This study illuminates Scandinavian literature’s engagement with the fin de siècle as a momentous temporal threshold, when the widespread feeling of being poised on the brink of a distinctly modern age while at the same time witnessing the demise of the old world produced excitement as well as anxiety, a sense of loss and nostalgia. The dissertation explores how three male authors of the Scandinavian canon – Ola Hansson, August Strindberg and Knut Hamsun – depict the ambivalent experience of being torn between nostalgia and a heady sense of departure. All three authors spent time on extended journeys abroad or went into self-imposed exile. The study shows how the experiences of travel and dislocation play a crucial part in their involvement with the sense of transition in time, and how the journey functions as a figure of loss as well as of liberation.

By focusing on male authors and their male literary characters, this dissertation exposes how becoming “modern,” a process that entails the experience of change and loss, comes to be framed as a uniquely male privilege. In the same vein, it highlights how fin-de-siècle nostalgia functions as a masculine structure of emotion. The study thus sheds light on dominant practices of interweaving notions of gender and time that still today influence how we perceive masculinity and femininity in relation to the past and the present. This study also shows how nostalgia’s search for authenticity – in addition to having problematic implications for conceptions of gender identity – can both inform and be appropriated by other reactionary and ideologically questionable movements.

Importantly also, this dissertation argues that the three authors’ fin de-siècle expressions reveal the potential for nostalgia to play a positive role, as a creative, productive and even radical force. Serving as an impetus to critique the values associated with progress as well as the link between masculinity and modernity, nostalgia opens up the potential for grief, regret and longing to become subversive. In all the three authorships, nostalgic yearning fosters an impulse to search for new forms of literary expression – forms that bring each author towards modernism. In sum, the readings bring to light new perspectives on how Scandinavian fin-de-siècle literature that centred on the feelings of loss, nostalgia and the dislocation of identity and experience prefigured the key concerns of 20th century modernity and modernist literature.