Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen

Kierkegaards København

I wrote earlier that hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard had been found a few years ago in a publication called Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) (see “Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard,” post from 1/31/11). Well, those aren’t the only hitherto unknown caricatures of Kierkegaard to have been discovered recently. Peter Tudvad discovered some in the satirical newspaper Corsaren (the corsair).

Yes, we’ve known Kierkegaard was caricatured in the pages of Corsaren, but it had been assumed the caricatures appeared only in 1846. Tudvad discovered, however, that Corsaren continued to publish caricatures of Kierkegaard after 1846 and, in fact, right up until his death in 1855. That is just one of what the then director of the Søren Kierkegaard Research Center in Copenhagen, Niels Jørgen Cappelørn, called the “monumental” discoveries Tudvad published in his best-selling book Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen) (Politiken, 2004). Tudvad’s discoveries, asserted Cappleørn, “cast an entirely new light on Kierkegaard’s character.”

“One of the myths among Kierkegaard scholars,” explained Cappelørn in an article in the Danish newspaper Information, “is that Kierkegaard kept monotonously repeating the same criticism against Corsaren for its lampooning of him long after the practice had stopped. People had seen this as a sign of Kierkegaard’s hypersensitivity, as evidence that he was so sensitive that he simply couldn’t forget this brief attack. Now we have to rethink this conception of him.”

How is it that scholars failed to look at any of the issues of Corsaren after 1846? It would appear, explains Cappelørn, that what we have here is a phenomenon “we are familiar with from other areas of scholarship. One reads the secondary literature and simply repeats what earlier scholars have said without going to the original sources.”

That caricatures of Kierkegaard continued to appear in Corsaren long after scholars had earlier assumed they had stopped, is not the only revelation in Tudvad’s book. Kierkegaards København is full of important revelations. Unfortunately, it is also full of beautiful color illustrations so, although I’ve tried to get an English-language publisher interested in issuing it in translation, I have not yet had any luck with that project. I’m afraid that for now, anyway, you are going to have to make do with the Danish edition. I can’t say I feel very sorry for you though. It is an absolutely gorgeous book! Check it out.

Newly Discovered Caricatures of Kierkegaard

Women fight over one of Kierkegaard’s shirts

One of the most important discoveries Peter Tudvad made when working on his book, Kierkegaards København (Kierkegaard’s Copenhagen), was that the attacks on Kierkegaard in the satirical newspaper The Corsair, were not confined to 1846, as scholars had assumed, but actually spanned the period from 1846 until Kierkegaard’s death in 1855. This makes Kierkegaard’s continued preoccupation with the Corsair, and its merciless caricaturing of him, appear less neurotic than has been assumed. He continued to be preoccupied with the newspaper because it continued to be preoccupied with him. Kierkegaard was hence not exaggerating when he described himself as an object of public ridicule.

The situation was even worse though than scholars have assumed. The Corsair was not the only paper to ridicule Kierkegaard. Another paper, Folkets Nisse (the people’s elf) also published caricatures of or relating to Kierkegaard over an extended period. The drawing above is one such caricature. Apparently, Kierkegaard’s effects were auctioned off after his death. The drawing depicts two women fighting over one of Kierkegaard’s shirts. It’s interesting not simply as an example of a hitherto unknown collection of contemporary caricatures but also because it tells us something about how Kierkegaard was viewed around the period of his death. Scholars have often portrayed him as a marginal figure in Danish history, one whose brilliance was really first discovered beyond the borders of his own country. The drawing makes clear, however, that he had become a kind of cult figure by the time of his death and that there was thus probably far more sympathy with his attack on the Danish Lutheran Church than is ordinarily assumed.

There are many more drawings like the one above in Folkets Nisse. I cannot claim credit for having discovered them. They were discovered by Paul A. Bauer in the late 1990s when he purchased a bound volume of Folkets Nisse from an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen. I am indebted to Anne Marie Furbo of the The Royal Library in Copenhagen for tracking down this particular drawing which I had remembered only vaguely but which I wanted to use for the cover of my forthcoming book, Fear and Dissembling: The Copenhagen Kierkegaard Controversy.

If you plan to go to Copenhagen, stop by The Royal Library. I’m sure the folks there will be similarly helpful to you if you want to track down more of these hitherto unknown caricatures.