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Summary of the PhD project Atmospheres and moods of the sentimental journey. 12 Sept 2006 by Lars Bo Jensen, MA, PhD Fellow. Tel. +45 6550 2179. lbj@litcul.sdu.dk.


The Danish title of my PhD. project is Stemninger på rejse, which can be rendered fairly straightforwardly in German as Stimmungen auf der Reise, but is only with difficulty translated into English. I will accordingly refer to Stimmungen throughout this summary, as neither mood nor atmosphere quite covers the meaning of stemninger. The project focuses on Stimmungen in the category of travelogues classified as 'sentimental journeys'. I have selected this genre partly because of the special qualities of particular works, but also prompted by the approximate historical congruence of 1) the initiation of the subgenre by Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, 1768, 2) the extension of the meaning of Stimmung into the domains of the human soul, and 3) the beginning of the empfindsame period of German literature.

Furthermore, the genre seems to have kept developing in accordance with changes in the concept of Stimmung. That may of course apply to all genres, but I suggest that sentimental journeys were also influenced by Stimmungen from domains other than aesthetics, poetics and philosophy, namely developing modernity as represented by the city. This would imply that eighteenth- and nineteenth-century concepts of Stimmung based on notions of the soul's congruence with nature should be supplemented with modern concepts based on the idea of the city's influence on the psyche. This "city thesis" may explain the modernism peculiar to the genre.

The textual basis for these explorations comprises Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, (probably also) Goethe's Harzreise im Winter, 1777/1789, Jens Baggesen's Labyrinten, 1792-93, Heinrich Heine's Harzreise, 1826, Hans Christian Andersen's five travel books (1831-1868), and, as part of an epilogue on 'post sentimental journeys', a selection of significant Danish travel books from the second half of the 19th century ­– when Stimmung was conceptualised as something individual-psychological (often pathological) by contemporary psychiatry and when the sensibility and sentimentality of late romanticism were replaced by (or turned into) nervousness 1: Sophus Claussen's Antonius i Paris and Valfart, both 1896, Johannes Jørgensen's Rejsebogen, 1895, and Pilgrimsbogen, 1903, and Johannes V. Jensen's Intermezzo, 1899, Den gotiske Renaissance, 1901, and Skovene: Sentimental Rejse, 1904. The German works mentioned above provide an important background, but remain emphatically background in an investigation which centres on Danish travel books and literary history, with Hans Christian Andersen as the core.

In the earlier works among those just specified, from Sterne to Andersen, certain traits of an early modernism are discernible: a particular kind of irony and subjectivity, fragmentary or arabesque compositions and an opposition to the Bildungsroman, which dominated Danish prose at Andersen's time, with its view of life and journeying. The sentimental journeys 'fail' to provide rounded compositions and to describe meaningful and rounded lives and (life) journeys. The questions of narration and genre are more or less explicitly reflected, and the questions are both related to truth (is the narrator trustworthy?) and perception: what is reality, what is a fact, and what is relevant, when we (narrator and readers) are all different individuals, who would experience the same things differently? And if there is a truth about a journey and about certain locations, how can it be told? Last, but not least, how does one entertain the readers with yet another travelogue of e.g. Italy? The answers to these questions are conceived of in the terms of Stimmungen or closely related concepts and metaphors. I intend to investigate the meaning of Stimmungen in my selection of sentimental journeys and to explore which particular expressions and metaphors are employed. The travel books' discourse on Stimmungen will also be compared with earlier, contemporary and later discourses of pietism, aesthetics, philosophy and, to a lesser degree, psychology.

The modernism of the sentimental journeys is interesting, because it seems to be of a kind different from other contemporary literary modernisms (I focus almost solely on Danish literature), and because it inaugurates a modernism which did not make itself felt in other genres until much later. In Andersen, we find Stimmungen and motifs very similar to Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal and Le Spleen de Paris, e.g. in Billedbog uden Billeder, 1839-47, and the tale 'Dryaden', 1868. An article on this by Heinrich Detering, 'Die Blümchen des Bösen', forthcoming in Skandinavistik (Kiel), characterizes these Stimmungen as Angst-Lust and of course ennui. They are present – modern, but also founded in romantic aesthetics and ethics – in Andersen: a disgust with the city and a longing for nature. This Stimmung is a sort of romantic melancholy, arising from the godlessness and (paradoxical) loneliness of the city and the absence of nature and love.

But Andersen was also, at other times, in other passages and works, e.g. I Spanien, 1863, a light-hearted traveller, providing images of cities which are similar to certain texts of Walt Whitman, and which depict a bright, hedonistic side of modernity and the city: the narrator, in these instances, does not long for love, eternity, spirit and nature, but enjoys the anonymity and the throng of the city.

The journeys went through cities, and during the period covered these cities became modern. It is my thesis that the significant changes in the cities themselves may have influenced the Stimmungen of the sentimental journeys – and that this influence has been stronger within the travel-genres. Urban life-spaces and their Stimmungen have been the subject of sociological studies from Georg Simmel to Michel Maffesoli which are part of the theoretical basis of this project.

In summary: original (appr. 1760-1800) and modern (late-nineteenth and twentieth- century) concepts of Stimmungen – which have different locational focuses in relation to the analyses of Stimmungen, respectively nature/cosmos and city – are to be the analytical basis for studies of sentimental journeys from 1768 to 1904. The dissertation has yet to be written.

1) Anxiety might seem more appropriate, but nervousness connotes the contemporary psychology and pathology behind this concept. The term nerve is important here.
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