BANG, Herman


Copenhagen: Gyldendalske Boghandel, 1904

8vo, pp. 379. Contemporary threequarter marbled cloth boards, leather ribbed spine and corners, spine and device on front panel tooled in gilt. Original wrappers, unevenly browned, bound in. List of Bang's previous works to rear wrapper. Small owner's label to front pastedown. A beautifully preserved copy in a contemporary binding.

First edition of Denmark's first gay novel, INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR ON HALF-TITLE IN YEAR OF PUBLICATION (in Danish): 'With thanks from your faithful Herman Bang. 6.4.1904. To Albert Jacobsen.' Text in Danish.

The journalist, stage director and novelist Herman Bang (1857-1912) was and remains one of the major figures in Danish letters, and in his lifetime was known throughout Europe.

Like his Norweigian counterpart, Henrik Ibsen, Bang saw art as a vehicle for social change. He was homosexual, and through his female characters played out many of his own sexual sufferings, a censor-defying trick which was also used by Tennessee Williams forty years later. Like Oscar Wilde in England, Bang was known to be gay; like Wilde he was villified for it. Though never prosecuted he was the subject of constant police attention, and was vilified by the gutter press. In 1906, a scandal erupted involving Bang and a rent boy.

One paper was moved to write: 'An unclean puff like Herman Bang must be beaten down, because he is he worst of them all. Everything which is typical of these depravities and crimes we now watch rising from the depths of the swamp like poisonous gas bursting up into the air and the daylight, can be found in Herman Bang. His hoarse voice, his sunken eyes, the slump and mummy-like exhaustion of his body, speak of the progress of vice in his soul and his blood.'

Mikael tells the story of an ageing artist and his obsession with his muse, the much younger Mikael. When Mikael falls in love with a countess who one day comes to sit for the Master, the rift between the two men causes the artist to sicken and die. The story can be read as an examination of the tensions between ordinary life and high artistic ideals, but Bang's known personal history made the subtext of the book glaringly obvious. One contemporary reviewer described the character of the Master as 'an undisguised homosexualist.'

A critic later described Mikael as 'by far the most pronounced portrayal of another kind of love in Danish literature'. In 1924 the great Danish film director Carl Dreyer (Vampyr, The Passion of Joan of Arc) adapted Mikael for the screen, with Walter Slezak in the title role. Dreyer's adaptation follows the book closely, quietly retaining its homoerotic atmosphere.

A lovely copy of a book whose survival rate has badly affected by the scandal it caused when published.

Tax amount
Price / kg: