1917 Nobel Prize in Literature
Karl Adolph Gjellerup and
Henrik Pontoppidan
Gjellerup "for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals," and Pontoppidan "for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark."
  • 12 October 1917 (announcement)
  • 10 December 1917
LocationStockholm, Sweden
Presented bySwedish Academy
First awarded1901
WebsiteOfficial website
← 1916 · Nobel Prize in Literature · 1918 →

The 1917 Nobel Prize in Literature was equally divided between the Danish authors Karl Adolph Gjellerup (1857–1919) "for his varied and rich poetry, which is inspired by lofty ideals," and Henrik Pontoppidan (1857–1943) "for his authentic descriptions of present-day life in Denmark." It is the second of four occasions when the Nobel Prize in Literature has been shared between two individuals.[1]


Karl Adolph Gjellerup

Main article: Karl Adolph Gjellerup

The son of a parson, Gjellerup studied theology, but after coming under the influence of Darwinism and the ideas of fellow countryman Georg Brandes, he thought of himself as an atheist. Later in life, he turned to religion once more and discovered inspiration for his writing in Buddhism. Gjellerup moved to Dresden in 1923. The subject of Karl Gjellerup's debut book, En idealist shildring af Epigonus ("An Idealist, A Description of Epigonus", 1878), was his personal conversion to atheism. In Minna (1889) and Der Pilger Kamanita ("The Pilgrim Kamanita", 1906), an exotic tale of reincarnation set in India, he displays his interest in Buddhism. Up until around 1900, Gjellerup wrote in Danish. Then, he switched to write exclusively in German, which he believed helped him grow as an artist. Das heiligste Tier ("The Holiest Animal", 1919) was his last work.[2][3]

Henrik Pontoppidan

Main article: Henrik Pontoppidan

Like Gjellerup, Pontoppidan himself is also a son of a clergyman. He partly revolted against his religious environment by studying engineering in Copenhagen in 1873. Becoming a primary school teacher for a short time, he started writing full-time and became a freelance journalist, making his debut in 1881. Most facets of Danish life are covered in his novels and short stories. He wrote his three main works between 1890 and 1920: Det forjættede Land ("The Promised Land", 1891–95), Lykke-Per ("Lucky Per", 1898–1904) – the partially autobiographical story of a self-assured, extraordinarily bright guy, who defies his religious family to become an engineer, free of heritage and cultural context, and De dødes Rige ("The Realm of the Dead", 1912–16). He depicts Denmark in these works during the time of the constitutional conflict between conservatives and liberals, the growth of industrialization, and the emergence of revolutionary groups.[4][5]



In total, the Nobel Committee of the Swedish Academy received 26 nominations for 20 writers such as William Chapman, Arne Garborg, Carl Spitteler (awarded in 1919), Georg Brandes, Juhani Aho, and Àngel Guimerà. Most of the nominees were Scandinavian and six were newly nominated: Ivan Vazov, Otto Ernst, Jeppe Aakjær, Johan Bojer, and Bertel Gripenberg. Two female authors were nominated, the controversial Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and the Italian writer Grazia Deledda (awarded in 1926). The Swedish Academy's permanent secretary Erik Axel Karlfeldt received two nominations.[6]

The authors Joseph Ashby-Sterry, Maksim Bahdanovič, Jane Barlow, Edmund Bishop, Léon Bloy, Oscar Blumenthal, Franz Brentano, Francis Cowley Burnand, William De Morgan, Mathilde-Marie de Peyrebrune, George Diamandy, Joaquín Dicenta, Émile Durkheim, António Feijó, Judith Gautier, Paul Hervieu, Agnes Leonard Hill, Emma Lili'uokalani, Katharine Sarah Macquoid, Titu Maiorescu, Octave Mirbeau, James Hope Moulton, Andrew Murray, José Enrique Rodó, and Mendele Mocher Sforim died without in 1917 without having been nominated for the prize.

Official list of nominees and their nominators for the prize
No. Nominee Country Genre(s) Nominator(s)
1 Jeppe Aakjær (1866–1930)  Denmark novel, short story, drama, poetry, essays, autobiography Christen Collin (1857–1926)
2 Juhani Aho (1861–1921)  Russia
( Finland)
novel, short story Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864–1931)
3 Johan Bojer (1872–1959)  Norway novel, drama Christen Collin (1857–1926)
4 Georg Brandes (1842–1927)  Denmark literary criticism, essays
5 Otokar Březina (1868–1929)  Austria-Hungary
( Czechoslovakia)
poetry, essays Arne Novák (1880–1939)
6 Olaf Bull (1883–1933)  Norway poetry Christen Collin (1857–1926)
7 William Chapman (1850–1917)  Canada poetry, translation rectors of the universities in Ottawa and Montreal
8 Grazia Deledda (1871–1936)  Italy novel, short story, essays
9 Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche (1846–1935)  Germany essays, autobiography Hans Vaihinger (1852–1933)
10 Adolf Frey (1855–1920)   Switzerland biography, history, essays Wilhelm Oechsli (1851–1919)
11 Arne Garborg (1851–1921)  Norway novel, poetry, drama, essays Oluf Kolsrud (1885–1945)
12 Karl Adolph Gjellerup (1857–1919)  Denmark poetry, drama, novel
13 Bertel Gripenberg (1878–1947)  Russia
( Finland)
poetry, drama, essays Harald Hjärne (1848–1922)
14 Ángel Guimerá Jorge (1845–1924)  Spain drama, poetry
15 Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864–1931)  Sweden poetry
  • Ruben G:son Berg (1876–1948)
  • Frits Läffler (1847–1921)
16 Edmond Picard (1836–1924)  Belgium drama, law, essays
  • Adolphe Prins (1845–1919)
  • Ernest Nys (1851–1920)
17 Henrik Pontoppidan (1857–1943)  Denmark novel, short story
18 Otto Ernst Schmidt (1862–1926)  Germany poetry, drama, essays Per Hallström (1866–1960)
19 Carl Spitteler (1845–1924)   Switzerland poetry, essays
20 Ivan Vazov (1850–1921)  Bulgaria novel, poetry, drama, essays Ivan Shishmanov (1862–1928)

Prize decision

In 1916, a shared prize between the Danish authors Jakob Knudsen and Karl Gjellerup had been considered by the Nobel committee but was rejected by the Academy in favour of the Swedish author Verner von Heidenstam.[7] With the death of Knudsen on January 1917, he was replaced by Pontoppidan as the committee paired him with Gjellerup for the 1917 prize.[7]


The prize to Gjellerup and Pontoppidan was heavily criticised. In Denmark, the award to Gjellerup was particularly criticised as he was not writing in Danish but in German.[7]


  1. ^ Facts on the Nobel Prize in Literature nobelprize.org
  2. ^ Karl Gjellerup – Facts nobelprize.org
  3. ^ Karl Adolph Gjellerup brittanica.com
  4. ^ Henrik Pontoppidan – Facts nobelprize.org
  5. ^ Henrik Pontoppidan britannica.com
  6. ^ Nomination archive – 1917 nobelprize.org
  7. ^ a b c Leif Emerek (4 April 2021). "Pontoppidan fik Nobelprisen på afbud" (in Danish). kulturen.nu.