Aage Madelung: elsker hverandre

Aage Madelung was a recognized and acclaimed writer of his time. He was particularly known for Elsker Hverandre (Love One Another) from 1913, a novel which became an international bestseller and caught the attention of Knut Hamsun, among others. Dreyer recommended the novel to his German producer, who had wanted a subject that would be acceptable both for England og Amerika.

Love One Another, Dreyer’s German film adaptation of Aage Madelung’s (1872-1949) Danish novel Elsker Hverandre (1912), received a great deal of attention from the Danish press upon and following its premiere in Copenhagen on 7 February 1922, thanks mainly to Madelung’s novel, about the attempted Russian revolution of 1905, which was an international bestseller. Numerous reviews, newspaper mentions, portrait pieces and interviews note that it had been Dreyer’s own idea to adapt Madelung’s bestseller. In an interview in Politiken on the day after the premiere, Dreyer explains that the idea emerged from his talks with the German film producer Otto Schmidt of the Primusfilm company:
"Otto Schmidt wanted a subject that was a good fit for England and America, and I suggested Madelung’s book. I discussed it with the writer; he had already received a number of offers, but he preferred a Scandinavian director."
Dreyer gave his opinion on the quality of the book in B.T. on the day of the premiere:
"It possesses so much suspense and character description that it is eminently suitable for film. I have heard Russians say that it gives such a true picture of Russian types and conditions that for all intents and purposes it could have been written by a Russian."

A satisfied author

Madelung gave a number of interviews in connection with the film’s premiere, in which he discussed the chaotic political situation in Russia and, more specifically, offered his opinion of Dreyer’s adaptation. In an interview published on the day of the premiere, he stresses that "revisiting" his own novel’s characters was "more than pleasant," because "Dreyer has been fortunate with his treatment." Dagens Nyheder, on 12 February 1922, printed a big, full-page interview with Madelung, headed "Digteren og Filmen" ("The Poet and the Film"), in which he discourses on adapting novels for film in general. About Love One Another, he says,
"One of the things I […] admire most about Carl Th. Dreyer is the brilliant types he has gathered, both for the central characters and, not least, for the staffage."
Madelung is referring to the fact that many of the film’s leads were played by Russian actors who had fled the Communist revolution, while the extras were Russian Jews from Berlin’s Jewish quarter. The bulk of both groups had witnessed or been directly involved in the anti-Jewish pogroms of 1905, which are depicted in the novel and the film. Through such authenticity, Madelung claims, film can be elevated into the truest of art forms. In the final line of the interview, he concludes,
"From dubious beginnings, it [film] has developed in the direction of real and true art, so real and true as Carl Th. Dreyer and the excellent actors who assisted him have made it in the adaptation of 'Elsker Hverandre.'"
The author of the film’s source was satisfied.

It should be mentioned also that Dreyer and Madelung knew each another quite well and in certain periods has seen each other socially. This is apparent from the four existing letters from Dreyer to Madelung (from 1923-1933). Moreover, while Dreyer was developing Love One Another, he was in touch with Madelung’s half-Russian daughter, who wanted to play the lead in the film, though, to Dreyer’s great chagrin, she withdrew at the last moment out of fear of her father’s reaction.

Madelung the 'Brandesian'

Madelung in many ways can be described as a writer who, inspired by the Danish writer and scholar Georg Brandes, a representative of the The Modern Brake Through, opened up issues to discussion, highlighted social and sexual repression, was critical about the institution of the church, and, more than most other contemporary writers, was capable of putting his opinions and analyses into an international perspective. That ability is naturally linked to his biographical background: the son of Danish parents, who were immigrants from Germany and Norway, Madelung grew up in Sweden and spent 17 years in Russia, working as a salesman, reporting as a correspondent for the Berliner Tageblatt on the Eastern Front during World War I and joining the modernist milieu around the literary journal Vesy, to which he contributed texts in Russian, including a review of Herman Bang’s Mikäel. He also spent long periods in various other Central and Eastern European countries, before he finally settled in Denmark in the 1920s with his Russian-Jewish wife.

”Noget af det, jeg (…) beundrer Carl Th. Dreyer mest for, er de glimrende Typer, han har samlet, baade til Hovedfigurerne og ikke mindst til Staffagen”.

- Aage Madelung

Also reinforcing the impression of Madelung as a Brandesian was his youthful enthusiasm for the works of Darwin. Like J.P. Jacobsen, the first distinct Brandesian and Darwinian writer, Madelung was drawn to the natural sciences and studied for a while to become a veterinarian. The Darwinist outlook is quite evident in most of the nature descriptions in his prose works. That the Darwinist vision also coloured his view of humanity is perhaps most apparent in the short story Pogrom from his debut book Jagt paa Dyr og Mennesker ("The Hunt for Animals and Men," 1908). The story contains a description of a conflict between two political groups: "Man, the dangerous animal, had regressed to a primal state, unexpectedly splitting into two hostile species until death" (p. 251).

Finally, in discussing the Brandesian connection, it should also be mentioned that Georg Brandes in 1913 wrote a review of Elsker Hverandre. Though the great freethinker has his reservations about a few improbable plot twists and its sometimes overly pathos-filled tone, he is generally quite enthusiastic about the novel. Its international perspective naturally is particularly pleasing to Brandes, who gained notoriety in 1871 for describing Denmark as a country that, intellectually, was 40 years behind the rest of Europe. Moreover, Brandes praises Madelung for his psychological empathy, even comparing the novel’s female protagonist to Jakobe in Pontoppidan’s Lykke-Per (1898-1904) and characterising Madelung’s portrait of Hanne-Liebe’s brother as a "masterfully formed" "figure of lasting value."

Madelung the mystic

While Madelung is first and foremost a Brandesian – with a few detours into outright socialism – his writing occasionally flirted with the cultivation of the mystical and the occult that occupied some intellectual circles in the first two decades or so of the 20th century. Among the most pregnant Danish examples are Herman Bang’s short-story collection Sælsomme Fortællinger (1907) and Holger-Madsen’s film Himmelskibet (A Trip to Mars, 1918), whose pacifist utopia, courtesy of Sophus Michaëlis’ script, shows traces of Buddhism – for instance, on paradisiacal Mars, it is pointed out that "he who has offended must through self-recognition impose his own punishment" (from Michaëlis’ programme notes for the film; italics mine).

In Madelung, mysticism seems to be an undercurrent running through his writing from the very beginning and, not surprisingly, the Russian mystics held the most appeal to him over the years. The atrocities and meaninglessness of World War I influenced Madelung (as it did so many other writers) above all by turning him into an introverted, soul-searching writer, starting in 1918 with his Zirkus Mensch, a science-fiction novel that thematically has a lot in common with Himmelskibet from the same year. His radical, leftwing ideals are toned down, though they still remain to some extent, as the articles and interviews relating to Dreyer’s adaptation testify. An interview in Hver 8. Dag proves he is aware of the problematic aspects of the new communist regime in Russia, though he ultimately concludes that "for the time being this is the only possible form of government in Russia, as long as no majority exists in or outside Russia with the necessary means of power to carry through a different arrangement." In Elsker Hverandre, the mystical element is represented by Salamandrow, a martyred theologian and mystic, whose powers include the ability to foresee the future by holding someone’s hand. Dreyer, however, excised this character from his adaptation.

An important writer in his day

Finally, it is worth mentioning that Madelung for most of his life was considered a trendsetting writer in critical circles. The first edition of Danske Digtere i det 20. Århundrede ("Danish Poets in the 20th Century") included him in its "New Collection," a 1955 volume encompassing all the writers who, in a manner of speaking, were second tier. In the volume, Aksel Heltoft characterises Madelung’s literary trajectory as one that "ranged from considerable favour with critics and the public in the first decades of the century to semi-obscurity upon his death in 1949" (p. 27). Two undated letters from the literary critic Valdemar Vedel to Madelung exist. In 1922, when Madelung applied for a cinema licence, the professor of literature Vilhelm Andersen wrote a letter of recommendation, praising Madelung for possessing "an […] excellent and singular artistic ability." A letter from Knut Hamsun also exists, in which the Norwegian writer praises Madelung’s books to the skies, especially Elsker Hverandre.

By Morten Egholm | 27. May