The Scandinavian or Nordic countries include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden (including their autonomous territories (Åland, Faroe Islands and Greenland). Often authors that have emigrated, such as Swedish-American or Norwegian-American authors, are viewed by many Scandinavians as Scandinavian authors as well. At this site, we treat them as such too.
The oldest Scandinavian literature is, of course, the literature of the Viking age, the time before the individual literatures of the countries of Scandinavia. This literature is listed and partly reviewed in the section about the Vikings (see also the menu items for Vikings above).
The Scandinavians have traditionally been book reading peoples, and still are. Thus they have also fostered a number of great authors and have produced important and influential literature. Henrik Ibsen, a Norwegian playwright, was largely responsible for the popularity of modern realistic drama in Europe, with plays like Brand, Peer Gynt, The Wild Duck and A Doll's House. And Nobel prizes for literature have been awarded to Selma Lagerlöf, Verner von Heidenstam, Karl Adolph Gjellerup, Henrik Pontoppidan, Knut Hamsun, Sigrid Undset, Erik Axel Karlfeldt, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Johannes Vilhelm Jensen, Pär Lagerkvist, Halldór Laxness, Nelly Sachs, Eyvind Johnson, and Harry Martinson. See also our llists of Scandinavian winners of national literary awards.
The most important Danish writers in the 18th century were Ludvig Holberg (born in Norway), Hans Adolph Brorson, Johan Herman Wessel, Johannes Ewald, and Jens Baggesen.
Among the most well known writers during the 19th century are names like Hans Christian Andersen, Herman Bang, Jens Peter Jacobsen, Søren Kierkegaard, and Adam Oehlenschläger.
Finland gained its independence in 1917. Much of its literature stems from after its independence. Among the most well known pre.independence Finnish authors are Elias Lönnrot and Aleksis Kivi (who was the first writer to publish in Finnish).
During the twentieth century, famous authors include Frans Eemil Sillanpää, the first Finnish Nobel Prize winner, Väinö Linna (The Unknown Soldier), Mika Waltari, Paavo Haavikko, Eeva-Liisa Manner, Eino Leino, Arto Paasilinna, and Timo K. Mukka.
An important early Swedish-language writer in Finland is Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804—1877) and later on Tove Jansson.
The 19th century saw many great Icelandic writers: Bjarni Thorarensen, Jónas Hallgrímsson, and Jón Thoroddsen who published the first Icelandic novel (1850), and Grímur Thomsen and Matthías Jochumsson. The short-story writer Gestur Pálsson (1852-91), and the Icelandic-Canadian Stephan G. Stephansson (1853-1927) also deserve mentioning.
Influential twentieth century writers include Gunnar Gunnarsson, Halldór Laxness (1902-98), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955, Davíð Stefánsson and Tómas Guðmundsson.
The great names from the 18th century in Norwegian literature are Ludvig Holberg, Christian Tullin , and Johan Wessel.
Following the Norwegian constitution and what Norwegians consider as independence in 1814, a number of strong authors emerged on the literary scene: Henrik Wergeland, Johan Sebastian Welhaven, Peter Asbjørnsen and Bishop Jorgen Moe (Norwegian folk tales). And then, in the late 19th century, the great four: Henrik Ibsen, Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (who later received the Nobel prize in literature), Alexander Kielland, and Jonas Lie, but also Camilla Collett, Amalie Skram, Arne Garborg and Aasmund Vinje, as well as the bohemians, Hans Jaeger and Christian Krogh, and also Kristian Elster. Also, an emigration literature emerged, with, among others, Waldemar Ager, Ole Rølvaag (Rolvaag), H. A. Foss, and Ingeborg Refling Hagen.
During the early twentieth century, the most prominent Norwegian authors were Knut Hamsun and Sigrid Undset, who both received the Nobel prize in literature. However, Johan Falkberget, Gunnar Heiberg, Olaf Bull, Olav Duun, Mikkjel Fønhus, Kristofer Uppdal, Sigbjørn Obstfelder, Arnulf Øverland, Johan Bojer, Johan Nordahl Grieg, Herman Wildenvey, and Hans E. Kinck also deserve mentioning.
Other important Norwegian writers are Agnar Mykle, Cora Sandel, Aksel Sandemose, Johan Borgen, Sigurd Hoel, Tarjei Vesaas, Halldis Moren Vesaas, Jens Bjørneboe, Axel Jensen, Kjartan Fløgstad, Stein Mehren, Lars Saabye Christensen, Kjell Askildsen, Dag Solstad, Herbjørg Wassmo, Jon Fosse, Roy Jacobsen, Bergljot Hobæk Haff, Olav H. Hauge, Rolf Jacobsen, Tor Ulven, Torborg Nedreaas, Jan Kjærstad, Per Petterson and Georg Johannesen.
During the 18th century, prominent names are Carolus Linnaeus, Johan Henrik Kellgren and Carl Michael Bellman.
In the 19th century Erik Gustaf Geijer, Erik Johan Stagnelius, Esaias Tegnér, P.D.A. Atterbom and Carl Jonas Love Almqvist were perhaps the most prominent figures.
In the late 19th and early 20th century, the main name was August Strindberg, but Ola Hansson, Selma Lagerlöf (awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909) and Victoria Benedictsson also attained wider recognition. Verner von Heidenstam should also be mentioned, along with Hjalmar Söderberg, Ivar Lo-Johansson, Moa Martinson and Jan Fridegård.
The Swedish crime literature developed in an independent direction after World War II. Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö produced a series of internationally acclaimed detective novels about the detective Martin Beck. Other writers followed: Henning Mankell, Liza Marklund, Håkan Nesser, Åsa Larsson, Arne Dahl, Leif GW Persson, and Åke Edwardsson (see our lists of prize winning crime fiction writers in Scandinavia). The most recent is Stieg Larsson. In the spy fiction genre, the most successful writer is Jan Guillou, who has written historical fiction as well.
Masterpieces in Scandinavian literature
On the following pages we have collected some masterpieces from Scandinavian literature, sorted into time periods (by the date of birth of the authors). See also the lists of winners of Scandinavian literary awards and Scandinavian crime fiction awards.
Please inform us about it if important books are missing from our lists!