THE RELEVANT QUEER: Novelist, Journalist & Director Herman Bang, Born April 20, 1867

Herman Bang, 1885. Photo: Gösta Florman

“Happiness is in the end our will.”

TRQ: Herman Bang, Born April 20, 1867

Novelist, journalist and director Herman Bang, best known for his impressionistic and Modern Breakthrough work, was born in Asserballe Prästegård on Als, the Danish island. In 1875 he enrolled at the Sorø Academy to study political science, but later refocused on theatre and literature.

In 1880, five years after enrolling at Sorø, Bang wrote his debut novel Haabløse
(Families Without Hope), which was banned by the Danish government as obscene for its story of a young man’s involvement with an older woman. Following the banning of his novel, Bang achieved a level of notoriety for breaching sexual norms.

Over the next few years, Bang would write some of his most well-received work, including “Fædra” (1883) and “Tine” (“Tina”, 1889). In 1885, he moved in with actor Max Eisfeld in Prague. They lived together for a year. Unsurprising given the time, Bang faced ridicule for his own sexuality, while garnering praise as one of impressionism’s most important writers. This led him to relocate to Paris, where he began producing theatrical productions.

In March 1893, Bang wrote of his homosexuality:

“If you knew what it means to drag this curse through life. One feels sorry for the blind, the hunchbacked, the lepers, the one-eyed, and one opens the hospital doors to them. But we, who from birth are burdened with this disease-for that is what it is, even though you do not want to believe that — for them, one opens the prisons.”

Increasingly, Bang sought redress through his work with themes of pain, melancholy and social convention in rich, visual language that maintained a sense of ironic distance. Hischaracters in “Tine,” Ludvigsbakke (1896) and “By the Way” come to life and evoke compassion as they live out their “quiet existences” of pain, unfulfilled passion, andemotional betrayal. In Englen Michael (The Angel Michael, 1902), Bang writes one ofDanish literature’s most passionate love stories, based on the life of Auguste Rodin, but entirely without sexual description.

Bang as a journalist wrote of the social world for several publications from the perspective of the outsider homosexual. From 1879 to 1883, he wrote about the complexities of Copenhagen life in “Alternating Themes” for the National Journal. Bang also wrote articles for Illustrated Tidende, and an obituary for actor Josef Kainz, who appears in Bang’s later work.

Bang was known for travelling extensively throughout Europe, but it was in Ogden, Utah while on a lecture tour that he suddenly died on January 29, 1912. Four years later, his novelEnglen Michael was adapted for the first time into the film The Wings (1916). Only eight years later Englen Michael was again adapted into a film, with Michael (1924).

Herman Bang circa 1880s. Photo: Harald Paetz
Herman Bang, 1885. Photo: Gösta Florman



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PRA Book

Irish Times

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Denstore Danske

NY Public Library

Bjørby, Pål. “THE PRISON HOUSE OF SEXUALITY: HOMOSEXUALITY IN HERMAN BANG SCHOLARSHIP.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 58, no. 3, 1986, pp. 223–255. JSTOR, Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

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