menneskenes Følelser i en Række af Spejle – deres Gerninger. [...] [O]g han medtager i sin Skildring i Virkeligheden kun de v æ - s e n t l i g e Handlinger, det vil sige en Handlingsrække, hvor hver lille Handling er et Glughul ind i det skildrede Menneskes Tankeliv – en Række af Udfaldsporte ind i Følelseslivet hos den skildrede. Summen af Tanker, Vævet af Følelser, som den drevne Hjærne saaledes kan naa bag om de medtagne Handlinger, er det impressionistiske Værks dulgte Indhold. Dets Værd beror paa Dybden af alt det – som ikke siges10. (Bang 1890b: 692-693)

Within the art of narration, impressionism stems from the utter distrust of the ‘meditation and reflections’ of ‘the psychological novelʼ […]. The impressionist is convinced that his perception only manages to report thoughts that have been transformed into action. […] Just like any other form of art, the impressionist narrative wishes to explain human emotions and the intellectual life of people. But it steers clear of all direct investigation showing us nothing but human emotions in a series of mirrors, i.e., human actions. […] [A]nd he [the impressionist writer] really brings nothing but the e s s e n t i a l actions into the narration, that is to say, a series of actions in which every little action is a spyhole into the thoughts of the narrated person – a series of doors opening onto the sentimental life of the subject of description. The sum of thoughts, interwoven by feelings, that the skilled brain can grasp behind the reported actions, is the hidden content of the impressionist oeuvre. Its value depends on the depth of all that remains unsaid.

23With this in mind, Bang also claims that Skram’s understanding of literary impressionism is excessively restrictive and that the impressionist description of events in a given moment is really a means to achieve depth: «de ydre Ting, han maler, er Kapslerne om den indre Historie. Paa Kapslernes Gennemsigtighed beror deres Værdi» (Bang 1890a: 693; «the external things depicted are shells around the inner story. The value of these shells depends on their transparency»).

24In the famous homage to Jonas Lie written in 1908 after the death of the Norwegian novelist, Bang returned to the idea, expressed in 1890, according to which impressionism was synonymous with dramatic representation. In the 1908 article, Bang came to the conclusion that Scandinavians had better avoid «Fremmedordet ‘Impressionisme’» (Bang 1908: 678; «the foreign idiom ‘impressionism’»), since its significance was likely to be obscure to the majority, and rather adopt the synonymous expression «den fremstillede Roman» (Ibidem; «the scenic novel»). In this article, Bang once more attributed the creation of «den impressionistiske Roman» (676; «the impressionist novel») to Jonas Lie, and explained the revolutionary traits of his transformation of the novel thus: «fra at fortælle – eller, tilgiv, undertiden snakke om Mennesker – naaer Romanen frem til at lade os sé, lade os leve sammen med Medmennesker – hvad der er den impressionistiske Romans Maal» (Ibidem; «from narration – or, please forgive, the ongoing talk about people – the novel manages to let us see and share the lives of fellow human beings – which is the goal of the impressionist novel»).

25Again, it is the scenic quality of the narration that Bang highly appreciates, the writer’s ability to put the reader into a position from where he «‘sér, hører, føler’ hvert eneste enkelt Ting, hvert Ord, Bevægelsen, Blikket, en ændret Mine, Tonefaldet, en Lyd i hvert skildret Nu – det er Alpestigningen, som Impressionismen fordrer» (677; «‘sees, hears, feels’ every single thing, every word, movement, look, change of face, intonation, every sound in every instant described – that is the mountain ascent that impressionism requires»). While the naturalists had failed – blinding the reader with overly detailed inventories – impressionism, according to Bang, produced a type of novel allowing the reader at all times to see and hear: «Impressionismen brød sig Vej: Romanen, som i hvert Nu lader os sé og høre» (Ibidem; «Impressionism gained ground: a novel which allows us to see and hear in every single moment»).

4.2. the age of impressionism and the bohème11

  • 11   According to Arnold Hauser (1999: 178), the «age of impressionism» produced an extreme grouping o (...)
  • 12   For a thorough discussion of the Kristiania Bohème, see Fosli 1994.
  • 13Den bildende kunst som ledd i kulturbevegelsen is also available in a more recent publication, Kr (...)

26One of the circles in Scandinavia where writers, artists, and intellectuals early on made an attempt to apply the idea of impressionism to literature can be traced within the context of the literary and social movement known as the Kristiania Bohème in the capital of Norway in the 1880s12. The frontiers of this modern bohemian milieu with its oppositional subculture seem, indeed, to merge with those of the impressionist movement as the definition bohemtiden (the age of the bohème), frequently used to characterize the period, ties in with Christian Krohg’s view that future generations would come to look back at these years and consider them the «age of impressionism» (Krohg 1886: 14). As an artist connected with the bohemian social environment, Krohg is no doubt overemphasizing his painter’s perspective when stating, in his famous lecture Om den bildende kunst som led i kulturbevægelsen (On the Fine Arts as a Moment in the Cultural Movement) held at Den frisindede studenterforening (The Liberal Student Association) on 22 March 1886: «ligesom man har opkaldt renaissansetiden og rococcotiden efter kunstretninger, saaledes vil man engang opkalde denne tidsalder efter impressionismen» (Krohg 1886: 14; «just as the age of the Renaissance and the age of rococo have been named after artistic currents, this age will be named after impressionism»)13.

27Accordingly, these two spheres intertwine again in the choice of title for the mouthpiece of the Norwegian bohemians, the review Impressionisten, whose nine issues were published from 1886 to 1890 (Jæger and Krohg 1886-90). In spite of its name, Impressionisten was not so much preoccupied with current trends in painting as with clarifying the radical bohemian writer’s approach to modern man in modern society: the title might thus, at first sight, seem misleading. The bohemian understanding of the role and the function of literature drew on Zolaesque naturalism though encouraging, in addition, narrative concentration on introspection and on the writer’s personal experience, an attitude that I will consider as part of the bohemians’ impressionist stance.

  • 14   As Bernard Vouilloux writes: «Assurément, ce à quoi les moins hostiles des premiers spectateurs d (...)

28Already at this stage it is worth noticing that such singular usage and acceptance of the concept of literary impressionism has little to do with the technique and the methods of composition of the impressionist painters: following Krohg’s reasoning in the above-mentioned lecture, impressionism should rather be seen as the attitude assumed by tormented modern artists, illustrating their approach to, and direct engagement with, what Krohg indicates as their main object of investigation, i.e., «den nuværende søgende og stræbende tid» (Krohg 1886: 12; «the searching and striving contemporary age»). This peculiar understanding of impressionism might seem improper within a general discussion of impressionist art; however, when Magne Malmanger observes that it would be erroneous to dismiss Krohg’s ideas on impressionism «som provinsielle misforståelser av en kunstnerisk utvikling innsiktet mot helt andre problemer» (Malmanger 1987: 46; «as a provincial misunderstanding of an artistic development concentrating on totally different problems»), he stresses the fact that the essence of any art that aims at being modern is to give expression to contemporary reality by introducing the motifs brought about by modernity14. Through the description of contemporary men and milieus, impressionism had in fact, according to Krohg, contributed to the realization of «tidens store billede» (1886: 14; «the great image of the age»).

  • 15   Malmanger (1987: 34) observes that it was Erik Werenskiold who officially introduced the Norwegia (...)

29These observations on the modernity of impressionist subjects might give a first clue as to why the radical editors of Impressionisten through their choice of title signalled a wish to associate with the French artistic movement. In addition, it is worth remembering that, in the art world of the Norwegian mid-eighties, impressionism was still seen as le dernier cri15. In 1886, the very same year that the French impressionists organized their last group exhibition, impressionism was still the art of a rebellious opposition in Scandinavia, encapsulating the idea of being on the edge and anti-bourgeois in character. A similar chronological discrepancy is also in an international context, according to Arnold Hauser (1999: 167), generally visible in the relation between literary impressionism and its painterly counterpart: «in painting, the most productive period of impressionism is already past, when its stylistic characteristics are first beginning to emerge in literature».

4.2.1. the bohemian stance

  • 16   For a discussion of impressionism in Impressionisten see also Lund (1993: 49-51) and Malmanger 19 (...)

30In the heydays of objective naturalism and false morals, the leader of the bohemian movement, Hans Jæger (1854-1910) advocated a turn towards autobiographical writing and free love for all, aspects of the bohemian lifestyle that he also did his best to enact. In the following paragraphs, I will focus on how the concept of impressionism linked up with the turn to the subjective in Jæger’s literary programme and try to account for his vision of a new bohèmliteratur as it comes forth in the foreword to his first novel, Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen (1886; From the Bohème of Kristiania), and in his contributions to the review Impressionisten, of which he was co-founder. Jæger’s subjective naturalism coincided with the idea of literary impressionism in the eyes of his friend and fellow-writer, the aforementioned Christian Krohg, with whom Jæger edited this short-lived review. Let us take a look at the way in which Krohg established a connection between Jæger’s literary programme and impressionism, and turn to the review Impressionisten in an attempt to trace one of the early understandings of literary impressionism in Scandinavia16.

  • 17   See for example Deffoux 1928, Hoppe 1933, Matthews 1961, Hamon 1967, Nagel 1982: 10. In short, Kr (...)
  • 18   See for example Schneider 1934, Basílio 2007.

31As mentioned above, in spite of its title Impressionisten offers little for the scholar interested in the adaptation of impressionism to fiction as interart transposition. The review mainly contains the, often autobiographical, writings of Jæger (at times indeed labelled «impressions»), coverages of the trial against his first novel Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen, which had caused a moral scandal in Norway, reviews of books, plays, and art exhibitions, political comment, as well as translations of texts by foreign writers such as Émile Zola and Guy de Maupassant. The choice to include these two French writers in translation is a key to understanding the literary taste of the editors, and it is worth mentioning that in the history of the fortune of literary impressionism as a critical term, Zola is at times seen as a writer capable of linking the ‘impassible’ mode of naturalism to that of impressionism17. Moreover, Maupassant, occasionally considered a forerunner of literary impressionism was, according to Krohg, one of the only two impressionists in world literature, as we will see18.

32The editorial board outlined the purpose of the review in the second issue, published in December 1886, as follows:

Foruden at leverere literær kritik og hyle hvergang der er noe, vil “Impressionisten” ogsaa gjøre seg til organ for alle slags smaa Kristiania-impressions og derved bidrage sit til at fulstændiggjøre det store Kristiania-billed fra vor tid, som skal skabes af den Kristiania-literatur, der nu værs’go faar være saa snil at blomstre op. (‘Redʼ 1886)

Apart from delivering literary criticism and roaring whenever something comes up, Impressionisten also wishes to make itself an organ for all kinds of small Kristiania-impressions in order to help to complete the great Kristiania-picture of our age that is to be created by the literature of Kristiania, which now will have to be so kind as to start blooming.

33The statement is signed Red (the Editorial board), but it is likely that editor-in-chief of the first four issues was Krohg only, as Jæger, due to the moral scandal caused by his first novel, was imprisoned at the time of publication. In addition, the idea of art and literature as an image of the times is, as we will see, a slogan easily recognized as coming from Krohg, one that derived from his need to find expression for an acutely felt sensation of living in a new, franticly modern era. In his writings, Krohg is very much concerned with the need for art to transmit «tidens billede» (1886: 13), an image of the contemporary age and its people, and indicates Jæger as the most exemplary child of that time, the one with the greatest aptitude of all Norwegian writers to describe modern age and modern man (Krohg 1886: 14).

  • 19   According to Hans Lund (1993: 48-49), Henrik Jæger was the one who introduced the term ‘literary (...)

34Clues to the understanding of Hans Jæger’s literary methods can be found in some of his contributions to Impressionisten. In the second issue, he delivered the first part of an article entitled Vor literatur (Our Literature) on the subject of modern literature and modern youth, in response to Georg Brandes’s opionion that both were still as good as non-existent in the Norwegian 1880s. To Jæger in 1886, ‘modern’ was still synonymous with ‘naturalistic’: he declares his admiration for modern French literature (Zola’s novels, Maupassant’s Une Vie [A Life] and Bel-Ami) and, with the exception of Jonas Lie, clearly demonstrates his dissatisfaction with the «farcical plays» and «bloodless stories» of the Norwegian naturalists (Jæger 1886). What he advocates is greater individual expressiveness. The essence of Jæger’s literary programme, presented in the article, embraces two main elements: the necessity to write about personally lived-through experiences and the defence of sensory experience. He therefore, on the one hand, asks the modern youth – in overly explicit metaphors – to «klæ sig selv af» («undress») and «fremstille sig for offentligheden i al sin nøgenhed» («show themselves naked in front of the public»), shamelessly exhibiting in public their private lives (Jæger 1886). On the other, he professes his belief in writers such as Zola and Maupassant, capable of making the reader see, hear and feel. This principle leads Jæger to dismiss the Danish writer J.P. Jacobsen’s collection of poetry, Digte og udkast (Poems and Sketches), also reviewed in the second issue of Impressionisten. Although the bohemian is ready to admit that Jacobsen, who as early as 1883 had been identified precisely as a literary impressionist by the Norwegian critic Henrik Jæger, «altid seer og skriver som en maler» (Jæger 1886; «always sees and writes like a painter»), his poetry is rejected on the grounds that Jacobsen is trying to paint without succeeding in making the reader see19.

35This far there is nothing that explicitly connects with impressionism in Krohg’s appeal that artists and writers should contribute to the creation of «tidens store billede» (Krohg 1886: 14; «the great image of the age») and in the naturalism with a “Jægerian” twist. The leader of the Bohème, quite at ease with defining himself a naturalist, claimed, just like his forerunners, that a writer should tell stories of human misery and dissolution though, in Jæger’s case, these stories eventually became his own, thus opening the way to ‘bohemian’ impressionism. Jæger’s interpretation of this impressionist’s stance is put forward in an article entitled Albertine og naturalismen (Albertine and Naturalism), published in the fourth issue of Impressionisten in 1887, dedicated to Christian Krohg’s novel Albertine, on the theme of public prostitution, and to his painting with the same subject, Albertine i politilegens venteværelse (Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room). Here, Jæger accounts for his personal interpretation of how an impressionist’s writer should approach his subject matter and accuses Krohg of not having lived up to the standards of a true impressionist. Direct observation and empiricism are, according to Jæger, the principal traits of the impressionist school, and Krohg is found guilty of not having conducted any field research in Kristiania’s infamous Vika-area, where his story is set:

Er det dog ikke dig som sier du er impressionist? – og saa gaar du hen og vil gi os, ikke den impression du virkelig har faat, nej, men et hel menneskeliv som du aldrig har kjendt, og som du følgelig ikke har kunnet faa noen impression af! (Jæger 1887; italics in the original)

Are you not the one claiming to be an impressionist? – only to go ahead and give us, not your real impression, no, but an entire human life that you have never got to know, and therefore have not been capable of getting any impression of!

36On these grounds Jæger rejects Krohg’s Albertine-project, both novel and painting, the latter «ikke det mindste mere impressionistisk enn bogen» (Ibidem; «not the least more impressionist than the book»). However, he concludes his piece of writing once more addressing Krohg-the-impressionist, confident in a positive future development:

Det skal være dig tilgit, at du, impressionisten, denne gang har git dig ud paa at skildre ukjendte mennesker fra en sfære du ikke kjender – det skal være dig tilgit, for jeg ved du gjør det ikke mere. Næste gang vil du gi os mennesker du kjender, mennesker fra den sfære hvor du selv hører hjemme, og af hvis livsskæbner du faaet virkelige impressions. (Ibidem)

We shall have to forgive you, the impressionist, for having set out this time to describe unknown people from an environment you have no knowledge of – we shall have to forgive you, as I am certain you will not do it again. Next time you will show us people you know, people from your own environment whose destinies you have caught real impressions of.

37How, then, does Jæger’s interpretation of impressionism differ from the basic principles of naturalism? In what way is the heartfelt need for rendering «real impressions», i.e., empirical, firsthand, impressions of people and places belonging to an environment familiar to the artist, different from the scientific observation of a naturalist?

  • 20   The phrase «Du skal skrive dit liv» («You shall write your own life») was revealed in advance in (...)

38Hans Jæger’s imperative that the writer should represent what he has seen and what he knows from personal experience only, would lead him to conclude that the literature that was in the making by the modern youth of Kristiania really encapsulated nothing but ‘writing one’s own life’20. Although Jæger stuck to identifying himself as a naturalist, he was, at the same time, marking his distance from Brandesian analysis and problemdebat, striving instead to be ‘modern’ and ‘subjective’: in criticizing Krohg, as we have seen, he is prompting for an ‘empirical’ and ‘impressionist’ approach to the objects of artistic desciption. These four adjectives stand as closely as synonyms, but may need further explanation: why associate Jæger’s deviations from the norms of naturalism, which would lead him to investigate his own private life, precisely with impressionism? How does subjectivity relate to impressionist writing? In other words, in what way is confessional, self-analytic or autobiographical literature characteristic of impressionism?

39Christian Krohg is responsible for this interpretation. In Om den bildende kunst som led i kulturbevægelsen, Krohg tried to prove in what way Jæger’s standpoint really was representative of impressionism. According to Krohg, it is the subjectivity of each and every individual involved in the collective realization of «tidens store billede» (1886: 14; «the great image of the age») that leads to the success of the project. Quoting Manet, Krohg writes that the contemporary scene cannot be described unless each artist, primarily each writer, allows his own subjective perception of the moment to shine through in his work:

Manet sa: Det er blot det indtryk som skal frem, det indtryk, som naturen gjør paa os tidens børn, thi da faar vi tidens billede. Det gjælder altsaa først at være et tidens barn og dernæst at give sig selv i sit arbeide, at give sit had og sin kjærlighed, og det gjælder at leve og at hade og elske, for saa vil man i hvert eneste værk – det være nu stilleben, landskab eller hvadsomhelst faa et lidet billede av tiden [...]. (Krohg 1886: 13; italics in the original)

Manet said: It is the impression only that has to come forth, the impression that nature makes on us children of today – this is how we obtain the image of an age. Firstly, you will have to be a child in time, secondly, you will have to give yourself in your work, give your hatred and your love, and you will have to live and hate and love, because in this way, every single work – be it a still-life, a landscape or whatever, will offer an image of the age [...].

  • 21   To stress his opinion, Krohg turns in fact to a quotation from Zola: «Ce, que je cherche avant to (...)

40Krohg’s request that the artist express his own personality is again reminiscent of Zola’s and Taine’s idea of an artistic temperament that was to appear in a work of art21. The idea of a naturalistic temperament might indeed not seem very distant from the subjectivity that is at the heart of the bohemians’ impressionist stance, but we will have to rememember that in naturalism the temperament itself never became the subject matter. The naturalist’s subject matter – be it society, nature, or human beings – was to be seen through a temperament, whereas the impressionists came to the conclusion that the point of interest was not so much the subject matter itself as the artist’s personal impression of the scene. This is, as I see it, the underlying idea of Krohg’s acceptance of impressionism, an idea which led him to pronounce the words that identify Maupassant and Jæger as the two forerunners of the new vogue of literary impressionism. The reasons are, however, different: while the name of the Frenchman, according to Krohg, fits into the current mainly because of technical matters and a subject choice reminiscent of that of the impressionist painters – Maupassant is praised because of his ability to transmit atmospheres and impressions reminiscent of «en impressionistik farveskizze» (Krohg 1886: 13; «an impressionist coloursketch») – Jæger finds himself a place in literary impressionism because of his temperament, a nervous restlessness which is both an expression of the modern age of impressionism (Krohg 1886: 14) and the subject matter of the literary impressionist. In Krohg’s opinion, Jæger seems to embody the impressionist stance of the empiric who strived to reduce, and came to eliminate, the distance between writer and subject. Krohg writes:

Jeg kjender idetheletaget hidtil bare to impressionister i literaturen, det er Guy de Maupassant og Hans Jæger. Hans Jæger er nordens Manet. Han var en af dem, som ogsaa drog ud med sin malerkasse og sitt feltstaffeli. Han havde mer end nogen anden tidens uro og utilfredshed [...]. (Krohg 1886: 12; italics in the original)

On the whole, I only know of two impressionists in literature, these are Guy de Maupassant and Hans Jæger. Hans Jæger is the Nordic Manet. He was one of those who took off with his painter’s bag and his outdoor easel. He felt more than anyone else the anguish and the restlessness of this age [….].

  • 22   On Manet as a precursor of the impressionists, see also Pouzet-Duzer (2013: 33-123)

41The choice of words inevitably makes plein air-ism spring to mind, but rather than aiming at a comparison with the painters at the core of the impressionist movement, the reference is to Manet, who endorsed the impressionists but never took part in their exhibitions, which evokes the terrain in which impressionism was born and, with that, the way that was paved from naturalism to impressionism22.

4.2.2. Christian Krohg: impressionism in writing and in the visual arts

  • 23   Malmanger (1987: 31) observes that Werenskiold, in 1886, and Aubert, in 1887, regarded Krohg as t (...)
  • 24   In 1902, Krohg revised this definition of Munch as an impressionist: «Man har sagt, at han [Munch (...)

42The words with which Jæger turned to Krohg in his dismissal of the novel Albertine – «Er det dog ikke dig som sier du er impressionist?» («Are you not the one claiming to be an impressionist?») – clearly endorse the idea of impressionism as a literary mode and ponders its applicability to Krohg’s prose. Krohg, too, as we have seen above, used the term with reference to writers. In contrast, and in spite of the opinions of contemporary art critics, Krohg was extremely cautious when referring to himself and to his own generation of visual artists as impressionists (Malmanger 1987: 42, 45), and openly regretted not being worthy of the definition (Krohg 1886: 15)23. In an article entitled Den tredie Generation (The Third Generation), published in Verdens Gang on 27 April 1889, Krohg explains that while he and his generation of artists, i.e., «den anden Generation» («the second generation»), did consider themselves plein air painters who had been pushing things forward, they still remained in the shadow of the third generation of impressionist painters, at the end of the 1880s represented by a solitary Edvard Munch: «Han er Impressionist, endnu vor eneste!» (Krohg 1889; «He is an impressionist, so far our one and only!»)24.

  • 25   Although Krohg in this article does not mention the names of the writers belonging to the new gen (...)

43There seems to be no doubt that the parallel which Krohg subsequently proceeds to draw up between Munch and the unnamed writers of the third generation who, he claimed, were already busy introducing a new literature in Norway, features the concept of impressionism as trait d’union25. However, when applied solely to the visual arts, as in the discussion of the impressionist phase in Munch’s career, Krohg’s understanding of impressionism draws on the formal and technical innovations that formed the basis for perception and execution in painting: the idea of ‘the innocent eye’, which goes «behind the remembered, theoretically established colour to the real sensation» (Hauser 1999: 163); the attempt to present a scene the instant it is being perceived, before the mind triggers interpretation and the organization of data into patterns of meaning; the concentration on the overall impression instead of on unnecessary detail. To Krohg, the impressionist writer is, instead, mainly an artist embodying the ‘bohemian stance’, capable, like Jæger, of feeling and giving expression to «tidens uro og utilfredshed» (Krohg 1886: 14; «the anguish and the restlessness of the age»). In an attempt to clarify Christian Krohg’s theory of impressionism, Erik Mørstad underlines what he sees as contradictory in the lecture Om den bildende kunst som led i kulturbevægelsen:

På den ene side betegner impresjonisme i Krohgs terminologi den mest samtidsrelaterte retning i billedkunsten og i kunsten overhodet. Her er det den enkelte kunstners holdning som bestemmer om vedkommende står utenfor eller innenfor impresjonismen. Impresjonisme ser i dette tilfelle ut til å være ensbetydende med det å være moderne, med det at kunsten har sin kilde i inntrykkene fra virkeligheten i vis forstand. […] På den annen side innholdsbestemmer Krohg impresjonisme-begrepet ut fra rent formale kjennetegn. Dette er en av foredragets sentrale selvmotsigelser, som Krohg ikke avklarer noe nærmere. (Mørstad 1991: 84)

On the one hand, impressionism, in Krohg’s terminology, is of all the currents in the visual arts, and in art in general, the one most closely related to the contemporary scene. Here, it is the attitude of the individual artist that places him outside or inside impressionism. In this case, impressionism seems to be synonymous with being modern, with the fact that art in a certain sense has its roots in the impressions of reality. […] On the other, Krohg defines impressionism on the basis of purely formal criteria. This is one of the fundamental contradictions in the lecture, one that Krohg does not explain any closer.

44When Mørstad in the English summary of his article concludes that «Krohg’s basic ideological view is naturalistic, but his method, or way of approach, is impressionist» (1991: 103), he actually solves the riddle by calling attention to the possibility of combining a social message with a modern form. If the impressionist painters turned away from the tensions and ills of contemporary society and disregarded the motif, the Scandinavian artists of the ‘middle way’ instead made it a virtue to approach radical naturalistic subject matters with a modern technique, as we will see through the example of painter and writer Helena Westermarck.

4.3. august strindberg and impressionism

45On one occasion August Strindberg identified impressionism as a source of inspiration to his art, in another instance he went as far as to declare himself a literary impressionist. In the foreword to his 1888 play Fröken Julie (Miss Julie), Strindberg (1984: 111) pointed to the unexpected, audacious framing frequent in impressionist painting as a feature that had determined his choice of an asymmetrical scenography. Karl-Erik Lundevall (1953: 240, 243) has discussed Strindberg’s word choice and his preoccupation with the aesthetics of impressionism in this passage of the foreword in terms suggesting that the author intended to apply the principles of pictorial impressionism in the composition of the play. This interpretation was subsequently dismissed by Hans Lund (1993: 49), who has rightly called attention to the fact that Strindberg is referring here to stage decoration only. Strindberg’s stage directions presented in the foreword involved placing the rear wall and the kitchen table obliquely on stage in order to limit the audience’s view to only a fraction of the room where the action was taking place, a method which evidently has its counterpart in the impressionist painters’ bold framings of their subjects. In addition to Lund’s comment, I would like to draw attention to the fact that the reference to impressionism in a textual passage preoccupied with the play’s form and its modernity is indicative of Strindberg’s view that impressionism was still, at the time of the composition of Fröken Julie, synonymous with the radical modernity distinguishing the painters on show at the second impressionist exhibition in Paris in the autumn of 1876, which had awoken the writer’s interest during his first visit to the French capital, as we will see.

  • 26   Cf., also Lamm 1963: 438.

46In the section Människokroppens skönhet och symbolik (Beauty and Symbolism of the Human Body) in the third part of En blå bok (A Blue Book), Strindberg spoke of the character portrayal in his writings and resolved that he had, in the main, created thousands of individuals whose faces were merely caricatures. He explains his technique as similar to that of the impressionist who does not pay attention to details but, in the manner of a behaviourist, focusses on those movements, gestures, and expressions that really reveal the characters’ personality: «Sannolikt är jag impressionist som ser på rörelse, gest, uttryck och inte på föremål» (Strindberg 2000: 1239; «Most probably I am an impressionist concentrating on movement, gestures, expressions, and not on objects»)26.

4.3.1. ‘Beforeʼ: En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård and I vårbrytningen

47On the subject of Strindberg and impressionism there is a ‘before’ and an ‘after’. The dividing line is made up by the author’s first encounter with impressionist art, which occurred in 1876 at the second impressionist exhibition hosted by the art merchant Durand-Ruel’s Parisian gallery. Impressionism, in Strindberg’s literary output preceeding the year 1876, must therefore be understood without explicit reference to impressionist painting, and either in terms of a prose where speech and dialogue is presented without any expository intrusion of the narrator – i.e., in a manner similar to the method earlier discussed within the discourse on Herman Bang’s poetics of impressionism – or, in terms of a writing heightening the reader’s awareness of the sensory experience of the scene’s observer through frequent textual references to sights, sounds, and smells – a technique still present in the famous opening paragraphs to the novel Röda rummet of 1879, as we will see.

  • 27En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård (Strindberg 1981: 7-32) introduces the second volume of St (...)
  • 28   There have been other voices arguing for Strindberg’s impressionist style without delving deeper (...)
  • 29   A review by Anders Flodman supports the hypothesis that these aspects of the text may constitute (...)

48According to Göran Söderström, author of the monograph Strindberg och bildkonsten (1972; Strindberg and the Visual Arts), Strindberg applied an impressionist narrative technique already in the early 1870s, in an unfinished tale known as En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård (A Tale from the Stockholm Archipelago)27. Unfortunately, Söderström does not explain what he really encapsulates in the expression «impressionistisk berättarteknik» (Söderström 1972: 68; «impressionist narrative technique»)28. Yet, I deem it likely that this evaluation is dependent upon the text’s multitude of paratactically ordered impressions separated by dashes, through which the narrator registers the presence of people and animals, smells and sounds, in the initial desciption of an early summer morning in the archipelago (Strindberg 1981: 9-10). Moreover, in the following pages of the tale, Strindberg lets the dialogues between his characters pour down pell-mell in the text, adopting, in these lines, a language seemingly typical of the single individual29.

4.3.2. Strindberg’s encounters with impressionist art

49The event that marks the ‘before’ and ‘after’ in Strindberg’s engagement with impressionism is, in actual fact, a three-fold story, involving a first reaction, a second reaction, and a retrospective account of these two reactions, ‘recollected in tranquillity’ some twenty years after their occurrence.

  • 30   The letter is known as Lettre à Gauguin (in Swedish as Till Paul Gauguin or Brev till Gauguin) an (...)

50In Paris, during the Inferno-years in the mid-nineties, Strindberg wrote a letter to Paul Gauguin, which came to be published as preface to the catalogue presenting Gauguin’s works at an auction held at Hôtel Drouot in February 1895, prior to the painter’s last trip to Polynesia (Söderström 1972: 385, note 4)30. It is in this letter from 1895 that Strindberg, for the second time, describes his first encounters with the art of the impressionists back in 1876. Twenty years after the second impressionist exhibition, he claims to have observed the paintings on show at Durand-Ruel’s gallery, with «une indifférence calme» (Strindberg 2001: 52; «calm indifference»), thus contradicting the bewildered reaction of Strindberg’s narrator in the 1876 article written for Dagens Nyheter to inform the Swedish public of the novelties in the French art world (Strindberg 1876a and 1876b). Despite all the indifference Strindberg claims to have proved, something in the paintings must, however, have resonated with his curiosity to the point that he decided to pay a second visit to the exhibition the following day, as the writer now reveals to Gauguin in the letter. According to the 1895 testimony, the second time Strindberg – almost malgré soi – set his eyes on the «toiles très merveilleuses» (Strindberg 2001: 52; «very wonderful canvasses») displayed at the gallery, he discovered something that indisputably struck him:

le lendemain je revins, sans trop savoir comment, et je découvris ‘quelque chose’ dans ces bizarres manifestations. Je vis le grouillement de la foule sur un embarcadère, mais je ne vis pas la foule même, je vis la course d’un train rapide […], le mouvement des roues dans la rue, d’affreux portraits de personnes toutes laides qui n’avaient pu poser tranquillement. Saisi par ces toiles extraordinaires, j’envoyai à un journal de mon pays une correspondance dans laquelle j’avais essayé de traduire les sensations que je croyais que les impressionnistes avaient voulu rendre […]. (Strindberg 2001: 52)

I returned the following day, without really knowing why, and discovered ‘something’ in these bizarre manifestations. I saw a swarm of people on a pier, but I did not distinguish the very crowd; I saw the racing of a fast train […], the movements of wheels in the street, horrible portraits of ugly people, who had not been able to sit still while posing. Taken with these remarkable canvasses I wrote an article for a newspaper in my home country, in which I tried to render the impressions which I thought that the impressionists had tried to convey […].

  • 31   The article is also available online at - !/forfattare/StrindbergA/t (...)
  • 32   Italics in the original.

51The article mentioned in the excerpt quoted above was published in two parts in Dagens Nyheter on 30 November and 9 December 1876 with the title Från Café de l’Ermitage till Marly-le-Roi och så vidare (Strindberg 1876a and 1876b; From Café de l’Ermitage till Marly-le-Roi and so on)31. Considering that Strindberg’s disconcerted narrator describes the six impressionist landscapes seen at Durand-Ruel’s in the company of a well-informed guide as «tunna, rödblåa, eländiga, alla lika» (Strindberg 1876a; «thin, reddish blue, miserable, all the same») – and closes the second part of the article with the words «de långa café-resonnemangen […], slutade med att besökaren sett för litet och ännu inte hunnit bli van vid att betrakta den franska konsten med franska ögon»32 (Strindberg 1876b; «the long discussions at the café […], ended with the conclusion that the visitor had not seen enough and had not yet grown used to observing the French art with French eyes») – it is evident that the author, when reiterating the two visits at the impressionist exhibition twenty years later, has at last grown used to observing impressionist art, and has now certainly seen enough to deliver an accurate account of the aims of the movement.

  • 33   An observation that Strindberg had already put forward as early as 1874 in his article on modern (...)

52In 1876, Strindberg noted of the «miserable» novelties exhibited that they rendered not the scene but the artist’s subjective impression of the scene, including physical obstacles, such as the steam from a train, impeding a clear view33. In 1895, when evoking instead the second day at the exhibition, his wording is, as we have seen, on the one hand unquestionably more favourable – «nous vîmes des toiles très merveilleuses» (Strindberg 2001; 52; «we saw very wonderful canvasses»), «saisi par ces toiles extraordinaires» (Ibidem; «taken with these remarkable canvasses») – and, on the other, the writer now does his best to put his finger on that «something», which he claims to have discovered when returning to the exhibition. This is done by revisiting the very same details that baffled the narrator in the 1876 articles and reflecting on them with the hindsight of twenty years: the rendering of «en folkhops hvimmel på en ångbåtsbrygga» (Strindberg 1876a: «the hustling of a crowd on a pier»), that had seemed perplexing to the observer in 1876, is explained in the letter from 1895 in terms suggesting a new understanding of the metonymic mode that forms the basis for the impressionist perception. In the letter to Gauguin, Strindberg proves able to explain that what he really saw was «le grouillement de la foule», not «la foule même» – a swarm of people, but not the single individuals. Through the wording in the 1895 letter, Strindberg further demonstrates to have fully realized that the train crossing another impressionist landscape on show, was indeed not a painting representing a train but the ‘racing’ of a train (2001: 52; «la course d’un train»), that the impressionists did not wish to render wheels but «le mouvement des roues», i.e., the impression of movement and simultaneity, more than the objects themselves – a principle that, he gathers, also went for the art of portraiture.

53As mentioned earlier, what primarily attracted the onlooker in Strindberg’s article of 1876, was the idea of a group of progressive artists refusing to paint according to the official taste of the Salon – «Det fanns sålunda en åsikt, ett parti, och ett sådant som icke målade för salongen; dem måste jag se!» (Strindberg 1876a; «so there was an opinion, a party, one that did not paint for the Salon; I had to take a look at them!») – though the result was, in his eyes, less convincing. It is also interesting that when conveying the narrator’s impressions of a Sisley canvas, Strindberg should recur to grammatical categories in order to make himself clear, as if painterly impressionism, to him, was best understood through a ‘reverse’ interart analogy, i.e., by referring to the art of narration, the one that he himself mastered the best: «skall jag våga ett försök att beskriva Sisleys [sic]! Det kan endast ske på följande sätt – märk noga temporalföljden, ty man målar – otroligt att säga – en handling i presens, perfektum, och futurum, indicativus och conjunctivus» (Strindberg 1876a; «shall I attempt to describe Sisley! It can only be done in the following manner – pay careful attention to the temporal sequence, as an action – strange to say – is painted in the present tense, in the perfect tense, in the future tense, in the indicative and in the subjunctive»).

  • 34   According to Göran Söderström (1972: 60), Strindberg met with Per Ekström in Marly-le-Roi.

54Not impressed by Sisley’s pale colour scale, diagnosed as «albinism» (Strindberg 1876a), this attentive, though sceptical, observer decides to find out for himself whether French landscapes do correspond to the paintings on show at Durand-Ruel’s. After a short stop at Café de l’Ermitage, he sets out for the countryside at Marly-le-Roi with the spirit of an empiricist wanting to verify the degree of realism in impressionist landscape painting: «jag beslöt att företaga en besiktningsresa ut i den franska naturen och se efter om det rörde sig, om det var ljusare än i Tyskland och om impressionisterna hade litet rätt» (Strindberg 1897a, italics in the original; «I decided to go on an exploratory journey into the French nature to verify whether it really moved, whether it was lighter than in Germany and whether the impressionists somehow were right”). In the small village of Marly, the narrator meets up with a Swedish painter who has adopted the same bloodless, reddish blue hues as the impressionists exhibited34. The narrator’s conclusion is that the outcome of studies abroad is a universal foreignness: not only is the painter foreign to his new environment but he will, in the end, also become foreign to his home country, unable to adapt painterly techniques learned abroad to his local conditions. He resolves:

att det vore klokt icke bortkasta en med mångårig möda förvärvad färdighet för en ny av tvivelaktigt gagn, att de skulle pröva allt och behålla vad gott var, och icke oprövat taga allt för gott, därför att det var nytt, att det var utländskt, att det var franskt! (Strindberg 1876b)

that it would be wise not to discard an ability gained through years of hard work in favour of a new, the value of which is doubtful, that they [the Swedish painters] would experiment with and hold on to what was good, without taking to anything just because it was new, because it was foreign, because it was French, without first trying it out.

55In conclusion, with regard to Strindberg’s reactions to impressionist painting, most scholars interested in the topic have, with contradictory results, attempted to evaluate the degree of appraisal present in the opinions that the author expressed in his writings on the second impressionist exhibition in Paris. Lundevall, for example, claims that the Swedish writer was no admirer of the impressionists «även om han var mer gripen […] än han ville erkänna» (Lundevall 1953: 239; «although he was more taken […] than he was willing to admit»), Söderström (1972: 59), instead, claims to have detected a positive attitude to impressionism in Strindberg’s wordings on the subject. Henri Usselmann summarizes the question in an article entitled Strindberg et l’impressionnisme:

  • 35   In this article, Usselmann in fact examines Strindberg’s presumed engagement with impressionism n (...)

Depuis plusieurs décennies, certains spécialistes affirment que Strindberg haïssait l’impressionnisme, tandis que d’autres s’appliquent consciencieusement à chercher l’influence de l’impressionnisme dans son oeuvre picturale, littéraire et même photographique. (Usselmann 1982: 153)35

For several decades certain specialists have been affirming that Strindberg hated impressionism, while others have put a great effort into the search for the impact of impressionism on his painterly, literary, and even photographic work.

56It seems to me that registering Strindberg’s awareness of impressionist art – his early insight into the movement, and his later revision of this vision, which deepened his understanding – is more meaningful than assessing the writer’s appreciation or lack thereof. The trailblazingly modern aspects of the impressionist school sparked an interest for the movement to the point that Strindberg would indicate its unconventional aesthetics as a model for the shaping of perspective plane in the stage directions to Fröken Julie.

4.3.3. ‘Afterʼ: Röda rummet, I havsbandet, and Hemsöborna

  • 36   See, e.g., Berendsohn 1964.
  • 37   Sten Linder spoke of «den impressionistiska verklighetsskildringen» (Linder 1936: 38; «the impres (...)

57The stylistic qualities of the opening paragraphs to the novel Röda rummet of 1879, frequently quoted as a masterly example of Strindberg’s art of narration, have also been discussed in relation to the author’s engagement with impressionism36. The question was brought up in the 1920s, in an article by Ruben G:son Berg entitled Inledningen till Röda rummet (Berg 1921; The Opening to Röda rummet) and by Göran Lindblad in the monograph August Strindberg som berättare (Lindblad 1924; The Narrator August Strindberg)37. Both scholars associated Röda rummet’s overture to novelties in the visual arts brought about by the impressionist plein air painting of the 1870s; Berg by simply defining it as an «impressionistisk skildring» (1921; «an impressionist description»), Lindblad instead by specifying that «det är impressionism, litterärt plein-air-måleri» (1924: 73-74; «it is impressionism, literary plein air-painting»), further explained as a writing communicating «vad den franska skolan eftersträvade, den levande, obearbetade ögonblicksbilden, l’impression vierge» (74: «what the French school strived for, the vivid, unprocessed instantaneous image, l’impression vierge»). Subsequently, however, Lindblad also indicated a different pictorial model at work in the novel. According to the scholar (Lindblad 1924: 77-78), at the root of the novel’s more bucolic scenes, set outdoors, is Carl Larsson’s visual lexicon, although Strindberg exits Larsson’s gardenscapes to confront the view of the city. On the subject of the scenes set in the open air at Lill-Jans, Lindblad comments that these descriptions, as to atmosphere and setting, are «något mitt emellan Carl Larssons sagoteckningar och hans målningar från Grez» (77; «something in between Carl Larsson’s fairytale illustrations and his paintings from Grez»).

58As regards Strindberg and Larsson, Gotthard Johansson added some pertinent precisions in 1949. In an article entitled Strindberg och konsten (Johansson 1949; Strindberg and Art) he argued for the correctness in establishing parallels between the opening paragraphs in Röda rummet and Carl Larsson’s watercolours of the early 1880s painted in Grez-sur-Loing, as well as for a general affinity between the aesthetics of Strindberg’s textual landscapes and the nineteenth century fashion of painting outdoors, but considered the parallel to impressionism redundant: «det är friluftsmåleri men inte impressionism» (Johansson 1949: 20, italics in the original; «it is plein air-painting, not impressionism»). Johansson’s point is the independence of Strindberg’s stylistics, which built on a highly individual descriptive technique that the author had already started to develop in the early 1870s, one that should not be tied to a specific school of landscape painting:

Att kalla Strindbergs egen litterära teknik, sådan den framträder i de första skärgårdsnovellernas eller Röda rummets naturskildring, för impressionism är [...] riktigt, endast om man tar ordet i en mycket allmän betydelse. Med all sin luftighet skiljer sig detta litterära friluftsmåleri [...] från den verkliga impressionismen framför allt genom sin detaljskärpa, sin berättarlust, sitt sakliga intresse för verkligheten. I det impressionistiska måleriet utplånas detaljen – som Strindberg redan vid sitt första möte med detta måleri visade sig så riktigt uppfatta – för att uppgå i helhetsintrycket, bli en färgfläck i bilden. (Johansson 1949: 25-26)

To speak of Strindberg’s own literary technique, the way it appears in his first short stories set in the archipelago or in the descriptions of nature in Röda rummet as impressionism, is correct only if the term is used in an extremely general meaning. With its airy atmosphere this literary plein air painting is distinguished […] from genuine impressionism above all through its focus on details, its accent on the anecdotal, its objective interest for reality. Impressionist painting disregards details – just as Strindberg quite correctly had realized in his first encounter with this art – the detail disappears in the total impression and becomes a colour dot in the picture.

  • 38   Eszter Szcalzer has also worked on analogies between Strindberg’s textual descriptions in Samvets (...)

59The only literary work that, according to Johansson, reveals an influence of impressionst aesthetics on Strindberg’s prose is the novel I havsbandet (By the Open Sea) from 1890, which the critic describes as «ett koloristiskt kraftprov av en med- eller omedveten lärjunge till de stora impressionistiska mästarna» (27; «as to the handling of colour a brilliant performace by a conscious or inconscious disciple of the great impressionist masters»). He also attempts to establish analogies between descriptions of interiors in the novel and impressionist pictorial techniques38.

60Building on Sven Møller Kristensen’s first studies on J.P. Jacobsen’s impressionism (Møller Kristensen 1938), Bengt Kinnander has examined the question of impressionism in Strindberg’s prose from a different point of view. In his essay, Ordstudier i Strindbergs prosa (Kinnander 1949; Studies in Strindberg’s Prose Vocabulary), a passage from Hemsöborna (The People of Hemsö), focussing on the gradual perception of a lantern by moving from the narrator’s initial, vague awareness of a distant source of light to his gradual distinguishing of this lantern, and subsequent recognition of the holder’s face, serves Kinnander in his attempt to prove Strindberg’s adherence to the aesthetic programme of impressionism. The scholar compares this scene to the opening paragraph in J.P. Jacobsen’s Mogens depicting a gradual rainfall, a descriptive mode which Sven Møller Kristensen labels as ‘phenomenological perception’. When the rendering of a scene is not arranged into a logical sequence but guided by the reporting of sensorial impressions in the very same order in which these are supposedly perceived by the observer, Kinnander finds it apt to define Strindberg’s prose as literary impressionism. He concludes: «vi ha här [...] ett ‘impressionistiskt’ framställningssätt, betingat av situationen» (Kinnander 1939: 55; «what we have here is [...] an ‘impressionist’ representation, determined by the situation»). Kinnander, however, observes that the narrator’s passivity, which according to Møller Kristensen is characteristic of the impressionist reporter, does not become Strindberg’s narrator, who «argumenterar även när han berättar och beskriver» (56; «argues even when narrating and describing»). In addition, Kinnander (Ibidem) also observes cases of Møller Kristensen’s idea of an impressionist ‘metonymical mode’ in Röda rummet and I vårbrytningen, which are likened to the Danish scholar’s conception of literary impressionism. On the subject of Hemsöborna, it is interesting that Gustaf af Geijerstam, who, as we will shortly see, was one of the few Swedish literary critics to consider literary impressionism a province of the critics, should be the one among Strindberg’s contemporary critics to recognize impressionist traits in this novel. In a review published in Nya Pressen on 22 January 1888 he wrote:

I allmänhet skildrar Strindberg naturen som impressionist. Han målar ej lugnt upp ett landskap med alla dess konturer och skiftningar, utan han förutsätter liksom, att läsaren vet, hur det ser ut ändå. Så ger han några bilder, hvilka han erinrar sig, raskt och energiskt, och fantasin hos läsaren får fylla i resten. (qtd. in Strindberg 2012: 198)

Generally, Strindberg represents nature in the manner of an impressionist. He does not calmly depict a landscape with all its outlines and nuances; by contrast, he takes for granted that the reader is in any case familiar with the subject. So, he offers a few images, the ones that come to his memory, swiftly and energically, leaving the rest to the readers’ imagination.

61This outline of critical contributions concerned with Strindberg’s presumed impressionism has revealed: (1) that the works seen as indicative of an engagement with literary impressionism in Strindberg’s production are the early short stories set in the archipelago (En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård, I vårbrytningen) as well as Röda rummet, I havsbandet, and Hemsöborna; (2) that most literary critics resorting to the term impressionism on the subject of Strindberg’s prose blandly employ it to indicate fragmentation, the use of colours, plein air prose (but not necessarily with references to the specificities of impressionist plein air painting). In one rare, in-depth, examination of single passages in Strindberg’s writing (Kinnander 1939), the definition is strongly influenced by Møller Kristensen’s (1938) interpretation of literary impressionism as a technique employing metonymical description and uncorrected, phenomenological description, an aspect that will be more profoundly discussed in part II of this study.


1Æstetiske studier i dansk fiktionsprosa 1870-1900 builds on Møller Kristensen’s doctoral thesis from 1927.

2   See also, e.g., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland, 1985: 409-16. Johannes Fibinger’s and Gerd Lütken’s Litteraturens Veje (The Paths of Literature) even contains a section on impressionist painting because of its impact on the other arts, resolving that «i Danmark bliver impressionismen […] et litterært program» (Fibinger and Lütken 2004: 216; «in Denmark impressionism […] becomes a literary programme».

3   Cf., e.g., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland: «Herman Bang var den danske forfatter, der mest gennomført experimenterede med en impressionistisk fremstillingsform» (1885: 413; «Herman Bang was the Danish author who most thoroughly experimented with an impressionist form of narration»). As Torbjörn Nilsson has observed, the definition ‘impressionist’ was used already in contemporary reviews of Bang’s work: Edvard Brandes recurred to it when reviewing Stille Eksistenser (Silent Lives) in Politiken, 12 November 1886, to define Bang’s «reprehensible style» that according to Brandes imitated impressionist painting (Nilsson 1965: 330, note 56), Jonas Lie also used it on the subject of Bang’s Stuk (Stucco) in Dagbladet, 23 December 1887, and in Politikken, 27 December 1887 (Nilsson 1965: 330 note 57). Concurrently, Bang himself adopted the term to comment both on his own style, e.g., in a letter to Peter Nansen (Nilsson 1965: 225), and on that of his fellow writers: in a review entitled En ung fransk Forfatter (Politikken, 24 April 1886; A Young French Author) he defined Paul Bourget’s criticism «en Impressionismens og de vendelige Stregers» (Nilsson 1965: 330, note 55; «that of impressionism and of random connections»). Nilsson also points out that Bang, in a letter to Jonas Lie dated 3 November 1889, on the subject of the negative comments his novel Tine had received, asked the Norwegian writer to put in a word for «den impressionistiske roman» (Nilsson 1965: 124; «the impressionist novel») to help him out.

4   See e.g., David Lodge’s essay Showing and Telling, which throws light on this aspect of narrative art (Lodge 1992: 121-24).

5   See for example the opening lines to Ved Vejen: «Stationsforstanderen skiftede Frakke til Toget. – Satan til lidt Forslag i Tiden, sagde han og strakte Armene. Han havde blundet saa smaat over Regnskaberne» (Bang 1920-21: 7. English translation by Tiina Nunnally in Bang 1990: 9; «The stationmaster changed his jacket for the train. ‘Damn, how time flies,’ he said, stretching his arms. He had been dozing a little over the accounts»). Ved Vejen, literally “by the (rail)road”, has been translated into English with the title Katinka.

6   As an example, Christensen compares Katinka’s and Huus’s views of the natural landscape to Bai’s differing vision of the same scenery as the threesome sets out on the trip to the market: «det er et exempel bland mange paa, at Bang ikke giver det faste billede af omgivelserne i hvile, det objektive billede naturalisten tilstræber, men det impressionistiske enkelttræk, som kommer til bevidsthed […] og som hidfører forskellige reaktioner og associationer hos hver enkelt» (1918: 67; «this is one of many examples indicating that Bang does not offer fixed depictions of still surroundings, those objective images to which the naturalists aimed, but rather the impressionistic details that enter consciousness […] provoking reactions and associations that differ according to the individual perception»).

7   Translation by Tiina Nunnally, Bang 1990: 85.

8   Cf., Nilsson 1965: 111, Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland 1985: 237.

9   Cf., Busk-Jensen, Dahl, Gemzøe, Grodal, Holmgaard, and Zerland 1985: 678, who also find it likely that Bang, in his writings on Lie, was really describing his own art of narration as much as that of the Norwegian novelist. Bang certainly turns the attention to himself when he speaks of «den, der har forsøgt selv at følge Jonas Lie og maaske endogsaa teknisk at udvikle den impressionistiske Form og føre den endu videre (navnlig ved at studere den forraadende Bevægelsen)» («he who has himself tried to follow in Jonas Lie’s footsteps and perhaps even to develop the technique of impressionist form even further [namely through a study of revealing movements]»). On Jonas Lie’s influence on Bang see also Sjöwall 1967.

10   Emphasis in the original.

11   According to Arnold Hauser (1999: 178), the «age of impressionism» produced an extreme grouping of bohemians, opposed both to the early «bohème of the romantic age» and to the «bohème of the naturalistic age» (179). Though all these artist côteries demonstrated against the ways of the bourgeois world, the first generation of bohemian romantics (Gautier, Nerval) experimented with excursions into the underworld, but were «free to return to bourgeois society at any time» (Hauser 1999: 180). Their followers (Murger, Courbet, Nadar, Champfleury) were in truth «an artistic proletariat» (1999: 180) but ended up romanticized and idealized by the bourgeoisie, while the third generation of bohemians, that of the impressionist age (Rimbaud, Verlaine, Corbière, Lautréamont), are seen as «a company of vagabonds and outlaws, a class in which demoralization, anarchy and misery dwell, a group of desperadoes» (1999: 181).

12   For a thorough discussion of the Kristiania Bohème, see Fosli 1994.

13Den bildende kunst som ledd i kulturbevegelsen is also available in a more recent publication, Krohg 1995: 77-121.

14   As Bernard Vouilloux writes: «Assurément, ce à quoi les moins hostiles des premiers spectateurs de tableaux impressionnistes étaient sensibles ou réceptifs, c’était d’abord la ‘modernité’ des sujets traités, pour autant que le décor urbain, le costume et tous les accents de la vie contemporaine, avec les situations et les gestes qu’ils appellent, exclus de la peinture d’histoire, n’avaient été admis ou tolérés que dans les degrés inférieurs de la hiérarchie académique des genres» (2000: 68; «That to which the least hostile first spectators of impressionist art proved sensitive or receptive to was unquestionably the ‘modernity’ of the subjects treated, since the urban scene – the style and all the aspects of contemporary life, with the situations and the behaviour it turned to – had been excluded from history painting, and not admitted or tolerated unless confined to the lowest parts of the academic genre hierarchy»).

15   Malmanger (1987: 34) observes that it was Erik Werenskiold who officially introduced the Norwegians to impressionist art in the article Impressionisterne (The Impressionists) published in Verdens Gang as late as in 1882. According to Malmanger (1987: 33), in the mid-eighties impressionism was «dagens parole» («the expression of the day») and «et ord som rigtignok for mange betegnet lite mer enn det nyeste nye» («a word that to many, quite correctly, indicated a little bit more than the very latest news»).

16   For a discussion of impressionism in Impressionisten see also Lund (1993: 49-51) and Malmanger 1987.

17   See for example Deffoux 1928, Hoppe 1933, Matthews 1961, Hamon 1967, Nagel 1982: 10. In short, Kronegger (1973a: 37) claims that «Zola, in ‘Salon de 1865’ anticipated impressionism in saying that an artist should express his personality and his temperament, and not reproduce reality».

18   See for example Schneider 1934, Basílio 2007.

19   According to Hans Lund (1993: 48-49), Henrik Jæger was the one who introduced the term ‘literary impressionist’ in Scandinavia by using it in an article entitled Om J.P. Jacobsen som novellist (Jæger 1883; On J.P. Jacobsen as a Writer of Short Stories). Lund also calls attention to the fact that Brandes compared Jacobsen’s style to that of his contemporary painters and mentions the Swedish critic Nils Erdman, who spoke of modern impressionism with reference to Jacobsen’s literary methods (Lund 1993: 46-47, 49).

20   The phrase «Du skal skrive dit liv» («You shall write your own life») was revealed in advance in the seventh issue of Impressionisten, in November 1888, before appearing as the first of nine bohemian commandments in the eighth issue, February 1889 (1889 Bohêmbud).

21   To stress his opinion, Krohg turns in fact to a quotation from Zola: «Ce, que je cherche avant tout dans un tableau – C’est un homme et non pas un tableau» (Krohg 1886: 13, italics in the original; «what I look for in a painting is a man and not the painting»).

22   On Manet as a precursor of the impressionists, see also Pouzet-Duzer (2013: 33-123)

23   Malmanger (1987: 31) observes that Werenskiold, in 1886, and Aubert, in 1887, regarded Krohg as the leading Norwegian impressionist painter.

24   In 1902, Krohg revised this definition of Munch as an impressionist: «Man har sagt, at han [Munch] er Impressionist. Det er i Grunden slet ikke rigtigt» (Krohg 1988: 69; «It has been said that he is an impressionist. This is basically incorrect»). However, in 1889, Krohg’s description of Munch the impressionist is perfectly coherent with the principles of impressionist perception; in a passage which starts out highly reminiscent of the above-quoted paragraph in which Krohg imagines Jæger taking off with his painter’s bag and outdoor easel to contribute to the image of the age, he writes: «Han vandrer ikke glad ud med sin Malerkasse med Farverne færdigliggende til at male Luft, Græs eller Solnedgange; han ved ikke, at Luften er blaa, Græsset grønt og Solnedgangen rød, han ved ingenting før han gir sig til at male, han er hvergang forbauset og henrykt over de enkleste, almindeligste Ting, han kjæmper sig hver Gang til det han faar vide, og glemmer det til næste Gang. Han maler – det vil sige – ser paa en anden Maade end de andre Kunstnere. Han ser bare det væsentlige og maler selvføgelig bare det. Derfor er Munchs Billeder i Regelen ‘ikke færdige’». (Krohg 1889: 42; «He does not set off happily with his painter’s equipment and the colours, ready to paint sky, grass or sunsets; he does not know that the sky is blue, the grass green, and the sunset red, he does not know anything before he starts painting, he is always surprised and awestruck in front of the simplest, most common things, what knowledge he obtains each time is obtained with great effort, and he forgets it until the next time. He paints – that is to say – he sees in a way different from other artists. He only sees what is essential and consequently paints only that. That is why Munch’s pictures are, as a rule, ‘unfinished’»).

25   Although Krohg in this article does not mention the names of the writers belonging to the new generation, Jæger had presented himself as a pioneer in the field of literature a few years earlier. In the foreword to Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen published in 1885, Jæger had announced that he was about to introduce a new literature in Norway. Here, as well as in Min Forsvarstale i Høyesterett (My Defence Speech in the Supreme Court), he spoke of his new bohèmeliteratur drawing on Zolaesque naturalism having social reform as its ultimate goal.

26   Cf., also Lamm 1963: 438.

27En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård (Strindberg 1981: 7-32) introduces the second volume of Strindberg’s collected works, containing short stories and sketches written by the author in the early 1870s. This initial tale is untitled, unfinished, and undated, though probably composed between 1872 and 1874 (cf., Strindberg 1981: 193, 196-97). It also remained unpublished in Strindberg’s lifetime and is known with the above-mentioned title since 1948, when Torsten Eklund first published it (Strindberg 1981: 196).

28   There have been other voices arguing for Strindberg’s impressionist style without delving deeper into the question. The famous Swedish literary critic Oscar Levertin, for example, spoke twice in positive terms of the author’s fiery writing as an «ingenious impressionism», first on the subject of the volume Ensam (Alone): «Sådan är de stora novellisternas konst, Maupassants och Strindbergs, och i dessa nya ‘sagor’, hvilka i fråga om glöd och diktarkraft tillhöra det bästa Strindberg på länge skrifvit, griper den oss åter med sin genialiska impressionism» (quoted in Strindberg 1994: 287; «Such is the art of the great short story writers, that of Maupassant and Strindberg, and in these new ‘fairytales’, which as to fervour and poetic force belong to Strindberg’s best works in a long time, it strikes us once more with its ingenious impressionism»). The second time he used the expression with reference to Historiska miniatyrer (Historical Miniatures): «August Strindbergs prosa [...] som, äfven där tanke och kunskap lysa med sin frånvaro, dock i oöfverträffad genialisk impressionism ständigt vittnar om den store skriftställaren» (quoted in Strindberg 1997: 295; «The prose of August Strindberg […], with its unbeatable ingenious impressionism, continues to remind us of what great author he is even on occasions when thought and knowledge are absent»).

29   A review by Anders Flodman supports the hypothesis that these aspects of the text may constitute the background for Söderström’s characterization of the tale. When the short stories composing I vårbrytningen were published in book form, Flodman reviewed the publication for Aftonbladet and spoke of Strindberg’s accumulative technique in the opening lines to Huruledes jag fann Sehlstedt (How I found Sehlstedt) as a form of impressionism (Strindberg 1981: 205). With the adoption of a more regular punctuation and absence of dialogues, these opening lines, describing the same setting as in En berättelse från Stockholms skärgård, come across as an orderly version of the opening paragraphs to the earlier tale. In addition, Helena Estlander, who reviewed the same work for Finsk tidskrift, recognized Strindberg’s ability to convey a total impression through his mentioning of a few significant details as a metonymic proceeding (Strindberg 1981: 206; cf. also Lombardi 2012: 90). Maria Cristina Lombardi, in an article comparing the opening lines of the aforementioned two tales, describes the changes made in the second version as a passage from «un linguaggio allusivo, impressionisticamente connotato» (Lombardi 2012: 89; «an allusive language with impressionist connotations») to a writing in which «si rileva una tendenza alla denotazione piuttosto che alla metafora» (89; «one detects a tendency towards denotation rather than towards metaphoric language»).

30   The letter is known as Lettre à Gauguin (in Swedish as Till Paul Gauguin or Brev till Gauguin) and is dated 1 February 1895. In combination with Gauguin’s answer, Strindberg’s letter was first published in the French review L’Éclair on 15 and 16 February 1895 and subsequently adopted as preface to the catalogue for Gauguin’s exhibition, which opened on 18 February (cf., Usselmann 1982: 156). The letter is now included in Samlade Verk 34: Vivisektioner II (Strindberg 2010b: 251-54), https//; [link not available : 28/12/2019]. Brev till Gauguin, William Molard’s first Swedish translation of this letter, is published in Samlade skrifter 54 (Strindberg 1920: 325-29) and available online at; accessed 7 February 2018. Another Swedish translation (Strindberg 2010a) by Lars Strömberg is online at /115/etext; accessed 7 February 2018.

31   The article is also available online at - !/forfattare/StrindbergA/titlar/KulturhistoriskaStudier/sida/111/etext; accessed 22 January 2018.

32   Italics in the original.

33   An observation that Strindberg had already put forward as early as 1874 in his article on modern Swedish landscape painting, Vårt nyaste landskapsmåleri (Our Latest Landscape Art), Usselmann 1982: 155.

34   According to Göran Söderström (1972: 60), Strindberg met with Per Ekström in Marly-le-Roi.

35   In this article, Usselmann in fact examines Strindberg’s presumed engagement with impressionism not only as a writer but also as a painter and a photographer.

36   See, e.g., Berendsohn 1964.

37   Sten Linder spoke of «den impressionistiska verklighetsskildringen» (Linder 1936: 38; «the impressionist description of reality») in Röda rummet, seemingly indicating the fragmention that both composition and characters undergo in the novel. Karl-Erik Lundevall (1953: 243) summarily mentions Strindberg’s choice of uncommon reporting verbs, and the adoption of reported speech without the narrator’s intervention as characteristics present in the prose of Röda rummet, which in his opinion are relevant to literary impressionism.

38   Eszter Szcalzer has also worked on analogies between Strindberg’s textual descriptions in Samvetskval (Pangs of Conscience) and canvasses by the impressionist masters. I would like to thank her for letting me read her unpublished contribution to The Nineteenth International Strindberg Conference, Strindberg across Borders, held in Rome on 5-7 June 2014.


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