Jens Peter Jacobsen
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Jens Peter Jacobsen (7 April 1847 – 30 April 1885) was a Danish novelist, poet, and scientist, in Denmark often just written as "J. P. Jacobsen" and pronounced "I. P. Jacobsen". He began the naturalist movement in Danish literature and was a part of the Modern Breakthrough.
Jacobsen was born in Thisted in Jutland, the eldest of the five children of a prosperous merchant. He went to school in Copenhagen and was a student at the University of Copenhagen in 1868. As a boy, he showed a remarkable talent for science, in particular botany. In 1870, although he was already secretly writing poetry, Jacobsen adopted botany as a profession. He was sent by a scientific body in Copenhagen to report on the flora of the islands of Anholt and Læsø.
Around this time, the discoveries of Charles Darwin began to fascinate him. Realizing that the work of Darwin was not well known in Denmark, he translated The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man into Danish.
When still young, Jacobsen was struck by tuberculosis which eventually ended his life. His illness prompted travels to southern Europe.
Jacobsen's canon consists of two novels, seven short stories, and one posthumous volume of poetry - small, but enough to place him as one of the most influential Danish writers.
The historical novel Fru Marie Grubbe (1876, Eng. transl.: Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century 1917) is the first Danish treatment of a woman as a sexual creature. Based upon the life of an authentic 17th century Danish noblewoman, it charts her downfall from a member of the royal family to the wife of a ferryman, as a result of her desire for an independent and satisfying erotic life. In many ways the books anticipates the themes of D. H. Lawrence.
Jacobsen's second novel Niels Lyhne (1880, English translation 1919) traces the fate of an atheist in a merciless world: his lack of faith is "tested" by tragedies and personal crises until he dies in war, disillusioned but unrepentant.
Jacobsen's short stories are collected in Mogens og andre Noveller (1882, translated as Mogens and Other Tales, 1921, and Mogens and Other Stories, 1994). Among them must be mentioned Mogens (1872 - his official debut), the tale of a young dreamer and his maturing during love, sorrow and new hope of love. Et Skud i Taagen (A Shot in the Fog) is a Poe-inspired tale of the sterility of hatred and revenge. Pesten i Bergamo (The Plague of Bergamo) shows people clinging to religion even when tempted to be "free men". Fru Fønss (1882) is a sad story about a widow's tragic break with her egoistic children when she wants to remarry.
The poems of Jacobsen are more influenced by late romanticism than his prose. Many of them are wistful, dreamy and melancholic but also naturalistic. Most important is the great obscure poem Arabesque to a Hand-drawing by Michel Angelo (about 1875) the idea of which seems to be that art is going to replace immortality as the meaning of life. They significantly inspired the Danish symbolist poetry of the 1890s.
Unlike many of his colleagues Jacobsen did not take much interest in politics, his main interests being science and psychology. He is primarily an artist: his ability to create "paintings" and arabesque-like scenes both in his prose and his poetry (which has sometimes been criticized as "mannered") is one of the secrets of his art. It has been said that his novels are a presentation of various snapshots rather than tales of action.
In spite of his not very extensive oeuvre Jacobsen's international influence has been quite strong. In Germany both his novels and poems were widely read and they are known to have influenced Thomas Mann, as well as the Englishman D. H. Lawrence. Jacobsen's works also greatly inspired Rainer Maria Rilke's prose: in Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, he claims that he always has two books with him - the Bible and the collected works of Jacobsen. Jacobsen also influenced many other authors of the turn of the 20th century, including Henrik Ibsen, Sigmund Freud, Hermann Hesse, Stefan Zweig, and T. E. Lawrence, who all commented on his work.
- J. P. Jacobsen: Mogens (1872)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Fru Marie Grubbe (1876)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Niels Lyhne (1880)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Pesten i Bergamo (1881)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Mogens og andre Noveller (1882)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Digte (1886)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Skitser og Udkast (1886)
- J. P. Jacobsen: Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century. Gloucester, Mass., 1975.
- Jens Peter Jacobsen: Mogens and Other Stories. Seattle, 1994.
- Jens Peter Jacobsen: Niels Lyhne. Seattle, 1990; New York, 2006 (ISBN 0143039814).