Johannes V. Jensen Biography

Biography

The Nobel Prize-winning Danish novelist Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (YEHNT-suhn) left behind him, when he died in 1950, more than sixty volumes of published works. These included poetry, short stories, and essays as well as his many novels and a number of his own plays and a translation into the Danish of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In spite of this large output, his international reputation rests mainly on a single work, the six-volume series The Long Journey, an epic on the beginnings and history of the Teutonic race.

Jensen was significantly influenced by his parents. His mother had a prosaic and practical view of life, but she also possessed a vivid imagination—a double predisposition inherited by her son. His father’s extensive botanical and zoological knowledge (he was a veterinarian) became an important source of information for Jensen’s later studies of nature and encouraged his preoccupation with Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. A third formative element was the family’s deep-rooted feeling for peasant culture. Jensen went to Copenhagen with the intention of studying medicine, but there his introduction to the world of letters led him to leave the university without a degree and to devote himself to travel and writing. In 1897 he came to the United States, where he remained for a time in Chicago. Here, fascinated, he made those observations of Midwest urban culture that eventually served as background for two of his early novels. Before...

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Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen was significantly influenced by his parents. His mother had a prosaic and practical view of life, but she also possessed a vivid imagination—a double predisposition inherited by her son. His father’s extensive botanical and zoological knowledge (he was a veterinarian) became an important source of information for Jensen’s later studies of nature and encouraged his preoccupation with Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution. A third formative element was the family’s deep-rooted feeling for peasant culture.

After a few years in school in Farsø, followed by private tutoring, Jensen entered a cathedral school in Viborg in 1893. There he received his earliest contact with literature, in particular from reading Heinrich Heine, Knut Hamsun, Rudyard Kipling, and the Danish neo-Romantic poet Johannes Jørgensen. Jensen studied medicine at the University of Copenhagen from 1893 to 1898 but then decided to become a professional writer. A short trip to the United States in 1896 was the beginning of Jensen’s extensive travels. These journeys took him five more times to the United States; to Spain in 1898 as a reporter during the Spanish-American War; to Germany, France, and England in 1898 and 1899; and to the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900. In 1902 and 1903, Jensen took a long journey around the world; in 1912 and 1913, to the Far East; and in 1925 and 1926, to Egypt and Palestine. Shortly before World War II, Jensen visited the United States for the last time, a trip described in the travelogue Fra fristaterne (1939). During the German occupation of Denmark from 1940 to 1945, Jensen burned his diaries and most correspondence from the previous thirty years, but he continued to write until his death. In 1944, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.