Towards a New World:

Johannes V. Jensen and Henrik Pontoppidan

1900: Creating a nice symmetry, Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943) pauses midlife in what will be the midst of his 'Stories about Lucky Per'. Having written and released four 'informal pamphlets' – as they were called – about his protagonist, bringing him to the height of happiness, Pontoppidan stops and muses: Hm, what is he to make of this Per? After a two-year break he will begin releasing another four – before rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting) the stories from these pamphlets into a finished, properly bound novel.1

Meanwhile, in another part of town: While Pontoppidan's protagonist is stuck in a pleasant all-time high, atop a sun-flooded mountain in the Alps with his rich mistress, young Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (1873-1950) releases three short historical novels about a modern anti-hero stumbling through life, in the end inevitably falling, obeying 'the law of the fall'. They are independent, yet interconnected. Come October 1901 with the release of the third, they will be collected under the title The Fall of the King.2

2000: Lucky Per and The Fall of the King have in the course of the twentieth century been monumentalized as the most important works of their respective authors' oeuvres, epitomizing The Great Danish Novel rather than, say, genre-bending and feuilleton-like world literature. At the beginning of a new millennium, Jensen's originally ill-received and badly selling novel is voted 'best Danish book of the century' with Pontoppidan's taking second place.3

Yet both novels are very much at odds with genre conventions. Several commentators have drawn attention to the irony here, one of them calling the admission of Jensen's 'in the best sense indelicate and uneducated book' into the canon 'a wonderful scandal'.4 Lucky Per and The Fall of the King are also at odds with their home country. And their two Nobel Prize-winning authors did in fact have a reception outside Denmark in their own time, especially in the German-speaking world. Jensen had at least one book out in Germany almost every year between 1907 and 1929, and a regular flow well into the thirties.5

Pontoppidan and Jensen's success had the general success of Scandinavian naturalism as a prerequisite. Incidentally, Pontoppidan wrote the text for a campaign advertising Denmark to German tourists – Reisebilder aus Dänemark (1890, Travel pictures from Denmark).6 Scandinavia held an interesting double fascination for the German public. On the one hand, the disillusioned Scandinavian naturalism and early modernism mirrored Germany's own struggles against backwards provincialism and towards international modernity. On the other hand, Denmark was a destination for the growing tourist industry and seemed like an unspoiled oasis of natural beauty, far and away from capitalism and the rapid industrialization of Germany. One might compare this ambiguity with the similarly ambivalent fascination with Scandinavia in the wake of Nordic Noir's popularity in England and the United States some hundred years later.

Pontoppidan is undoubtedly one of the greatest chroniclers of his own country. However, the themes and the forms of his work are very much part of more international trends. Working with the irony and the hidden narrators of Gustave Flaubert, and with unreliable narration as in Henry James or Joseph Conrad, Pontoppidan is abreast of the major formal strategies for interpreting the consequences of modernity on offer in European literature.7 Lykke-Per was quickly translated into German as Hans im Glück (1906), alongside many other titles by Pontoppidan.8 Ten years later it turned up in György Lukács' seminal Die Theorie des Romans (1916) as an important part of the history of the European novel, a rather singular masterpiece 'which, of all nineteenth-century novels, comes closest, perhaps, to Flaubert's great achievement'.9 Lukács corresponded with another Pontoppidan reader and commentator about Hans im Glück, Ernst Bloch, who considered the novel 'a work that can be counted among the text books of world literature'.10 Thomas Mann was inspired by Pontoppidan and saluted him on his 70th birthday as a 'full blooded story teller, a critic of life and society of completely European importance'.11

One of the greatest emotional and intellectual challenges around 1900 was the question of religion, in the light of the theory of evolution and other sources of doubt. The writers and artists of Scandinavian naturalism and early modernism renounced religion, but having been brought up with Christianity, they found it hard to find their way in a world that had 'been abandoned by God' – as Lukács would put it. Some reconverted, some found substitutes for the grand Christian narrative in the narrative of evolution and the idea of scientific progress, some replaced god with the self, life, nature, the body, woman or art. Once he had achieved it, Jensen never backed down from his optimistic version of Darwinism, though this was increasingly at odds with contemporary science; Jensen loaded evolution with questions of meaning, not least in the face of death, that science cannot answer. Pontoppidan was more of a pessimist. He knew faith and the church from the inside and was as harshly satirical towards mellow and folksy versions of Christianity as he was sympathetic to more troubled and Kierkegaardian interpretations. They both remained staunch atheists, but perceived modernity as a transitory phase and used literature as a means to point towards a new world, thus inheriting the general narrative bend of nineteenth century worldviews – scientific, philosophical, and religious.

Start spreading the news

Reviewing a much belated English translation of Lucky Per, Frederic Jameson begins:

Once upon a time, when provinces still existed, an ambitious young provincial would now and again attempt to take the capital by storm: Midwesterners arriving in New York; Balzacian youths plotting their onslaught on the metropolis ('a nous deux, maintenant!'); eloquent Irishmen getting a reputation in London; and Scandinavians – Ibsen, Georg Brandes, Strindberg, Munch – descending on Berlin to find a culture missing in the bigoted countryside. So also Henrik Pontoppidan's hero, an unhappy clergyman's son who flees the windswept coasts of Jutland for a capital city which is itself narrow-minded and provincial in comparison with the bustling centres of Europe.

Fredric Jameson, 'Cosmic Neutrality' 201112

The ambitious provincial's quest for success in the capital is one of the most typical motifs of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century novels. In a way, everyone was such a provincial arriving in the bustling metropolis of modernity, having left a traditional lifestyle in small town or rural settings, either in spirit, in the flesh, or both. This is August Strindberg striking the pose, descending on Paris in the 1890s, having left not only narrow-minded Stockholm, but also the more up-beat city of Berlin (not to mention a couple of wives, in Sweden and Austria respectively):

I come from the mountains and the valleys, from down there by the banks of the blue Danube. I have left behind my cottage by the roadside with the as-yet- unharvested grapes, I have left the still-ripening tomatoes and melons, and the roses, which are in bud. For the hundredth time I have strapped on my rucksack and set off to seek work in the great city, the market-place and workshop of embattled minds, Paris!

August Strindberg, 'Sensations Detraquees', 189413

Despite being set in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and based on extensive historical studies, The Fall of the King sets off from the same motif. Just like Lucky Per, Mikkel Thøgersen finds himself in the King's Copenhagen (as the Danish saying goes), far away from the rural conditions in which he grew up and in times of great upheaval concerning science and religion.

The insides of these outwardly ambitious young men, so eager to take the capital and modernity by storm, are divided camps. This, rather than ambition in itself, is obviously what interests both author and reader; Freud was a contemporary of Pontoppidan, Jensen and Strindberg, and his work indicates a great deal about the interests of the period in general. Strindberg's 'I' oscillates between lofty self-assurance that he will come, see and conquer the market-place and workshop of embattled minds, and the frightening 'deranged sensations' that give the essay its name. Per struggles hard to rid himself of his Christian background and be a manly and materialist conqueror, but Christianity and 'his father's shadow' keep catching up. Mikkel is trapped between egomania and complete paralysis of action due to excessive reflection, a consistent conflict in Jensen's early work.

The figure of the provincial arriving in the capital is more than subject matter, conveniently borrowed from historical circumstance. One might say that literature, not least the genre of the novel, found itself in the same position as these ambitious young men: Just as they sought a psychological means of dealing with surrounding modernity, the novel was seeking a formal one. Lukács in Theory of the Novel thought that Pontoppidan's Lucky Per provided one of rather few valid responses to just that challenge.

Glittering prize

Both Johannes Vilhelm Jensen and Henrik Pontoppidan left their parental homes in Jutland for Copenhagen, in order to study medicine and polytechnics, respectively. Neither of them graduated and they both chose the uncertain life of a writer. Rather than engineering the future through science and technology, they wanted to do so through literature. Both authors were inspired by theories of evolution. Lucky Per as well as The Fall of the King contain reflections on the coming community, as it were, as well as the possibility of a new human.

Jameson sees Lucky Per as a highly original version of the novel of the artist. It is also a kind of counterfactual autobiography. Like his creator, Peter Andreas Sidenius leaves the school of polytechnics, not because he wants to interpret modernity in literature like Pontoppidan did, but because he finds the teachers and the teaching too old-fashioned for his engineering ambitions. Per does not work with words; he wants to change the Danish part of the face of the earth by way of an enormous canal project. Pausing in his design work, he looks out of the window, down at 'the raw stuff of Denmark's future, the dead clay that he, like God, dreamed of creating in his own image, breathing into it the life of his emancipated soul'.14

Jensen devoted a lot of his work to combinations of avant la lettre gonzo journalism, poetic vision and popular science. His grand narrative of the Nordic race as ancestors to Columbus, modern America and industrial modernity as such was articulated early; with delightful futurist gusto in the travel articles Den gotiske Rennaissance (1901, The Gothic Renaissance) as well as two novels set in America; with increasing jingoism in numerous collections of essays as well as a series of novels under the title Den lange Rejse (1908-1922) – 'Jensen's six-volume evolutionary bible recounting "the long journey" of mankind'.15 In The Fall of the King, however, we find a somewhat less optimistic story about a new human, a homunculus with an enormous brain created by a demonic scientist. Both the scientist and the creature are executed in flames, the bodily reality of their extremely painful end described with a mix of scientific calm and colourful expressionism over several pages.16

As a very old man, Pontoppidan wrote of himself: 'For a number of years I did my duty as a foot soldier in the human spirit's eternal fight for freedom.'17 As a young man he had indeed been a part of the political and cultural struggle termed 'The Modern Breakthrough' by its leading figure, George Brandes, a specifically Danish and Scandinavian mixture of political liberalism, Darwinism, (cautious) literary naturalism and enlightenment philosophy.

Pontoppidan's first wife was a peasant's daughter, and they lived in the countryside when he debuted in 1881. He was never sentimental about this starting point, and his early prose, mostly in short forms, mercilessly points out the facts of rural life in the second half of the nineteenth century: extreme poverty among farm workers and smallholders concealed by the jovial rhetoric of the highly successful land owning peasants, self-confidently marching towards cultural and political influence. As he gained momentum and scope, writing both small and very large novels, Pontoppidan combined these techniques of social, cultural and political critique with a stronger psychological interest. This is markedly the case with the first two of his so-called Three Great Novels, Det forjættede Land (1891-1895, The Promised Land) and Lucky Per.

The last of the three great novels, De Dødes Rige (1917, The Kingdom of the Dead), in one way abandons the young man's belief in political, scientific and social progress. However, as is the case with earlier writing distancing Pontoppidan from the Modern Breakthrough, this novel of bitter political and psychological disillusion – with an ending that is halfway apocalyptic, halfway pastoral – can at the same time be seen as a scorching critique of the Danes for not being revolutionary enough.

The wording of the 'foot soldier' quote given above might indicate that Pontoppidan was in fact not only thinking about progress in political, scientific and social terms. There is a Hegelian ring to the term 'human spirit', and the influence of German idealism upon nineteenth-century Scandinavia can hardly be overestimated. In reaction to the materialism of The Modern Breakthrough that hit Scandinavia in the 1890s, idealism furnished the raw materials for decadence and symbolism, and in these particular forms might be another source of Pontoppidan's phrasing here.

Judging by the novel Danskere (1896, Danishmen), his debut as a writer of serious literature – and not just of pulp fiction that paid the bills in his early youth – Johannes V. Jensen's move to Copenhagen never quite brought him to the metropolis of his dreams, exactly because it was a city made of dreams:

As the steamer glided closer and closer to Copenhagen, a city built in Buris's dreams sank in ruins; a white shinning city of palaces which stretched its steeples up into the clarity of the day, accommodating a distinctive noble human race.
Buris had not known of this city of dreams before he saw it fade into the mist, withdrawing like a mirage – now that reality faced him naked and grey.

Johannes V. Jensen: Danskere (1896)18

Jensen's next novel also uses the motif of a Hamsun-like, hyper sensitive, ever reflecting provincial arriving in Copenhagen. In fact, the title character of Einar Elkjær (1898), like both Knut Hamsun and Jensen himself, also visits the international capital of modernity to be – New York – but disappointment is certain everywhere he goes. After his early expiry, the autopsy seems to show that Einar had been thinking himself to death. The novel famously ends with the laconic statement: 'The autopsy suggested soft brain.'19

Through his fictional alter ego Buris in Danskere, Jensen links his youthful longings with a general hope for progress just as his elder Pontoppidan had done, but the protagonists of their grand narratives are different: Pontoppidan's somewhat idealistic 'human spirit' versus Jensen's more materialist 'a distinctive noble human race'. Jensen's hypersensitive and unquenchable longing, delivered in the lyrically compressed prose so typical of symbolism's rerun of romanticism, seem to be aligned with an idea of evolution beyond the human as we know it now.

Jensen spent the rest of his life photo-shopping the symbolist selfie that emerges from his early work, even disowning his first two novels. The picture he wanted to leave behind, by way of a large and enormously varied oeuvre, was that of a manly, optimistic and healthy Darwinist, a resolute lover of facts, a journalist, improvising scientist and chronicler of Himmerland in Jutland where he grew up. It was decidedly not that of an effeminate and hyper sensitive artist.

With a few outlying exceptions, reception and scholarship has been divided between two positions ever since. Some see Jensen's life and work as gradually developing a mature relationship with the ever-present and restless longing for an arrival that never takes place. This was the line taken by the Nobel Prize Committee. Others find a modernist pioneer around 1900, a deeply troubled young figure erupting with unprecedented and unrivalled creative energy. And after that? Well, when the devil grows old, he gets himself to a monastery – as the Danish version of an international proverb might be translated with an appropriate ring of Hamlet. Jensen moved 'from sublime nihilism to positivity of a lower order', as one of his commentators has it.20

It is easy to ridicule the fact that the 1917 Nobel Literature Prize was awarded to a writer as unimportant as Karl Gjellerup.21 However, giving the award to Gjellerup, a defector from The Modern Breakthrough turned fervent idealist, made it possible for the committee to honour by proxy the only obvious Danish candidate, the ever scandalous Georg Brandes, who for ideological reasons could not be named himself. The proxy was Henrik Pontoppidan, and the Danish prize of 1917 was thus split – rather than just shared – between a great novelist of materialist bend who had just finished another masterpiece (De Dødes Rige) and an inferior but energetically partisan idealist and Pan-Germanist who had not lived in Denmark for over twenty years.

The 1917 Nobel Literature prize was a set assignment, and the setting stemmed not only from the Nobel statutes demanding for works of 'an idealistic tendency' but also from the realities of the First World War. Giving the prize to a writer from one of the warring nations was out of the question; it had to be a small and neutral one. The Second World War posed comparable problems in terms of both idealism and neutrality. Johannes V. Jensen's insistent materialism had prevented him from receiving the prize in spite of the fact that he was nominated no less than eighteen times. In the forties, however, the Nietzschean brutality of his youthful futurism could be forgiven in the light of the latter day poetic softening of his Darwinism. He received the prize in 1944 – and this was seen as a discreet encouragement to a Denmark occupied by Nazi Germany.

Jensen and Pontoppidan were fundamentally different in almost every way and had very little to do with each other personally. The difference can be seen in a rare moment of overlap. Both men received an honorary doctorate at the University in Lund. The reserved and ageing Pontoppidan accepted the honour but sent his apologies to the awarding ceremony. Jensen, his strained relationship with the academic world and highbrow culture in general notwithstanding, received the laurels at a formal and pompous ritual in 1929.

Stars are stars and they shine so hard

The short story 'Ørneflugt' (1893, 'Eagle's Flight'), is – alongside Lucky Per – the most well-known work by Pontoppidan. It features a satirical and seemingly programmatic rewriting of Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Ugly Duckling' (1843) that has enabled generations of teachers to set up an instructive antithesis between late romanticist idealism and Scandinavian naturalism.

The story is simple: An infant eagle is found by some boys and grows up in the poultry yard of an old parson. The eagle is given the bourgeois name Klaus, he dwells near the pigsty, is lavishly fed with garbage and thrives in the new conditions. Sometimes 'a vague longing' overtakes him, but his wings are 'well clipped', and Klaus' attempts at flying invariably end in a dark corner of the poultry yard. After a couple of years the clipping is neglected and Klaus manages to fly up and away, obeying not only the call of nature in general but also the call of a female eagle. However, the higher spheres are frightening and the physical demands of following the proud female go beyond what the chubby protagonist can muster. He flies home, but alas, a hired man of the farm shoots him, not knowing that what certainly looks like an eagle in fact belongs to the poultry yard. The eagle's flight ends in the dung heap.

Pontoppidan's text mentions Andersen's directly in the opening paragraph and concludes with the effective punchline: 'It avails but little to have come from an eagle's egg, if one is raised in the poultry yard.'22 The story of the domesticated eagle is an exact, materialist and pessimistic reversal of the idealist conception of man in Andersen's original. To that extent this little text manages satirically to orchestrate for a chamber group, as it were, Georg Brandes large scale criticism of a Danish literature stagnating under a reactionary cultural climate.

The paraphrase I have just given does justice to less than half of the short text – and probably also to about half of Andersen's original which, as is so often the case, contains its own ironic and metafictional hints. To an extent, one might say that Pontoppidan worked in continuation of Andersen, rather than in opposition to him.23 The long middle part of 'The Eagle's Flight', framed by the robust reversal of Andersen's fairy tale in beginning and end contains a description of Klaus' ascension. The setting changes from the distinctly Danish parsonage to a high alpine landscape – transposing the register of the text from realism to allegorical symbolism.

At first he is overjoyed, in a way that mimics the homecoming of Andersen's tale, and also of the Bildungsroman more generally: Finding balance between its own identity and its own true element at last, the eagle screams with joy – 'In a flash it knew what it meant to be an eagle.' This, however, is the middle of a late nineteenth-century short story, not the end of a Bildungsroman or a fairy tale. Losing sight of any sign of human culture, Klaus is frightened by 'the empty vastness' around him.

At this point, the she-eagle turns up and invigorates him, and the narrator of the 1899-version intensifies the action by changing to the present tense. She leads him into ever-higher alpine areas of cold and hostile beauty. The air is filled with strange rumbling noises until every sound recedes into great stillness:

They have reached a vast stone desert, a chaos of gigantic blocks tumbled upon each other like the ruins of an overthrown tower of Babel. Suddenly the view before them opens. High above the drifting clouds spreads like a vision the unearthly realm of perpetual snow, unsoiled by swarming life, the home of the eagle and the great stillness. The last rays of day seem to be resting in quiet slumber on the white snow. Behind it rises the dark blue sky covered with calm stars.

Henrik Pontoppidan: 'Ørneflugt' (1899)

This is an unsettling vision of a universe where Earth is not the centre, and human life not a sacred core, but a soiled anomaly in an indifferent and majestic coldness that was there before and will be there after the babbling and 'swarming life' of humans. The sun is setting, which endows the scenery with a discretely apocalyptic feel.

'Eagle's Flight' is a naturalist frame around a symbolist core, around existential questions raised and left unanswered by God's death and the new materialist metaphysics. The text even suggests that what we normally think of as reality is a human construction, a veil drawn over a universe man cannot bear to behold.24 Such a worldview certainly breaks with a long Christian tradition, but the break is by no means absolute. The division of the world in two spheres, a dingy netherworld of human activity and an unearthly realm of eternal beauty, is not exactly new.

It's a man's man's world

'What do men want?' – Anthony Giddens asked in The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, love and Eroticism (1992), and continued:

In one sense the answer has been clear and understood by both sexes from the nineteenth century onwards. Men want status among other men, conferred by material rewards and conjoined to rituals of male solidarity. But the male sex here misread a key trend in the trajectory of development of modernity. For men self-identity was sought after in work, and they failed – we always have to add, by and large – to understand that the reflexive project of self involves an emotional reconstruction of the past in order to project a coherent narrative towards the future. Their unconscious emotional reliance upon women was the mystery whose answer they sought in women themselves; and the quest for selfidentity became concealed within this unacknowledged dependence. What men wanted was something which women had in some part already achieved; it is no wonder that male authors, including the narrator of My Secret Life, became obsessed with the secret that only women could reveal, but which the piling up of amorous conquests wholly failed to disclose.

Anthony Giddens: The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism (1992)25

This quotation points out a vital problem concerning male identity in modern times, not least around 1900. One way of interpreting Lucky Per would be to see it as large-scale demonstration of such a male misreading of modernity.

Peter Andreas Sidenius – the rebel son of provincial parson – tries to make it big in a man's man's world of struggle and competition. His luck as a womanizer works to the same end: Conquering women gives him status (inwards as well as outwards), and one particularly rich conquest provides him with access to the influence and finances he needs for his great engineering project. Jakobe, however, is more than the daughter of a very wealthy Jewish financier. Per does in fact realize that she is both intelligent and passionate, but – as men in general do, according to Giddens – he misreads her, their relationship, and thereby himself and the inner logic of modernity.

Modernity is not only about urbanization, capitalization, atheism and steam engines. The changes in the sphere of intimacy are just as profound as any of these. The new kinds of intimacy, especially the relation between mother and infant in the nuclear family, on the one hand, and the kind of equal relationship between lovers that Giddens terms the pure relationship, on the other, affect the core of subjective identity. For men, however, the 'unacknowledged dependence' on women is repressed, and lives its own life, erupting in womanizing, violence, submission and idealization. The complexity of interpersonal connection is reduced, and the pressure vented in the Madonna-whore complex.

Per's women neatly fall in either category. From the 'black-eyed, dark-haired pauper-girl' who laughs at him 'with her large red half-open mouth' on a wild sleigh ride while the other boys yell in 'reluctant admiration', to Inger Blomberg, the parson's daughter he ends up marrying. In the following passage, Inger is clearly understood as the Madonna type, while Jakobe is stereotyped as the opposite:

It occurred to him, then, that it was more by this chaste composure, rather than by any particular outer traits, that she resembled Fransisca in his eyes. That cool modesty, like the scent of wild roses, had hovered around her form. He could remember how the least allusion to love's mysteries brought the blood to her cheeks, while Jakobe – no, with her, it was otherwise. He couldn't deny that it had, now and then, struck him there was something unsavory in the reckless passion with which she had lovingly devoted herself to him.

Henrik Pontoppidan, Lykke-Per (1918)26

The delusional nature of Per's reasoning is suggested by the clichéd wording – wild roses, the least allusion to love's mysteries, reckless passion – and by the discretely outrageous interpretation of Jakobe at the end.

While still engaged to Jakobe, Per spends several months in a small town in the Alps – financed by his father-in-law to-be – supposedly studying construction work on a huge dam, in reality stuck in thoughts of a more inward and philosophical kind. Reading between the lines of his detached letters, Jakobe understands the scale of his crisis and turns up, self-confidently disregarding the bigoted morals of her time. Though not married, they spend a week together, and this is how it really was for Per (it was after this chapter on the summit of happiness that his author paused and mused in 1900):

For Per, these days really signified a new birth and baptism. His life had suddenly come into a charged richness and beauty he had never dreamt of. He went around in an intoxicated state of revelation, as if he had developed new senses.
What he had demanded of happiness seemed to him indifferent and insignificant to the degree of joy to be found in merely one kiss. Jakobe was transformed for him. He loved her now as a woman who had given him new life, who had widened the boundaries of his world, and whose embrace had exorcised the threatening shadow of death from his path.

Henrik Pontoppidan, Lykke-Per (1918)27

Per's later interpretation of Jakobe and their relationship is obviously in the wrong. She is an erotic being, but also psychologically and intellectually Per's equal, if not superior. Jakobe does not fit into the Madonna-whore complex, but is Pontoppidan's rather successful attempt at creating a third way.28 Jakobe's later fate can be seen as a kind of alternative ending of the novel. Abandoned by Per, and after the death of the child he did not know she was expecting, Jakobe uses her means to create an asylum for the neglected children of the metropolis. As always with Pontoppidan, there is a darker side, too. Even if the tale of her asylum provides an alternative, edifying ending to the novel, the stark Nietzschean bend of Jakobe's thinking can hardly be considered progressive.

By distorting the image of Jakobe, Per also twists his own conception of their relationship. It seems that a modern relationship between them had in fact been possible, a relationship unlike the traditional marriage based on exterior bonds, one grounded solely on the attraction and mutual sympathy between them. In short: Giddens' pure relationship and its plastic sexuality was already a fact for Jakobe and Per – when he for sinister reasons broke it off and ran for the safety of Christianity and a traditional marriage in fertile surroundings far from bustling Copenhagen.


Up to this point, the tale of Lucky Per very much runs like the one about Klaus from 'Eagle's Flight', with rich psychological and historical background added – and an ambiguous and highly original ending coming up. Because of his Christian upbringing in general, and his pastor father's grim piety in particular, happiness is not available for Per, even if he is lucky all the time.29 He is unable to spread his wings and fly with his eagle princess over half the kingdom, his for the taking. He is in the end man enough, though, to realize how clipped he is, how unable to be close to other people. Having lived with Inger for some years, he leaves her and the children, having found a suitable estate owner waiting in the wings for her and the little ones. He then turns around and faces the darkness of his psyche, 'his father's shadow'. Living alone as an inspector of roads in the most desolate part of Jutland he finds peace – and in the end, death.

Is Per a hero, a true eagle after all, maybe even a new human, no longer afraid of the high alpine landscapes of modern existence? In the end he stands his ground as an atheist and realizes the aphorism: know thyself – age-old, but revitalized in post Christian times, as the Death of God releases energy that can be invested elsewhere, in the self. Per leaves behind little notes saying so much: 'without the strong, even bold courage to will oneself in all our divine nakedness, no one reaches full freedom'30 And he is kind. He arranges for his to be ex-wife to lead the happy normal life she wants. He donates his fortune to the asylum Jakobe runs for poor children of the metropolis, in the spirit of a joint endeavour for creating new humans beyond public and private structures as we know them.

Frederic Jameson praises Per's 'Cosmic neutrality' and the novel about him for its original version of melancholia. He clearly distinguishes between this concept and 'older narrative stereotypes': 'We must avoid the temptation of a religious or ascetic interpretation, and the accents either of asceticism or of existential pathos and Pascalian "misery". We must resist the temptation to see Per's final return to Jutland as a withdrawal from the world.'31 What Pontoppidan and his protagonist discovered was the death wish; central to later theories of desire by Freud and Lacan.

Jameson does not mention Lukács, but his conclusion seems to draw on him. Lukács sees Pontoppidan's novel as the only heir to Don Quixote, the epitome of 'abstract idealism' – one of two novelistic reactions to the abandonment of the world by God, the other being 'The romanticism of disillusionment'. Lukács' point is that most of Lucky Per reads like a typical nineteenth-century novel, focused on psychological dynamics and development, but then that the ending reveals a completely different psychology, which overturns the interpretation of the narrative we have just read:

The revealed transcendence of this ending and its evident prestabilised harmony with the soul give an appearance of necessity to all the confusions that preceded it; indeed, seen from the end, the dynamic relationship between the soul and the world is reversed; it looks as though the hero had always remained unchanged, quietly watching the passing events from within himself; as though the entire action consisted merely in removing the veils in which his soul was wrapped. The dynamic nature of psychology is thus shown to be only apparently dynamic, but not until – and this is where Pontoppidan's great mastery lies – it has rendered possible a journey through a really vital and dynamic life-totality by its semblance of movement.

György Lukács' Die Theorie des Romans (1916)32

Jameson, Lukács, Bloch and many other commentators who interpret Per's retreat in positive, existentialist terms are absolutely right, but tend to underestimate the tension in the text itself between their own reading and the one they denounce under terms such as Jameson's 'older narrative stereotypes' or Lukács' 'Romanticism of disillusionment'. Lucky Per is very much about a man who cannot escape the effects of his upbringing, in the poultry yard as it were. His final courage in accepting himself is heroic, but at the same time looks suspiciously like a substitute for religion. The rejection of his own grand project, the women who love him, and desire itself, seems to be an atheist version of the Christian and paternal renunciation of all worldly goods and pleasures. In terms of his love life, it is a reasonable interpretation to see him as a rather special version of a modern man. Per misreads what Giddens termed 'a key trend in the trajectory of development of modernity, first by venturing on a quest for 'status among other men, conferred by material rewards and conjoined to rituals of male solidarity' and then once all this is within reach, by gradually trading it for splendid isolation, celibacy and self-realisation rather than new and better forms of intimacy.

This exchange clarifies the relationship between Per and the protagonist of the fairy tale on which the novel draws. Like Hans in the Grimm brothers' 'Hans im Glück', Per trades things of value for things of less value until he has nothing. Hans is overjoyed at the end, free at last, but what about Per? The novel is as darkly ambiguous here as Hans Christian Andersen's superb revamping of the same fairy tale – Hvad Fatter gjør, det er altid det Rigtige (1861, 'What the Old Man Does is Always Right') – is jubilant and slippery.33

The formal mastery of Lucky Per lies in the way Pontoppidan writes his protagonist through the dominant novelistic forms of the nineteenth century – the Bildungsroman and the novel of disillusion – and then creates an ending that is neither naively edifying nor cheaply nihilistic. But this is achieved at the cost of an aporia between different psychological conceptions of the protagonist and the storyline, each denouncing the other. The novel is a masterpiece in the history of the European novel not because it is perfect, but because it is flawed in a particularly successful way. 34

It is no coincidence that one of Per's written leftovers denounces the essentialist belief in a true self, not by replacing it by another concept of the self, a constructivist one, but by maintaining that he does not know whether we have a core or whether there are 'as many souls in us as there are cards in the game of “Cuckoo'” (541). 'I wonder, I wonder, the note ends inconclusively. And so, one might say, does the novel.


Reviewing the second version of Lucky Per (1905), the hugely influential Professor of Danish Literature, Vilhelm Andersen, comments on the slightly old-fashioned tone of Pontoppidan's prose and compares it to Jensen's: 'Pontoppidan keeps his style as a pastor's wife does the floor of her living room. There is no growth in his prose, it does not sprout after him. When Johannes V Jensen strides through his mother tongue there is always creation in it, his footsteps drip.'35

There is some truth in this, even if is impossible to be as good a story teller as Pontoppidan is without mastery of language. In Pontoppidan, style always serves the epic intentions. His long and detailed descriptions of landscapes, for instance, be they Danish, alpine or even Greenlandish, are invariably carefully embedded in the thematic structure of the text as suggestive descriptions of the protagonist, as is obvious even in a text as short as 'Eagle's Flight'; where they help articulate a biological conception of man. Even if Jensen very much shares this materialist anthropology and often sees his characters as emanations of weather and landscapes, the classicism and moderation of Pontoppidan's storytelling has no parallel in his work, especially early on. He is first and foremost a writer, and the power of his writing – when he is at his best – tears away from generic, intentional, thematic and structural restraints.

The following description of the butchery of a horse – one of many descriptions of physical death in The Fall of the King, the culmination being the 1520 Stockholm bloodbath – has become legend:

It was so cold that the snow crunched loudly underfoot, and fingers tingled as if touched by dripping acid. But through the frozen death of the meadow crept the brook, black and open and incurably alive.
The knacker threw Anders Graa's horse over on its back and began to cut it open. The blood lay in a big brown puddle, melting down into the snow, and the pinkish froth turned quickly to ice. With every stroke of the knife, color welled up out of the steaming carcass, with marvellous shades of blue and read gleaming from the flesh. Shreds were still twitching, jerking, quivering in the frosty air. The severed muscles writhed like worms licked by flames. The long windpipe was laid bare, the back teeth exposed like four rows of mystic characters. A delicate pink membrane appeared, patterned with a myriad of blue veins, like a countryside scored by many rivers and seen from a great height. When the thorax was opened it was like a cave, with great whitish-blue membranes hanging down, brown and black blood coming out of small holes in the veined walls, and yellow fat stretching from top to bottom in elongated, dripping masses. The liver was more vividly brown than any other brown thing in the world. The spleen appeared, blue and dappled like the night and the Milky Way. And there were many other bright colors – entrails of blue and green, bits and pieces that were brick-red and ocher-yellow.
All of the luxuriant, garish colors of the east – the gold of the sands of Egypt, the turquoise of the skies over the Tigris and Euphrates – all the rampant colors of India and the Orient blossomed there in the snow under the knacker's filthy knife.

Johannes V. Jensen: Kongens Fald (1900-1901) 36

This is a provocatively realistic description of the material reality of death, and as such an example of young Jensen's heavy handed anti-idealism. It is embedded in the larger thematic structure of The Fall of the King which is very much a novel about lack of meaning in the face of death's inevitability – and in the absence of any religious frame of interpretation. The intestines look like a countryside and the Milky Way, and their colours are connected with the origins of European culture. The description thus brutally suggests that the western empires, the larger culture of man, and the universe itself are under the law of the fall.

The force of the description, however, lies in the paradoxical life of a death scene. Jensen had learned his trade as a writer of pulp fiction and knew how to play to a modern mass audience's fascination of death and destruction. The scandalous energy of the description is well beyond what is needed for the plot, and strains both the referential and the symbolic meaning. As is suggested by the similarity of the knacker's knife to the writer's pen, the reference of the passage is on closer inspection not only to an external reality and a thematic structure but also to language and the description itself. The phallic knife of destruction is a magic wand and a potent instrument of masculine writerly fertility, breathing life into a spectacle of vivid colours and endless possibilities of meaning, ready to be interpreted in, for instance, psychoanalytical, queer or postcolonial terms. The passage is a materialist prose poem, an allegory for a kind of bad-taste expressionist vitalism, spelling out – in 'back teeth exposed like four rows of mystic characters' – the gospel of the carcass with self-consciously paradoxical elan. Later on, in one of many short mythical interludes, even the grim reaper himself seems to die, screaming 'like a woman in labor.'37

In spite of the fact that The Fall of the King follows the narrative logic that Lukács termed the biographical inner form of the novel – we follow Mikkel through most of his miserable life – it is a string of prose poems rather than a rounded epic. The third-person narrator permanently hovers on the brink of revealing himself as either the lyrical I of poetry or the self-conscious first-person narrator common in eighteenth-century novels by Diderot or Sterne. Apostrophes and the second-person pronoun, unusual in prose narration but almost obligatory in older poetry, are used frequently, especially in the recurring descriptions of death, destruction and the transitory nature of human life, creating a strong tension between high style and vividly materialistic pictures.38

These formal traits of The Fall of the King are connected both to Jensen's productive ambivalence towards fine literature and a general sliding between different text types, registers and author functions at a point in time when the advent of modern mass media had upset traditional distinctions. In Jensen's literary prose, the journalist and the poet are never much separate. And vice versa: Jensen's newspaper work was continually collected and offered as literature in book format. The big ego of the gonzo journalist is, after all, often on the brink of morphing into the both all-encompassing and anonymous I of poetry. It is a telling fact that Jensen's perhaps most famous poem, 'Interference', with its picture of the sleepless and split modern mind, was first published as a newspaper article in 1901 and then revamped as free verse poetry in Digte (1906, Poems). With broken-up lines, an expanded text and a place within that most prestigious of mediums, the book-borne collection of poems, texts like 'Interference' acted as an entrance sign to – and cast the journalist and writer of pulp fiction as a hugely influential pioneer of – literary modernism.

Toback to the fromtime39

Bearing in mind Jensen's ambivalent relationship with the literary field, the explosively creative nature of his writing, his bastardized aesthetics, the idiosyncratic nature of his points of view, his wide-ranging interests and the many different author functions he tried to incarnate, it is no wonder that Jensen had to invent his own genres. No wonder either that what he termed 'myte' (myth) was as successful as it is impossible to define. His own best attempt focusses on the transformation of a situation, an object or a personal story into an epiphanic symbol: 'a leap into a picture'.40 This makes the Jensenian myth more a device or a method than a genre; a device related to the underlying evolutionary interpretation of man. The later Jensen's lavish use of the term makes one commentator's dry definition more accurate: 'anything that can be published as a feature in Politiken.41 In fact, Jensen wrote 449 features for the newspaper Politiken, and almost everything under the sky was to be found there. Baptizing a feature 'myth' and printing it in a book, Jensen transformed it into literature.

This dilution notwithstanding, some of Jensen's most original work is to be found in his collections of myths. 'The Skeleton Man' is a frequently anthologized example. Consisting of two prose pieces brought together in the book Myter og Jagter (1907, Myths and hunts) this myth manages to fashion modern life's irreducible contradictions and modernity's inescapable ugliness into a startling picture. Both pieces are set in the grimmest of industrial sceneries, the German town of Krefeld and London, described with the same kind of deadpan virtuosity Jensen used for bull fights in Spain or beheadings in The Fall of the King. In both cities, the first-person speaker witnesses the same cabaret act, where an abused young woman sings a strange little song, accompanied by a cruel clown – a duet between modern life and eternal death bringing 'healing pain' to the poor and suffering audience. This is a tribute to a bastardized literature, literature unafraid of human suffering, industrial ugliness and crass mass culture, literature able to look the 'interference' of modernity in the eye and hold gaze with the timelessness of myth. One must remember the unforgettable words from The Fall of the King: 'Through the frozen death of the meadow crept the brook, black and open and incurably alive.'

Jensen's most popular work was in another genre he more or less made up: short stories set exclusively in the landscape where he grew up, at Himmerland. These Stories of Himmerland were part of a general interest in folklore, rural life and regional settings all over Europe and in every art form. They secured him a large audience and a seat in 'The Rural Rebellion' where, for the first time, rural life – not least the material reality of poverty and hard manual labour – was described by people who had actually lived such a life rather than by members of the culturally hegemonic bourgeoisie gone radical (such as Pontoppidan, the parson's son).

Jensen's father was, in fact, not a peasant, but a veterinarian. The family lived among people working the land, but led a life different from theirs. Jensen left for Copenhagen, and from there he travelled extensively throughout the world, driven by alternating impulses of outward, restless appetite for the exotic and the modern and, once he was on the road, inward longing for home. Just as one can question whether he ever arrived anywhere, it is doubtful whether he ever returned.

The stories of Himmerland display a highly original processing of these ambiguities. People and landscapes are described with the insider's knowledge but seen from a distance, noticeable in the language and attitude of the narrator. Very often the protagonists are strange outsiders rather that representatives of a class or a milieu. It is easy to understand why the stories and their author were seen as part of the regionalist trend. Jensen took this view himself, and engaged in merciless fights with his sister, the writer Thit Jensen (1876-1957), over the literary patent on Himmerland. However, both the themes and forms of Jensen's stories differ fundamentally from comparable contemporaries. One finds no social indignation in Jensen, and though the stories from Himmerland can be nostalgic, it is a cosmic and even futurist nostalgia, rather than a cliched longing for ways of life eradicated by modernity. Jensen's vitalism and Darwinism made him think of man as an educated animal, and in a way his evolutionary thinking was a narrative and edifying trip back to the future; or rather a step forward to a past where people lived in direct exchange with nature's both brutal and beautiful cycles. The childhood landscape of Himmerland as a literary and mythical construct was where the grand narrative of evolution led. 'The natural sciences applied retroactively' was one of many explanations of his mythical method.42

Read in this way, Jensen's Himmerland is a myth and a utopian chronotope – a conception of time manifested as a place. In its fusion of progressive and reactionary vectors it is very similar to the sequences which concludes Pontoppidan's last great novel, the multiprotagonist narrative De Dødes Rige (1917, The Kingdom of the Dead). In the end, all the threads of the novel's vast tissue of plots come together in a farm collective, where the characters form a secular utopia, a new world beyond the political and technological mirages of modernity. In the last lines, like an inverted story of Cain and Abel, two brothers are reconciled with each other.

Poul is an atheist doctor and the informal leader of the rural asylum, and welcomes his hitherto zealous pastor brother, who seems to be worn out by the less than idealistic intrigues of church politics in the capital: 'Oh, Johannes, you really have come back from the kingdom of the dead!'43 The central motif of the novel is here connected not only to the church but also to the hustle and bustle of Copenhagen. Both the old belief in God and the more modern worship of money and scientific as well as political progress are denounced and bypassed in the mature Pontoppidan's vision of a new world. As was the case with Lucky Per, though, the ending is ambiguous. For what is the reader to make of the flute notes coming out of a hut in the very last line? Is this a metafictional comment on the scene as a pastoral, or background music to a touching (but even so, reactionary) finale?

In the course of the secularization process, nature supplanted God as the ultimate referent throughout the Western world; Jensen's grand evolutionary myth and Pontoppidan's great novels gave form to this both retrograde and forward-looking replacement. Well over 100 years later, we are less preoccupied with the death of God; now it is the successor, nature, which seems to be dying. Not only in the physical sense. Maybe nature as a strongly normative metaphysical concept needs to die – in the same way that God needed to die for Jensen and Pontoppidan: to make way for life and a new world. That is, at least, the claim coming from the dark corners of contemporary eco-criticism, as in Timothy Morton's Ecology without Nature. Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics (2007). It remains to be seen what literary forms will be relevant in this transition. 'The novel is the epic of a world that has been abandoned by God' Lukács stated. What forms could we use in a world abandoned by nature?


  • Ahnlund, Knut, ed. Omkring Lykke-Per. København: Hans Reitzels forlag, 1971.
  • Andersen, Frits. 'Johannes V Jensen'. In Danske digtere i det 20. århundrede, edited by Anne-Marie Mai, 50-71. Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 2002.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian. Lucky Peer, translated by Jean Hersholt. Accessed online 20 March 2016.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian. 'What the Old Man Does is Always Right', translated by Jean Hersholt. Accessed 20 March 2016.
  • Andersen, Vilhelm. 'Lykke-Per' Politiken, 26 December 1905. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Behrendt, Flemming. 'Henrik Pontoppidan' In Danish Writers from the Reformation to Dekadence. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume Three Hundred, 1550-1900, edited by Marianne Stecher-Hansen, 383-395. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 2004.
  • Bloch, Ernst. 'Pontoppidans Roman "Hans im Glück"' In Literarische Aufsätze. Frankfurt aM: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1965. Accessed 20 March 2016.
  • Bøggild, Jakob. 'Pontoppidans "Rewritings" of Andersen' In Hans Christian Andersen. A Poet in Time, edited by Johan de Mylius, Aage Jørgensen, and Viggo Hjørnager Pedersen. Odense: Odense University Press, 1999. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Bredsdorff, Thomas. 'Johannes V. Jensen skrev nedrige nekrologer om de levende'. Politiken, 3 April 2014. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Christensen, Erik C. 'Modernist Self-Management in Johannes V. Jensen's "Myter"' Scandinavian Studies, 70, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 1-25.
  • Elbek, Jørgen. Johannes V. Jensen. Aarhus: Kimære, 1966.
  • Giddens, Anthony. The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies. Oxford: Oxford Polity Press, 1992.
  • Handesten, Lars. Johannes V. Jensen. København: Gyldendal, 2000.
  • Hedegaard, Jan. 'Mann lånte fra Pontoppidan'. Berlingske Tidende. 30 November 2002. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Ingwardsen, Niels and Sven Rossel. 'Johannes V. Jensen'. In A History of Danish Literature, edited by Sven H. Rossel, 301-310. Lincoln and Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 1992.
  • Iversen, Stefan. 'Den manende apostrofe'. In Nuets spejl, edited by Anders Thyrring Andersen, Per Dahl, and Aage Jørgensen, 266-285. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2008.
  • Jameson, Fredric. 'Cosmic Neutrality'. London Review of Books 33, no. 20 (20 October 2011): 17-18. Accessed 19 March 2016 on this site.
  • Jensen, Claus. 'Karl Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (1917). An Odd Couple'. In Neighbouring Nobel. The History of Danish Nobel Prizes, edited by Henry Nielsen and Keld Nielsen, 147-206. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2001.
  • Jensen, Johannes Vilhelm. 'A Wild Incurable Longing …' Selected Stories, Poems and Myths, translated by David W Colbert, edited by Sven Hakon Rossel and Monica Wenusch. Wien: Praesens Verlag, 2012.
  • Jensen, Johannes Vilhelm. Danskere. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1972.
  • Jensen, Johannes Vilhelm. Ejnar Elkjær. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2001.
  • Jensen, Johannes Vilhelm. The Fall of the King, translated by Alan G. Bower. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
  • Jensen, Johannes Vilhelm. 'Myten som Kunstform'. In Interferenser. Copenhagen: Dansklærerforeningen, 1994.
  • Jensen, Niels. 'Danske litteraturpriser. Århundredets bog'. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Jørgensen, Aage. 'Johannes V Jensen (Literature 1944). "… A Good Enough Poet and, nowadays, a Good Enough Human Being…"' In Neighbouring Nobel. The History of Danish Nobel Prizes, edited by Henry Nielsen and Keld Nielsen, 207-243. Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2001.
  • Lebowitz, Naomi. 'The World's Pontoppidan and His "Lykke Per"'. Scandinavian Studies 78, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 43-70.
  • Lukács, Georg. The Theory of the Novel. A Historico-Philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature. Manchester: Merlin Press, 1971.
  • Mann, Thomas. 'Sehr Geerhrter Herr' [Letter from Mann to Politiken, published 24 July 1927] Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Moretti, Franco. Signs Taken for Wonders. London: Verso, 1988.
  • Pontoppidan, Henrik. A Fortunate Man. Translated from Lykke-Per, 1905, by Paul Larkin. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2018. Chapters of the book available here. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Pontoppidan, Henrik. 'Danske Billeder'. 1889. Accessed 19 March 2016.
  • Pontoppidan, Henrik. De dødes rige. Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1986.
  • Pontoppidan, Henrik. 'Eagles Flight'. The American-Scandinavian Review (1929): 556-558. Accessed online 19 March 2016.
  • Pontoppidan, Henrik. Lucky Per, translated by Naomi Lebowitz. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
  • Præstgaard, Lise. 'The Advent of the Natural Woman'. In The Spirit of Vitalism. Health, Beauty and Strength in Danish Art, 1890-1940, edited by Gertrud Hvidbjerg-Hansen and Gertrud Olsner, 198-217. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2008.
  • Rosendahl Thomsen, Mads. The New Human in Literature. Posthuman Visions of Changes in Body, Mind and Society after 1900. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.
  • Rossel, Sven Hakon. Johannes V. Jensen. Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1984.
  • Strindberg, August. 'Deranged Sensations'. In August Strindberg. Selected Essays, translated and edited by Michael Robinson, 122-134. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
  • Vallgårda, Karen. 'Continual Conversions: Narratives by Henrik Pontoppidan and Johannes Jørgensen'. Scandinavian Studies 78, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 303-332.
  • Weissberg, Liliane. 'Utopian Visions: Bloch, Lukács, Pontoppidan'. The German Quarterly 67, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 197-210.
  • Wenusch, Monica. 'Johannes V Jensen og Tyskland. Oversættelse og reception, flere brikker til puslespillet'. In På tværs af grænser. Johannes V. Jensen i europæisk og genremæssigt perspektiv, edited by Anders Thyrring Andersen and Per Dahl og Aage Jørgensen, 35-68. Amsterdam: Scandinavisch instituut, 2011.
  • Wittendorff, Thomas. 'Selvforholdet som erstatning for gudsforholdet. Lykke-Per og Nietzsche'. Accessed 19 March 2016.
[1] Flemming Behrendt, 'Henrik Pontoppidan', in Danish Writers from the Reformation to Dekadence, 1550-1900, ed. Marianne Stecher Hansen is a good portrait littéraire of both man and work, complete with a list of publications (Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume Three Hundred. Detroit, MI: Thomson Gale, 2004, 383-395). Apart from the 2010 translation of Lykke-Per, Pontoppidan is not easy to come by in English. The indispensable website has an enormous amount of work by and about Pontoppidan in Danish – and a small English version with some articles on Pontoppidan as well as five shorts texts by Pontoppidan. tilbage
[2] Overview in Niels Ingwardsen and Sven Rossel, 'Johannes V. Jensen', in A History of Danish Literature, ed. Sven H. Rossel (Lincoln and Nebraska: The University of Nebraska Press, 1992), 301310. Johannes V. Jensen, A Wild Incurable Longing...' Selected Stories, Poems and Myths contains a selection of Jensen's poems and short prose work in English translation (Wien: Praesens Verlag, 2012). hosts a large body of Jensen's work as well as timelines and other tools for readers and scholars – all in Danish. tilbage
[3] In 1999 both Politiken and Berlingske Tidende asked their readers to elect 'The best Danish book of the century'. The Fall of the King was ranked number one on both lists. Lucky Per was number two on Politiken's list (published 13 May 1999). In Berlingske Tidende (24 April 1999), Syv fantastiske Fortællinger – Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen's own translation of Seven Gothic Tales – came in second (third in Politiken). Pontoppidan's De Dødes Rige (The Kingdom of the Dead) was number eight here. The lists can here. tilbage
[4] Frits Andersen, 'Johannes V. Jensen', in Danske digtere i det 20. arhundrede, ed. Anne-Marie Mai (Copenhagen: Gads forlag, 2002), 55. Cf. Lars Handesten, Johannes V. Jensen (København: Gyldendal, 2000), 127ff. If no translator is indicated, translations from Danish are mine. tilbage
[5] Monica Wenusch, 'Johannes V. Jensen og Tyskland. Oversættelse og reception, flere brikker til puslespillet', in På tværs af grænser. Johannes V Jensen i europæisk og genremæssigt perspektiv, ed. Anders Thyrring Andersen, Per Dahl og Aage Jørgensen (Amsterdam: Scandinavisch Instituut, 2011) tilbage
[6] Henrik Pontoppidan, 'Danske Billeder', available here. This is a copy of Pontoppidan's Danish original. Pontoppidan was a member of Den Danske Turistforening (The Danish Tourist Association), created in 1889, the impulse coming from, among other things, articles by Herman Bang in Politiken. tilbage
[7] Cf. Naomi Lebowitz, 'The World's Pontoppidan and His "Lykke Per", Scandinavian Studies 78, no. 1 (Spring, 2006) tilbage
[8] Jørgen Holmgaard, 'Pontoppidans litterære teknik i en europæisk kontekst', Nordica, 24 (2007), 77-92. tilbage
[9] György Lukács, The Theory of The Novel. A Historico-philosophical Essay on the Forms of Great Epic Literature (Manchester: Merlin Press, 1971), 129. tilbage
[10] Ernst Bloch, 'Pontoppidans Roman "Hans im Glück"', in Literarische Aufsätze (Frankfurt aM: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1965), 84. Quoted in Liliane Weissberg, 'Utopian Visions: Bloch, Lukács, Pontoppidan', The German Quarterly 67, no. 2 (Spring, 1994): 204. Bloch published the piece in Prager Weltbühne in 1937 as premature obituary, having read a mistaken report of Pontoppidan's death in another Czech newspaper. tilbage
[11] Letter from Thomas Mann to Politiken published on Pontoppidan's 70th birthday, 24 July 1927. Quoted from here. Jan Hedegaard: 'Mann lånte fra Pontoppidan' is an interview with the Danish Germanist Børge Kristiansen, who points to various examples of influence between Pontoppidan and Mann. (Berlingske Tidende, 30 November 2002). Quoted from here. tilbage
[12] Fredric Jameson, 'Cosmic Neutrality', London Review of Books 33, no. 20 (20 October 2011): 17-18. Quoted from site. tilbage
[13] August Strindberg, 'Deranged Sensations', in August Strindberg. Selected essays, trans. and ed. Michael Robinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 122. tilbage
[14] Henrik Pontoppidan, Lucky Per, trans. Naomi Lebowitz (New York: Peter Lang, 2010), 89. The interpretation of post-humanism in this passage stems from Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, The New Human in Literature. Posthuman Visions of Changes in Body, Mind and Society after 1900 (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 89-90. tilbage
[15] Aage Jørgensen, 'Johannes V. Jensen (Literature 1944). "… A Good Enough Poet and, nowadays, a Good Enough Human Being…"', in Neighbouring Nobel. The History of Danish Nobel Prizes, ed. Henry Nielsen and Keld Nielsen (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2001), 215. It is well worth noticing that in spite of the racist, imperialist and sexist elements of his version of evolutionary theory, Jensen was an early and clearheaded opponent of Nazi Germany's misuse of Nietzsche and Darwin. Indeed, he saw his life's work as a battle against a Nietzsche-infused 'bad Darwinism'. tilbage
[16] See Thomsen, The New Human in Literature, 49-50. tilbage
[17] Henrik Pontoppidan, Undervejs til mig selv (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1943), 193-194. Translated in Claus Jensen, 'Karl Gjellerup and Henrik Pontoppidan (1917). An Odd Couple', in Neighbouring Nobel, ed. Nielsen and Nielsen, 202. tilbage
[18] Johannes V. Jensen, Danskere (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1972), 28. tilbage
[19] Johannes V. Jensen, Ejnar Elkjær (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2001), 200. tilbage
[20] Jørgen Elbek, Johannes V. Jensen (Aarhus: Kimære, 1966), 35. Translated in Aage Jørgensen, '…A good enough Poet and, nowadays, a good enough Human Being', in Neighbouring Nobel, ed. Henry Nielsen and Keld Nielsen, 213. Sven Hakon Rossel states that Jensen reaches a mythic unification of tensions, 'a sublime synthesis constituting the absolute climax in Jensen's writing'. Johannes V Jensen (Boston, MA: Twayne Publishers, 1984), preface. tilbage
[21] This passage is based on Neighbouring Nobel, 123-243. tilbage
[22] Pontoppidan revised his texts many times. My reading is based on the 1899 version of 'Ørneflugt' available here This and the following quotations are from the English translation of this version published in The American-Scandinavian Review, 1919. Available here. tilbage
[23] Cf. Jakob Bøggild, 'Pontoppidan's "Rewritings" of H.C. Andersen', accessed 19 March 2016 here. tilbage
[24] And yes, Pontoppidan did study Nietzsche as well as Schopenhauer and Kierkegaard, having been introduced to them by, of course, Brandes. See Thomas Wittendorff, 'Selvforholdet som erstatning for gudsforholdet. Lykke-Per og Nietzsche'. See also: Lebowitz 'The World's Pontoppidan and His "Lykke Per"'. tilbage
[25] Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism (Oxford: Oxford Polity Press, 1992), 60. tilbage
[26] Pontoppidan, Lucky Per, 406. tilbage
[27] Ibid., 235-236 tilbage
[28] For a discussion of Pontoppidan's female figures, among many others, in the general context of vitalism, see Lise Præstgaard, 'The Advent of the Natural Woman, in The Spirit of Vitalism. Health, Beauty and Strength in Danish Art, 1890-1940, ed. Gertrud Hvidbjerg-Hansen and Gertrud Olsner (Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2008), 198-217. tilbage
[29] The Danish word 'lykke' (as well as the German 'Glück') contains an ambiguity that English spells out in two different words. 'Lykke' means 'luck' as well as 'happiness'. The English translation by Paul Larkin attempts to retain the ambiguity by introducing a third English concept: 'A Fortunate Man'. tilbage
[30] Pontoppidan, Lucky Per, 542. tilbage
[31] Jameson, 'Cosmic Neutrality'. tilbage
[32] Lukács, The Theory of The Novel, 122. tilbage
[33] Hans Christian Andersen, 'What the Old Man Does is Always Right' tr. Jean Hersholt, accessed 20 March 2016 at this site. In fact, the most obvious connection between Pontoppidan and Andersen is the text from which Pontoppidan takes his title, Andersen's short, fairy-tale-like novel Lykke-Peer (1870) where the young hero dies at the height of happiness. Lucky Peer, tr. Jean Hersholt, accessed 20 March 2016 at this site. Adam Oehlenschlager's comedy Aladdin, eller Den forunderlige Lampe (1805, Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp) resonates in both Andersen and Pontoppidan. Lucky Per and its processing of the motif of 'lykke' is richly embedded in earlier Danish Literary history, just as its influence on subsequent works is enormous. An excellent example of this influence is Martin Andersen Nexø's Pelle Erobreren (1906-1910, Pelle the Conqueror). tilbage
[34] Cf. Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonder (London: Verso, 1988). tilbage
[35] Vilhelm Andersen, 'Lykke-Per', Politiken, 26 December 1905, available here. The somewhat impertinent tone of Andersen's phrasing here was part of a dispute between them – later they became lifelong friends, and Andersen wrote a biographical monograph about Pontoppidan's work as early as 1917. tilbage
[36] Johannes V. Jensen, The Fall of the King, tr. Alan G. Bower (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2012), 35-36. tilbage
[37] Ibid., 81. tilbage
[38] Cf. Stefan Iversen, 'Den manende apostrofe', in I nuets spejl, ed. Anders Thyrring Andersen, Per Dahl, and Aage Jørgensen (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2008). tilbage
[39] My reader will no doubt have observed that my subheadings are based on song lyrics. This hybrid of Danish and English punning on Back to the Future is an album title stemming from the frisky Danish hip-hop outfit Malk de Kojn (2010). tilbage
[40] Johannes V. Jensen, 'Myten som kunstform (The myth as art form)', in Interferenser (Copenhagen: Gyldendal), 123. Erik C. Christensen, 'Modernist Self-Management in Johannes V. Jensen's "Myter" ' discusses the genre problematics of Jensen's myths and relates them to the myth in international modernism, especially in Joyce, Woolf, and Eliot (Scandinavian Studies, 70, no. 1 (Spring 1998): 1-25). tilbage
[41] Thomas Bredsdorff, 'Johannes V. Jensen skrev nedrige nekrologer om de levende', Politiken, 3 April 2014. tilbage
[42] Jensen, 'Myten som kunstform (The myth as art form)', 123-124. tilbage
[43] Henrik Pontoppidan, De dødes rige (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1986), 244. tilbage