Johannes Vilhelm Jensen
Danish author. Born 1873, died 1950. Brother of Thit Jensen. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1944.
Born the son of a veterinarian in the village of Farsø in rural North Jutland, Denmark, Johannes V. Jensen graduated from the gymnasium in 1893, moving to Copenhagen to study medicine.
He pursued his studies indifferently, until 1898. At the same time, he began to write poems and lurid novels for the magazine Revuen (publ. 1895-1898) under the pseudonym "Ivar Lykke".
In 1896, he achieved a more respectable début, when his novel Danskere, about a young rural student's meeting with the big city Copenhagen, was published. The novel Einar Elkær (1898) continued in this vein, with a protagonist of similar background who gives in to excessive reflection and ends his life dying of a "weakened brain".
With Himmerlandsfolk (1898), Jensen delved into his Jutish background, telling stories about the instinct-ridden rural population of his native region. Over the course of his life, he was to write many stories in this self-defined genre - a key element in his oeuvre.
Another such key element was short stories dealing with the subject of Myth, a genre that he began to develop before 1900, but which did not come into its full flowering until after 1901. His first anthology of mythical tales was Myter og Jagter (1907).
However, the mythical element runs true in what was to be his most significant work, Kongens Fald (1900/1901). Kongens Fald (recently voted the greatest work of Danish literature of the 20th century in two separate readers' polls in the two major Danish newspapers) is a quasi-historical novel, telling of a young man who is witness to the fall from power os King Christian II of Denmark, in the early 16th century.
The years 1900-1901 were an important formative period in Jensen's authorship. During these years, he wrote small prose sketches in the newspaper København, some of which were later published in Digte (1906), and contributed to the critical cultural debate in Denmark.
European thought in the first half of the 20th century was dominated by the idea of racism - and this left its marks on Jensen's writing. In a series of works, he explored what he considered the "victorious" Gothic race and its development since the middle ages. In Den ny Verden (1907) he follows the Gothic trail to America. Similarly, his extensive six-volume work Den lange Rejse (1908-1922) is a Darwinistic exploration of the evolution of mankind from the ice age to Christopher Columbus.
In his personal life, Jensen had married in 1904, settling with his family on Frederiksberg just outside Copenhagen (now within city limits). His concepts of normality and health led him to write, in 1906, a polemic in the newspapers against the well-known homosexual writer Herman Bang. This caused a backlash, turning much of the literary and artistic public against him. While he was working on Den lange Rejse, he also devoted much effort to journalism, something that was to divert much of his creative talent. With essay collections, published in 1915 and 1923, he continued to explore the racist issue. The culmination of this line of thought came with Aandens Stadier (1928), which was a synthesis of his biological, racial, anthropological and physical ideas. When these concepts later in the 1930s acquired taint by association with national socialism, Jensen publicly disassociated himself from them, and their political-ideological abuse.
By the 1930s, Jensen was no longer writing much fiction - with a few noteworthy exceptions. His translations of Snorri Sturlason's Heimskringla (1928), and of the Icelandic sagas (1930-1932), were masterpieces of poetic translation.
His final novels were the grotesque Dr. Renaults Fristelser (1935) and Gudrun (1936), a tribute to everyday womanhood.
Throughout a long life, Johannes V. Jensen created a mask for himself, and maintained it studiously. He wanted to be modern, fit and healthy, and he declared his devotion to modernist, indutrial literature - yet he had deep roots in the soil of Jutland. His joie de vivre sprang from a gripping fear of death, and one may view his evolutionary mythology as a different approach to the religious urge. Aggressive in his writing, this reflected his desire to capture the moment and hand it, intact, to his readers.