Wessel, Johan Herman

(1746-1785)
   A Norwegian poet and playwright, Wessel was a gifted satirist who, although born in Norway, spent most of his adult life in Copenhagen, where he was the leading figure in a group of Norwegian expatriates known as Det norske Selskab (The Norwegian Society). Eking out a living as a writer and tutor in French and English, he published a weekly paper, Votre Servietur Otiosis (1784-1785), but his reputation rests on his satirical poetry as well as on a parody of French tragedy, Kierlighed uden Strømper (1772; Love without Stockings). Adhering closely to the unities of time, place, and action, Wessel's play exhibits the formal perfection of classicist tragedy, but there is a complete mismatch between the drama's high style and its utterly quotidian reality. The hero lacks a suitable pair of stockings for his wedding and obtains them by theft; the consequences are such that all of the main characters stab themselves to death in the final scene. The comedy of the piece rests not only on the incongruity between action and style, however, for Wessel's superb alexandrines, which are considered the best in both Danish and Norwegian literature, add much to the play's comic tenor.
   Clever versification and a sharp eye for human folly are also hallmarks of Wessel's many poems. "Smeden og Bageren" (The Blacksmith and the Baker), in which one of the two bakers in a village is condemned to death for a murder committed by the village's only blacksmith solely because the village cannot afford to lose its only smith, has given rise to a proverb in Danish and Norwegian, "killing the baker instead of the smith." In "Hundemordet" (The Murder of the Dog) a man kills another man's dog with an ax when attacked by the dog; he defends his action saying that he was justified in using the sharp part of the ax because he was attacked by the dog's sharp teeth rather than by its tail. Wessel's poetry is hardly ever serious, and it almost always tries pretty hard to be humorous.
   See also Theater.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Wessel, Johan Herman — ▪ Danish author born Oct. 6, 1742, Jonsrud, near Vestby, Nor. died Dec. 29, 1785, Copenhagen       Norwegian born Danish writer and wit, known for his epigrams and light verse and for a famous parody of neoclassical tragedy.       From 1761 when… …   Universalium

  • Johan Herman Wessel — (* 6. Oktober 1742 in Vestby, Akershus; † 29. Dezember 1785 in Kopenhagen) war ein norwegischer Dichter und Schriftsteller. Leben Wessel wurde im norwegischen Vestby geboren und wuchs dort auf. Sein …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Johan Herman Wessel — (October 6, 1742 December 29, 1785) was a major name in Norwegian and Danish literature. (Norway Denmark being in union at the time.) Some of his satirical poems are still popular. The traditional restaurant Wesselstuen in Bergen, Norway contains …   Wikipedia

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  • Brun, Johan Nordahl — ▪ Norwegian author born March 21, 1745, Byneset, Norway died July 26, 1816, Bergen       poet, dramatist, bishop, and politician who aroused national consciousness in Norway before it became independent of Denmark.       Brun was an indifferent… …   Universalium

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