Other Literary Forms (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
In addition to writing his own plays, Kjeld Abell translated several others into Danish. Two of those, Columbe (pr. 1951; Mademoiselle Colombe, 1954) and Beckett: Ou, L’Honneur de Dieu (pr., pb. 1959; Beckett: Or, The Honor of God, 1962), were by Jean Anouilh. Others were Robert E. Sherwood’s Idiot’s Delight (pr., pb. 1936), Jean Giraudoux’s Pour Lucrèce (wr. 1944, pr., pb. 1953; Duel of Angels, 1958), and William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (pr. c. 1595-1596). Abell wrote scenarios for ballets, screenplays for motion pictures, and numerous revue sketches.
Abell wrote a children’s book, Paraplyernes oprør (1937; the revolt of the umbrellas), which he also illustrated, several short tales, and a small number of published poems. His most significant nondramatic writings were many essays on the nature of the theater, especially the autobiographical Teaterstrejf i paaskevejr (1948; theater sketches in Easter weather) and two travel books, Fodnoter i støvet (1951; footnotes in the dust) and De tre fra Minikoi (1957; Three from Minikoi, 1960). The latter is a fanciful account of the author’s two trips to China, while the former travel book chronicles his first journey to the Far East in 1950-1951.
Achievements (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Along with the playwright-pastor Kaj Munk, Kjeld Abell was known as one of Denmark’s leading dramatists of the twentieth century. After Munk’s death at the hands of the Nazis in 1944, Abell stood alone as the prime standard-bearer of Danish theater. His career spanned more than a quarter of a century, and his artistic presence was only increased by the fact that he was active in so many creative fields—literature, ballet, film, painting, and journalism. Not even his critics would deny that Abell’s consistent production dominated the middle third of the twentieth century, and no one has emerged to assume his mantle in the subsequent years.
While Abell, like his kindred spirit Hans Christian Andersen, was thoroughly Danish in his style and outlook, he enriched his nation’s culture by incorporating other European impulses into his work. His exposure to Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in Paris and his subsequent work in Copenhagen as assistant to George Balanchine, Diaghilev’s last ballet master, helped bring the Diaghilev style to the Danish stage: a synthesis of several creative forces—music, art, choreography, athleticism—to produce a unified artistic whole. The French presence was also felt in Abell’s indebtedness to the great director Louis Jouvet and the playwright Jean Giraudoux, both of whose work he admired. The works of other Scandinavian playwrights, such as August Strindberg and Nordahl Grieg, are also represented in Abell’s uvre, as are the foreign playwrights whose works he translated...
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Drama, Second Revised Edition)
Hye, Allen E. “Fantasy Plus Involvement Equals Thought: Kjeld Abell’s Conception of Theater.” Scandinavian Studies 63 (Winter, 1991): 30-49. An examination of the Scandinavian playwright’s view of theater.
Lingard, John. “Kjeld Abell.” In Twentieth Century Danish Writers, edited by Marianne Stecher-Hansen. Vol. 214 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: The Gale Group, 1999. A brief biography of Abell plus a listing of major works.
Marker, Frederick J. Kjeld Abell. Boston: Twayne, 1976. A basic but comprehensive study of Abell’s life and works.
Marker, Frederick J., and Lise-Lone Marker. “Playwriting in Transition” and “Three New Voices.” In A History of Scandinavian Theatre. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A look at Abell from the perspective of the history of the theater in Scandinavia.