Although he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1944, the Danish writer Johannes V. Jensen has been little known in the United States—a remarkable oversight in view of the fact that for almost fifty years after his first visit to the United States in 1897, Jensen was a major interpreter of American life and letters for Scandinavian readers. His preoccupation with the United States was only part of a larger interest in and frank acceptance of the modern age in all its nervous variety. Jensen’s probing curiosity and rich imagination ranged over the whole of the modern world and found expression in a large published body of novels, verse, essays, short stories, and travel writing.
Jensen was born in that section of Northern Jutland that is known as Himmerland, a region characterized by large tracts of somber landscapes broken only by a few sparse settlements and occasional farms. His descent from peasant stock and a boyhood spent in play among the burial mounds of Jutland left a distinct mark on Jensen’s writings. It shows up not only in a dry and often mordant humor but also in the fact that, throughout his career, Jensen kept his origins and the distant past that lay behind his people as constant points of reference. He was a prolific writer. In addition to the monumental The Long Journey, he published several other books on a variety of subjects, often with his own interpretations of Darwinism. Few writers have done so much to interpret in creative terms the past of their own races and to point to the interdependence of past, present, and future; and perhaps no writer has caught the intimate charm of Danish nature quite as has Jensen.
The English translation of The Long Journey, the author’s most ambitious work, takes the form of a long cyclic novel of three volumes: Fire and Ice, The Cimbrians, and Christopher Columbus. The epic traces the journey of the people of the North from the forest through the rigors of the Ice Age and out on many journeys in search of the “lost land,” which is represented symbolically by the warm tropical forest of the race’s infancy. The work’s aim is to show the development of humankind from primeval chaos to modern civilization. The narrative...
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