The dualistic tenor of Per Lange’s essays emerged from philosophical views already crystallized at the time of his debut in 1926. His collection of lyrics entitled Kaos og stjoernen (Chaos and the star) alluded to the Nietzschean sentence expressed in Also sprach Zarathustra (1883–85; Thus Spoke Zarathustra): “Man must still have chaos, to give birth to a dancing star.” In both his poetry and his essays, the failure to overcome the chaos coincides with the image of the insatiable, lonesome wanderer. Particularly as an essayist, Lange assumed the voice of the traveler and the skeptic. As a philosophical aesthete and intellectual aristocrat, he gave expression to man’s unrest and the division between the realizations of life and art. His aesthetic program recognized the duality of Apollonian and Dionysian styles of life.
Between Lange’s career as a poet, in which he produced only three collections of lyrics, and his career as an essayist lie more than 20 years. His essay collections span the years from 1953 (Spejlinger [Reflections]) to 1982 (Udvalgte essays [Selected essays]).
Some have recognized him as Denmark’s most accomplished essayist. Part of that recognition can be ascribed to his defining the essay for modern Danish readers. With “Om essayets kunst” (1964; On the art of the essay), he reaffirmed the foundation of the essay and placed its home outside academia. The essay, he wrote, requires a “natural têteà- tête” between author and reader. Essentially, the essay is nothing more than an expression of a personal whim disguised in artistic form. The essayist allows his public to enjoy the same expression.
Lange insisted that the essay is short; via Polonius, he reminded his reader that “brevity is the soul of wit.” The shortness of the essay not only allows the reader a sense of freedom (he does not feel bound to the opinions of the author), but also encourages trust between the essayist and the reader. The essay should appear learned, but, as Lange explained, if there are holes in one’s thinking, the essayist should view the world through those holes. His insistence that the essayist should not appear better versed than his readers was central to his writing. The essayist, according to Lange, “must make his reader his equal and create a sense of trust and he must never raise his voice to the extent that he might be perceived as wanting to convince.”
The distinguishing feature of the modern essay is its ability to let the reader feel that he is alone with the author. In this regard, Lange recalled the English essayist Charles Lamb’s notion of a “conversation with the reader.” The sense of intimacy which emerges through such “conversations” gives way to the personal essay, for which Lange again looked to Lamb for inspiration.
In his essays Lange was not driven by the dictates of tendentious literature. He was, rather, an impressionable but discreet wanderer. The spectrum of his themes was broad; he wrote, on the one hand, on the lives of authors, composers, and artists, and, on the other, on God and death. Stylistically, Lange was indebted to Montaigne’s essays and to La Rochefoucauld’s moral maxims and reflective epigrams. He also drew inspiration from the English models Addison and Steele. In both his personal essays and his portraits Lange was a master of humor and irony.
Son of the literary critic Sven Lange. Born 30 August 1901 in Hørsholm, near Copenhagen. Studied at Copenhagen University, from 1919. Lived in Austria, 1923, and Italy, 1926–27; visited Italy and Greece, 1958. Worked as a reader for Gyldendal publishers for many years. Contributor to Tilskueren (The spectator). Died in 1991.
Essays and Related Prose
Spejlinger: Essays, 1953
Ved musikkens tærskel og andre essays, 1957
Samtale med et oesel, 1961
Om krig og krigsmænd, og andre essays, 1966
Dyrenes maskerade og andre essayer, 1969
Udvalgte essays, 1982
Other writings: three volumes of poetry. Also translated from the French, English, and Swedish.
Dansk Skønlitteroert Forfatterlexikon: 1900–1950, vol. 2, Copenhagen: Grønholt Pedersen, 1960:174–75
Andersen, Harry, “Per Lange og hans essays,” Nordisk Ttidskrift för Vetenskap, Konst och Industri 51 (1975):23–41
Frederiksen, Emil, in Danske digtere i det 20. aarhundrede, vol. 1, edited by Ernst Frandsen and Niels Kaas Johansen, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1951
Nielsen, Hans-Jørgen, “Formernes fastholdelse: Otto Gelsted, Tom Kristensen, Paul al Cour og Per Lange,” in Tilbageblik på 30’erne, vol. 2, edited by Hans Hertel, Copenhagen: Vendelkær, 1967:889–97
Sandersen, Vibeke, Essayet—oprøret og tradition, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1975:33–47
Thomsen, Ejnar, Digteren og Kaldet, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1957
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