Johannes V. Jensen Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Johannes V. Jensen (YEHN-sehn) wrote a large number of essays dealing with evolutionary, anthropological, and historical topics. He also was a master of the shorter prose form, primarily seen in his series of Himmerland stories and myths. The stories are principally studies of characters from the Danish countryside, rendered with humor and irony but also permeated with a tragic view of life as meaningless, whereas the myths—embodying the core concept of Jensen’s aesthetics—are lyric and symbolic sketches of humankind, nature, and animals. Three volumes of exotic stories contain for the most part travel descriptions from the Far East and the United States. In addition to his prose works, Jensen was the author of several poetry collections, the first volume of which, Digte (1906, 1917, 1921), established him as a pioneer in modern Danish poetry.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Winner of the 1944 Nobel Prize in Literature, Johannes V. Jensen is generally regarded as the most prolific and influential Danish author of the twentieth century. His reputation rests less on the ideological content of his work than on his unique power of observation and stylistic brilliance when describing both tiny details and the vast macrocosmos with a conciseness that, in spite of its scientific precision, does not preclude artistic refinement and poetic expressiveness. With his roots in the self-centered, spiritual world of the 1890’s, Jensen nevertheless began as a fanatic worshiper of progress and materialism, introducing motifs of modern technology into Scandinavian literature.

After decades in which French and German philosophy and literature had been the major foreign sources of inspiration, Jensen advocated the entirely pragmatic and expansive view of life that he found in the Anglo-American world. His knowledge of American culture and society was unique. He was the first to introduce Jack London and Frank Norris in Scandinavia and Ernest Hemingway in Denmark; his translations of Walt Whitman’s poetry are as yet unsurpassed. The two trends of introversion and extroversion manifest themselves in a constant process of tension and interaction, and they merge in the “mythic” aspect of Jensen’s works into a sublime synthesis.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Anderson, Frank Egholm, ed. The Nordic Mind: Current Trends in Scandinavian Literary Criticism. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986. Contains Per Aage Brandt’s essay,“‘Oedipus in Memphis’: Mythic Patterns in Jensen’s Poem,” a valuable study of his literary sensibility. Other articles provide excellent background for assessing Jensen’s work.

Fris, Oluf. “Johannes V. Jensen.” Scandinavica 1 (1962): 114-123. Still a good introduction to Jensen.

Houe, Poul. “Johannes V. Jensen’s Long Journey or Postmodernism Under Way.” Scandinavian Studies 64 (1992): 96-128. A very thorough, challenging article recommended for advanced students. Some grasp of literary theory is necessary to make full use of this article.

Neilsen, Henry, and Keld Neilsen, eds. Neighbouring Nobel: The History of Thirteen Danish Nobel Prizes. Translated by Heidi Flegal. Oakville, Conn.: Aarhus University Press, 2001. In addition to an overview of the Nobel Prize in Scandinavia, the Neilsens included a detailed chapter devoted to Jensen.

Rossel, Sven H. Johannes V. Jensen. Boston: Twayne, 1984. The most comprehensive study of Jensen in English. As in other introductory volumes in Twayne’s World Authors series, Rossel includes a chronology, notes, and an annotated bibliography. The book to use in beginning a serious study of Jensen.

Veisland, Jorgen Steen. “The Absent Father and the Inauguration of Discourse in Johannes V. Jensen’s Kongens fald.” Scandinavian Studies 61 (1989): 55-67. Perhaps a little difficult for the beginning student, but a perceptive account of an important theme in Jensen.