Georg Morris Cohen Brandes (1842-1927)

Literary critic, independent scholar, MA aesthetics 1864, Dr. Phil. 1870, extraordinary professor 1902.   

Georg Brandes, who was among the most influential intellectuals in nineteenth and early twentieth-century Denmark, introduced what he coined ‘The Modern Breakthrough’ in a lecture series on Main Currents in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Copenhagen in 1871. The lectures were published in 1872 and an English translation was issued in 1901 (London: William Heinemann). Brandes advocated realism in literature and liberalism in politics, and in the 1870s he became mentor of a group of young freethinkers with positivist and naturalistic sympathies who engaged in a cultural struggle against what they regarded as old-fashioned conservative and religious ideas. As a consequence of his radical views he was not called to a professorship at the university before the Liberal Party took over government in 1901. Instead he travelled around Europe and brought new literature and philosophy to Denmark. In the polemics with Christians in the 1870s, Georg Brandes applied Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as a weapon against religious faith. Brandes thus occasionally mentioned Darwin when arguing for his secularist agenda. Brandes claimed that the writer and translator of the Origin of Species and Descent of Man, J.P. Jacobsen, was the first writer to introduce Darwin’s ideas to the general public in Scandinavia. Several historical studies have shown that this is not correct. Darwin was frequently mentioned and Darwinism was debated among naturalists, philosophers and theologians in Sweden, Norway and Denmark in the 1860s.      

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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