Henrik Pontoppidan Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Henrik Pontoppidan was born on July 24, 1857, in the Jutland, Denmark, town of Fredericia. His parents were Dines Pontoppidan, a Lutheran clergyman, and Birgitte Christine Marie, née Oxenböll. In 1865, his father became a minister in Randers, where Pontoppidan spent his childhood. He graduated from high school in 1873 and moved to Copenhagen, where he began studying engineering. In 1876, he traveled to the Swiss Alps, and the following year, he completed the first part of his course work at the Polytechnical Institute. In 1879, the same year that his father died, he decided to pursue a career as a writer and gave up further studies.

After having spent the summer of 1880 in military service, Pontoppidan worked as a science teacher until 1882 at two folk high schools north of Copenhagen that were run by his brother, Morten. In 1881, he made his debut with a short story, “Et Endeligt” (an end), which he submitted to the journal Ude og Hjemme, and a collection of short stories, Stækkede Vinger (clipped wings), introducing a major theme in his writings: the futile battle against the influence on human life of heredity and environment. The honorarium for the book made it possible for Pontoppidan at the end of the same year to marry Mette Marie Hansen, a farmer’s daughter from the area. During his marriage, Pontoppidan traveled extensively in Denmark and abroad and wrote a series of shorter works. Some are based partly on his negative experiences of the folk high school as being hypocritical and pseudo-religious as shown in Sandinge Menighed: En Fortælling (1883; Sandinge parish); others expose with crass realism the misery of the rural population as well as the general corruption of the clergy, as in Fra Hytterne: Nye Landsbybilleder (1887; from the cottages). From 1887 to 1889 Pontoppidan worked as a journalist for the influential liberal Danish newspaper Politiken, writing informal and light sketches under the heading Enetaler (soliloquies) and drama reviews, and from 1889 to 1991 for Kjøbenhavns Börstidende, writing various articles, mostly under the pseudonym of “Urbanus” (city dweller). Pontoppidan and his wife began living separately in 1887, and in 1892, they were divorced. The same year, he married Antoinette Caroline Elise, née Kofoed, who belonged to the well-established Copenhagen bourgeoisie. After journeys to Germany and Italy, Pontoppidan settled in the provincial town of Fredensborg north of Copenhagen. After 1910, he lived permanently in Copenhagen.


(The entire section is 1048 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Much of the major writing done in Scandinavia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was in some degree pessimistic, for writers there have been very much aware of the intellectual currents flowing through Europe, chiefly of scientific materialism, which conflicted with the traditional values of a Christian society. Most of the intellectuals accepted the methods of scientific inquiry and were disillusioned with democracy because of the people’s reluctance to accept social change that would bring the social organization into harmony with scientific principles. Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Knut Hamsun are all, to some extent, tragic artists. Henrik Pontoppidan (pawn-TAWP-ee-dahn) also protested against the complacency of his society, for it refused to be honest in facing the new knowledge.

Born in Fredericia, Denmark, on July 24, 1857, Pontoppidan, son of a provincial clergyman, went to Copenhagen to study engineering. At the age of twenty, while engaged in scientific studies, he suddenly realized that he wished only to be a writer. He left college and supported himself by teaching high school. He hated the facile religious sentimentality prevalent in the school, and he disliked the easygoing way of life of the Danish people because it lacked the emotional and intellectual intensity that he respected.

Pontoppidan’s early work, of which The Promised Land is representative, protests against the injustices of peasant...

(The entire section is 435 words.)