My paper will address some empirical observations of the significance of urban contacts and network-building for literary new-comers in Copenhagen apr. 1750-1800. This was a period characterized by changes in the public view of the writer, who was gradually seen more and more as an autonomous professional artist instead of a producer working within highly normative ideals and regulations. The period also saw great changes within the literary system itself, as – rather belatedly compared to the main cultural centres of Europe – new institutions like the Royal Theatre and The Society for the Improvement of the Fine Arts were established with support from the royal treasury in an effort to boost the kingdoms prestige at home and abroad. Further the period saw the establishment of an influential literary criticism as comparatively late as in the 1760’s. In 1750 Copenhagen was by far the most important economic, political, administrative and cultural centre in the kingdom of Denmark-Norway and after the establishment of the Royal Theatre in 1746 it also became the place to be for a young, prospective writer. Until around 1770-75 having a play staged in the Theatre or alternately having a work printed in the publications of the Society of Fine Arts, were about the only way to get recognition and reputation as a writer, leaving these institutions with heavy normative and disciplinary powers in the education of prospective authors. Most new authors initially applied to the norms of the institutions, but as time progressed many of them despaired in their attempt to match normative pressure and individual creativity, and some of them even succeeded in convincing the civil servants dominating the boards of the institutions that things had to chance. In this struggle for power within the literary field of the time (to use an expression coined by Pierre Bourdieu) the city as a space ideal for self-expression, for networking and caricature played a major role in the writers attempt to liberate themselves from what they perceived as the most ugly features of institutional control. Still most writers, even while pursuing strategies that could offer them some freedom from institutional domination, sought the reputation and status, that only institutional or elite recognition could confer upon them and thus had to position themselves carefully in their attitude to the market and city life in general. Drawing on a theoretical framework borrowed from the sociologist Norbert Elias I will use three case-studies of the writers Hans Bull, Johannes Ewald and Christen Pram to illustrate the complex reality faced by writers in an 18th century capital of Northern Europe and the width of trajectories followed in dealing with it. While the growing literary market offered an outlet for some elsewhere repressed poetical tendencies, it also signified new limitations and normative pressures to the writers alongside the institutional ones. Thus invoking an ambivalence that have at all times clinged to the image of the city as a place of creativity.
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Cities and Creative Milieus