Wilhelm Jensen  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Wilhelm Jensen (15 February 1837 - 24 November 1911) was a German writer and poet. Jensen is now chiefly remembered as the author of the novella Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fancy, which attracted the attention of Freud. Freud's analysis of this work (1907) is his longest interpretation of a literary work. It is available in English as Delusion and Dream in Wilhelm Jensen´s "Gradiva" (Reprint 1993).


Wilhelm Jensen was born at Heiligenhafen in Holstein, the natural son of Swenn Hans Jensen (1795-1855), the mayor of the city of Kiel, later administrator (Landvogt)of the German/Danish island of Sylt, who came of old patrician Frisian stock. Jensen was the son-in-law of the journalist and writer Johann August Moritz Bruehl (1819-1877), the father-in-law of the historian and editor Eduard Heyck, and the grandfather of the writer and poet Hans Heyck. After attending the classical schools at Kiel and Lübeck, Jensen studied medicine at the universities of Kiel, Würzburg and Breslau. He, however, abandoned the medical profession for that of letters, and after engaging for some years in individual private study proceeded to Munich, where he associated with men of letters. After a residence in Stuttgart (1865-1869), where for a short time he conducted the Schwabische Volks-Zeitung and became the life-long friend of the writer Wilhelm Raabe, he became editor in Flensburg of the Norddeutsche Zeitung. In 1872 he again returned to Kiel, lived from 1876 to 1888 in Freiburg im Breisgau, and from 1888 until his death was a resident of Munich and St. Salvator near Prien on Lake Chiemsee.

Literary works

Jensen was perhaps the most fertile of German writers of fiction of his era, more than one hundred and fifty works having proceeded from his pen; but only comparatively few of them have caught the public taste; such as the novels, Karin von Schweden (Berlin, 1878); Die braune Erica (Berlin, 1868); and the tale, Die Pfeifer von Dusenbach, Eine Geschichte aus dem Elsass (1884). Among others may be mentioned: Barthenia (Berlin, 1877); Götz und Gisela (Berlin, 1886); Heimkunft (Dresden, 1894); Aus See und Sand (Dresden, 1897); Luv und Lee (Berlin, 1897); and the narratives, Aus den Tagen der Hansa (Leipzig, 1885); Aus stiller Zeit (Berlin, 1881-1885); and Heimat. Jensen also published some tragedies, among which Dido (Berlin, 1870) and Der Kampf fürs Reich (Freiburg im Br., 1884) may be mentioned. Jensen was also a gifted poet. A collection of his poetry is contained in "Vom Morgen zum Abend" (1897).

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