Johannes V. Jensen
BornJohannes Vilhelm Jensen
(1873-01-20)20 January 1873
Farsø, Jutland, Denmark
Died25 November 1950(1950-11-25) (aged 77)
Østerbro, Copenhagen, Denmark
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Literature

Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (Danish pronunciation: [joˈhænˀəs ˈvilhelˀm ˈjensn̩];[1] 20 January 1873 – 25 November 1950) was a Danish author, known as one of the great Danish writers of the first half of 20th century. He was awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style".[2] One of his sisters, Thit Jensen, was also a well-known writer and a very vocal, and occasionally controversial, early feminist.

Early years

He was born in Farsø, a village in North Jutland, Denmark, as the son of a veterinary surgeon[3] and he grew up in a rural environment. While studying medicine at the University of Copenhagen he worked as a writer to fund his studies. After three years of studying he chose to change careers and devote himself fully to literature.

Literary works

Johannes V. Jensen in 1902.

The first phase of his work as an author was influenced by fin-de-siècle pessimism. His career began with the publication of Himmerland Stories (1898–1910), comprising a series of tales set in the part of Denmark where he was born. During 1900 and 1901 he wrote his first masterpiece, Kongens Fald (translated into English as The Fall of the King in 1933), a modern historical novel centred on King Christian II. Literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith said it is an "indictment of Danish indecision and lack of vitality, which Jensen saw as a national disease. Apart from this aspect of it, it is a penetrating study of sixteenth-century people."[4]

In 1906 Jensen created his greatest literary achievement:[citation needed] the collection of verses Digte 1906 (i.e. Poems 1906), which introduced[citation needed] the prose poem to Danish literature. He also wrote poetry, a few plays, and many essays, chiefly on anthropology and the philosophy of evolution. His short story "Ane og Koen" ("Anne and the Cow") was translated into English by incarcerated author and translator Victor Folke Nelson in 1928.[5]

He developed his theories of evolution in a cycle of six novels, Den lange rejse (1908–22), translated into English as The Long Journey (1923–24), which was published in a two-volume edition in 1938.[6] This is often considered his main work in prose, a daring and often impressive attempt to create a Darwinian alternative to the Biblical Genesis myth. In this work we see the development of mankind from the Ice Age to the times of Columbus, focusing on pioneering individuals.

Like his compatriot Hans Christian Andersen, he travelled extensively; a trip to the United States inspired a poem of his, "Paa Memphis Station" [At the train station, Memphis, Tennessee], which is well known in Denmark. Walt Whitman was among the writers who influenced Jensen. Jensen later became an atheist.[7]

Late career

Jensen's most popular literary works were all completed before 1920,[citation needed] a year which also marks his initiation of the 'Museumcentre Aars' in the town of Aars in Himmerland. After this he mostly concentrated on ambitious biological and zoological studies in an effort to create an ethical system based upon Darwinian ideas. He also hoped to renew classical poetry.

For many years he worked in journalism, writing articles and chronicles for the daily press without ever joining the staff of any newspaper.

Nobel Prize in Literature

In 1944 Johannes V. Jensen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature "for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination with which is combined an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style."[8] At the award ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December 1945 Anders Österling, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy said:

This child of the dry and windy moors of Jutland has, almost out of spite, astonished his contemporaries by a remarkably prolific production. He could well be considered one of the most fertile Scandinavian writers. He has constructed a vast and imposing literary œuvre, comprising the most diverse genres: epic and lyric, imaginative and realistic works, as well as historical and philosophical essays, not to mention his scientific excursions in all directions.[9]

Jensen had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature on 53 occasions, the first time in 1925. He was nominated every year between 1931 and 1944.[10]


Jensen was a controversial figure in Danish cultural life. He was a reckless polemicist and his often dubious racial theories have damaged his reputation. However, he never showed any fascist leanings.

Today Jensen is still considered the father of Danish modernism, particularly in the area of modern poetry with his introduction of the prose poem and his use of a direct and straightforward language. His direct influence was felt as late as the 1960s. Without being a Danish answer to Kipling, Hamsun or Sandburg, he bears comparison to all three authors. He combines the outlook of the regional writer with the view of the modern academic and scientific observer.

He was famous for experimenting with the form of his writing, amongst other things. In a letter sent to publisher Ernst Bojesen in December 1900, he includes both a happy and sad face. It was in the 1900s that the design evolved from a basic eye and mouth design into a more recognizable design.[11]

In 1999, The Fall of the King (1901) was acclaimed as the best Danish novel of the 20th century by the newspapers Politiken and Berlingske Tidende, independently of each other.[12]

Johannes V. Jensen Land in Northern Greenland was named in his honor.


  • Danskere, 1896
  • Einar Elkjær, 1898
  • Himmerlandsfolk, 1898
  • Intermezzo, 1899
  • Kongens Fald, 1900–1901 – The Fall of the King
  • Den gotiske renæssance, 1901
  • Skovene, 1904
  • Nye Himmerlandshistorier, 1904
  • Madame d'Ora, 1904
  • Hjulet, 1904
  • Digte, 1906
  • Eksotiske noveller, 1907–15
  • Den nye verden, 1907
  • Singaporenoveller, 1907
  • Myter, 1907–45
  • Nye myter, 1908
  • Den lange rejse, 1908–22 – The Long Journey – I: Den tabte land, 1919; II: Bræen, 1908; Norne Gæst, 1919; IV: Cimbrernes tog, 1922; V: Skibet, 1912; VI: Christofer Columbus, 1922
  • Lille Ahasverus, 1909
  • Himmerlandshistorier, Tredje Samling, 1910
  • Myter, 1910
  • Bo'l, 1910
  • Nordisk ånd, 1911
  • Myter, 1912
  • Rudyard Kipling, 1912
  • Der Gletscher, Ein Neuer Mythos Vom Ersten Menschen, 1912 - The Glacier, A New Myth Of The First Man
  • Olivia Marianne, 1915
  • Introduktion til vor tidsalder, 1915
  • Skrifter, 1916 (8 vols.)
  • Årbog, 1916, 1917
  • Johannes Larsen og hans billeder, 1920
  • Sangerinden, 1921
  • Den lange rejse, 1922–24 – The Long Journey
  • Æstetik og udviking, 1923
  • Årstiderne, 1923
  • Hamlet, 1924
  • Myter, 1924
  • Skrifter, 1925 (5 vols.)
  • Evolution og moral, 1925
  • Årets højtider, 1925
  • Verdens lys, 1926
  • Jørgine, 1926
  • Thorvaldsens portrætbuster, 1926
  • Dyrenes forvandling, 1927
  • Åndens stadier, 1928
  • Ved livets bred, 1928
  • Retninger i tiden, 1930
  • Den jyske blæst, 1931
  • Form og sjæl, 1931
  • På danske veje, 1931
  • Pisangen, 1932
  • Kornmarken, 1932
  • Sælernes ø, 1934
  • Det blivende, 1934
  • Dr. Renaults fristelser, 1935
  • Gudrun, 1936
  • Darduse, 1937
  • Påskebadet, 1937
  • Jydske folkelivsmalere, 1937
  • Thorvaldsen, 1938
  • Nordvejen, 1939
  • Fra fristaterne, 1939
  • Gutenberg, 1939
  • Mariehønen, 1941
  • Vor oprindelse, 1941
  • Mindets tavle, 1941
  • Om sproget og undervisningen, 1942
  • Kvinden i sagatiden, 1942
  • Folkeslagene i østen, 1943
  • Digte 1901–43, 1943
  • Møllen, 1943
  • Afrika, 1949
  • Garden Colonies in Denmark, 1949
  • Swift og Oehlenschläger, 1950
  • Mytens ring, 1951
  • Tilblivelsen, 1951

Works in English


  1. ^ "Danish pronunciation dictionary". Retrieved 31 January 2024.
  2. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1944". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 2 Feb 2017.
  3. ^ Jensen, Johannes V. (c. 1945). "Johannes V. Jensen – Autobiography". The Official Web Site of the Nobel Foundation. Sweden: Nobel Web AB. Retrieved 24 November 2009.
  4. ^ Martin Seymour-Smith (1985). The New Guide to Modern World Literature, 3rd ed. p. 1101.
  5. ^ Hanna Astrup, ed. Denmark's Best Stories: An Introduction to Danish Fiction (New York: Norton, 1928)
  6. ^ Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901–1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969.
  7. ^ Flynn, T. (2007). The new encyclopedia of unbelief. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. "Danish atheists include the authors...Johannes V. Jensen."
  8. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1944".
  9. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1944 Award Ceremony speech".
  10. ^ "Johannes V. Jensen - Nominations".
  11. ^ Johannes V. Jensen var først ude med smileyen
  12. ^ "Århundredes danske bog". Retrieved 2014-08-08.