Karl Adolph Gjellerup (YEHL-uhr-oop), cowinner of the 1917 Nobel Prize in Literature, was an influential writer and thinker at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. He was born in the vicarage where his father was pastor. After his father’s death, when Karl was only a toddler, he went to live with another male relative, also a pastor. Gjellerup grew up assuming he, too, would become a minister. During his years at the University of Copenhagen, however, he was influenced by the writings of Charles Darwin and the critic Georg Brandes, and he came to question seriously his religious faith. He also discovered at this time a talent and a passion for writing and a fascination with languages, including Greek, Norse, English, and German. His first writings, published under the pseudonym Epigonos, included the novel En Idealist (an idealist) and the treatise on evolution Arvelighed og moral (heredity and morals), and presented a radical and controversial atheistic worldview.
In 1883 Gjellerup took his first extended trip through Europe, studying painting in Rome and meeting other intellectuals in several countries. His writing took a marked turn after this trip. Rather than presenting theological arguments, he devoted his energies to historical and classical themes and to lyric poetry and drama. His tragedy Brynhild is the greatest work of this period, and in acknowledgment of it he was awarded a state...
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