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An evening with Bang: part one

Panellists at the live launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

This is the first of two blogs reporting on our recent book launch event for an anthology of writings by Herman Bang: Some Would Call This Living. Part one introduces the anthology using comments from two of the panellists.

Paul Binding on the writer Herman Bang

Herman Bang was a master of very different forms of writing, although there is a thematic unity in his production which binds it all together. On the one hand, he was a superb and respected journalist with an enormous social compass, a sharp observer of social distinctions and dramatic events. In his description of the catastrophic Christiansborg fire of 1884, the immediacy of his account makes the reader feel the heat and hear the flames; in his brief recording of a fatal car accident, ‘In a Flash’, he brings home the terrible finality of violent death.

On the other hand, he also wrote many wonderful short stories and novellas, like Ved vejen (Katinka), often recording the quiet existence of those on the sidelines of life, those whose fates are normally unrecorded. This was the era of the short story, and Bang admired amongst others Maupassant and Chekhov. In a story like ‘Frøken Kaja’ he brings to life the inhabitants of a boarding house with a keen awareness of the tiny distinctions which mark out some of the boarders as being of a slightly higher class than the others.

Bang was in many ways an outsider in Danish literary circles. Although he shared many of the preoccupations of the Modern Breakthrough movement with its emphasis on realistic depictions of contemporary society, he had strained relations with its Danish leaders, Georg and Edvard Brandes – perhaps partly because of his precocious early success as a critic with Realisme og Realister, published when he was only 22. He was also an outsider because of his sexuality, being homosexual during a period when it was regarded with hostility. Despite fleeing abroad, he never achieved a harmonious relationship, perhaps because he was too complicated for anyone to be able to reciprocate fully.

The subversive nature of sexuality is a theme of many of his stories, such as ‘Les Quatre Diables’, which tells of a circus act of high-flying trapeze artists, two men and two women whose harsh early lives have led them to form an intimate bond through their act. But their work and dedication is undermined by desire, as Fritz is seduced by an aristocratic lady who saps his strength in their encounters. Here sexuality is shown to be a threat to a well-regulated society.

Dorrit Willumsen’s novel Bang (also published by Norvik Press) is one of the best ever written about a creative writer, tracing how Herman Bang was hounded across Europe, at one and the same time suffering acutely and deliberately provoking his own tragedy.

Janet Garton on the background to the publication

The story of this anthology goes back to 2018, when I was contacted by a group of Danes going by the mysterious name of De Bangske Morgenmænd (translates roughly as The Bangian Morning Men). I had not heard of them, but it transpired that they are a group of men with a passion for Herman Bang’s works and a desire to promote them, who meet every year on the morning of his birthday to celebrate his achievements. They were aware of how little Bang is known in the English-speaking world, and suggested that Norvik Press might consider publishing some of his short stories and journalism, two genres in which he excelled and which have hardly been translated into English at all. They sent us a quite long and very varied list of short stories, autobiographical pieces, journalism and letters – which is practically identical with the final contents of our volume. We were a little daunted at first by the prospect of such a large publication – a total of 170,000 words to translate – but decided that it would be a really worthwhile undertaking, if we could raise enough funding to cover the substantial costs. It helped a lot that De Bangske Morgenmænd are well connected. We were able to discuss the project in detail when I was in Copenhagen in the autumn of 2019, and as a result we applied to and received funding from Augustinus Fonden and Consul George Jorck og hustru Emma Jorck’s Fond. Professor Poul Houe from the University of Minnesota, who is one of the Morgenmænd, brought us some funding from his university as well as supplying the informative introduction. And the translations were also supported by the ever-reliable Statens Kunstfond. That is how we were able to produce this handsome volume.

Part two will delve into the translators’ experiences while working on this project. Stay tuned!

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Book launch! New date: 4 May 2022 + hybrid option

Event listing for Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

The book launch will now be happening on 04 May 2022, 5:00 pm–6:30 pm, and will now be a hybrid event. You are welcome to attend in-person or join us virtually.

Please sign up to attend in-person or on Zoom here: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/institute-of-advanced-studies/events/2022/may/hybrid-ias-book-launch-some-would-call-living-anthology

Norvik Press is delighted to announce the launch of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of writing by the Danish author and journalist Herman Bang.

Herman Bang (1857–1912) was well known throughout Europe in his lifetime, especially in Germany, but had little impact in the English-speaking world, partly no doubt because of his homosexuality, for which he was hounded across Europe. Some Would Call This Living brings together some of Bang’s most important works in English translation, in an attempt to introduce a broad selection of his short stories and journalism to a new public.

In the texts included in this volume, Bang reveals himself as a sharp-witted observer of the society and manners of his age, mercilessly puncturing hypocrisy and arrogance, while invoking indignant sympathy for the outcasts and failures of a ruthlessly competitive world. His characters long to be happy – they move, restless, through the towns and villages of Europe, battling hardship, isolation and misery. Sometimes connection comes from strange and unexpected sources, offering insight and warmth even in the darkest moments.

While relatively unknown in the Anglosphere, Herman Bang’s work, at once vulnerable and powerful, provides a template from which we might understand our own times, our own lives. Some Would Call This Living showcases the work of this extraordinary writer in brilliant translation from the Danish by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett.

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Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology

Cover of Some Would Call This Living, an anthology of Herman Bang’s writings

Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology brings together a selection of Herman Bang’s writings – short stories, autobiographical pieces, reportage – in English translation from the original Danish.

Readers familiar with the eccentricities of Bang will enjoy having his fiction and non-fiction gems available in one handsome volume; and readers new to Bang are in for a real treat! For the Bang-curious, you can read two extracts from the Anthology below which provide a flavour of his inimitable flair across prose genres:

Short story: Extract from The Last Ballgown
Journalism: Extract from The Fire

Purchase Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology at your favourite bookshop, or here. Translated by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett. Introduction by Poul Houe. Get more Bang for your buck by ordering our Bang Bundle with Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer via our special offer!

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Coming soon (not with a whimper, but a Bang!)

Cover of Some Would Call This Living, our forthcoming collection of Bang’s writings

Herman Bang (1857–1912) was a sharp-witted observer of the society and manners of his age; with an eye for telling details, he could at one moment mercilessly puncture hypocrisy and arrogance, at the next invoke indignant sympathy for the outcasts and failures of a ruthlessly competitive world. In his novels and especially in his short stories he often takes as his protagonist an unremarkable character who might be dismissed by a casual observer as uninteresting: a failed ballet dancer who scrapes a living as a peripatetic dance teacher in outlying villages (‘Irene Holm’), or a lodging-house-keeper’s daughter who toils from dawn to dusk to make ends meet (‘Frøken Caja’). He can also make wicked fun of pretensions and plots, as in ‘The Ravens’, where the family of the aging Frøken Sejer are scheming to have her declared incapable, whilst she is selling off her valuables behind their backs to cheat them of their inheritance. His wide-ranging journalism has many targets, alerting readers to the wretched poverty hidden just a few steps from the thriving city shops or the ineptitude of Europe’s ruling houses – as well as celebrating the innovations of the modern age, such as the automobile or the department store.
Bang was well known throughout Europe in his lifetime, especially in Germany, where his works were translated early. In the English-speaking world he has had little impact, partly no doubt because of his homosexuality, for which he was hounded across Europe. Even now, only a couple of his novels have been translated. This volume is an attempt to remedy this lack by introducing a broad selection of his short stories and journalism to a new public.

Some Would Call This Living: An Anthology. Translated by Janet Garton, Charlotte Barslund and Paul Russell Garrett. Introduction by Poul Houe. Forthcoming February 2022get more Bang for your buck by ordering our Bang Bundle with Bang: A Novel about the Danish Writer via our special offer!