‘The Great Object’: Edmund Gosse and the Pursuit of Celebrity in 1870s Copenhagen

02 Feb 2024 10.30 AM - 12.00 PM Alumni, Current Students, Industry/Academic Partners, Prospective Students, Public
Organised by:
Tamara Wagner

In July 1872, 23-year-old Edmund Gosse set out for Copenhagen. His goal? To meet eminent writers, and to become one himself. His main target? None other than Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark’s most famous son.  Although he later claimed to be on a work trip on behalf of the British Museum, the truth is that Gosse was an unabashed celebrity hunter who charmed his way into the studies of Copenhagen’s literary elite. He was to dine out for decades on his early meetings with Hans Christian Anderson and other Nordic writers. Almost forty years later, Gosse published Two Visits to Denmark, 1872 and 1874 (1911), which was immediately translated into Danish (Gosse 1912).

Gosse was by then one of the best-known writers in English, fresh from the runaway success of his 1907 memoir Father and Son, which remains in print today. Well received at home and abroad, Two Visits secured Gosse a Danish knighthood.

Gosse’s close friend Henry James famously wrote of his ‘genius for error’, while recent scholarship on Father and Son has demonstrated that Gosse often played fast and loose with historical facts. How did Gosse reconstruct his youthful Scandinavian exploits, four decades after they took place? And how accurate was the account he published? What does the story of Gosse’s Danish adventures tell us about the nature of literary celebrity in the nineteenth century?

This presentation of some preliminary research into these questions draws on archival sources in the Brotherton Library’s Special Collections at the University of Leeds, and in the Royal Library of Copenhagen.

Duncan McCargo is Professor of Global Affairs at Nanyang Technological University. Duncan started out as a student of English literature, with a particular interest in the Victorian era. He is a patron of the Bronte Birthplace in Thornton, Bradford. Email [email protected]