Gjellerup, Karl 1857–1919

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Gjellerup, Karl 1857–1919

(Epigonos, Karl Adolf Gjellerup)

PERSONAL: Born June 2, 1857, in Roholte, Denmark; died October 11 (one source says 13), 1919, in Klotzsche, Germany; son of Carl Adolph (a pastor) and Anna Johanne (Fibiger) Gjellerup; married (marriage ended); married Eugenia Anna Caroline Hensinger, 1887. Education: University of Copenhagen, B.D. (summa cum laude), 1878. Hobbies and other interests: Painting.

CAREER: Poet, dramatist, and novelist.

AWARDS, HONORS: University Gold Medal, for Arvelighed og moral; Nobel Prize for Literature (with Henrik Pontoppidan), 1917.


(Under pseudonym Epigonos) En Idealist (novel), 1878.

(Under pseudonym Epigonos) Den evige strid, 1878.

"Det unge Danmark," C.A. Reitzel (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1879.

Rødtjørn (poetry; title means "Hawthorne"), A. Schou (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1881.

Arvelighed og moral (title means "Heredity and Morals"), 1881.

Germanernes Laerling (novel; title means "The Apprentice of the Teutons"), 1882.

Aander og Tider (poems), A. Schou (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1882.

Brynhild (play), 1884.

En klassisk maaned (travel; title means "A Classical Month), 1884.

Vandreaaret (travel; title means "Wander Year"), 1885.

Thamyris (lyric play), 1887.

Minna (novel), 1889, translated into English under same title, W. Heinemann (London, England), 1913.

Wuthhorn (play), first produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, at Dagmar Theatre, 1893.

Kong Hjarne skjald, tragedie i fem handlinger (play; first produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, at Dagmar Theater), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1893.

Den aeldre Eddas gudesange oversatte samt indledede og forklarede af Karl Gjellerup med tegninger af Lorenz Frølich, P.G. Philipsen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1895.

Møllen (novel; title means "The Mill"), 1896.

Gift og modgift (play; title means "Toxin and Antitoxin"), first produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, at Dagmar Theatre, 1898.

Offerildene (musical play; title means "The Sacrificial Fires"), 1903.

Der Pilgrimen Kamanita (romance fiction), 1906, translated by John Logie as The Pilgrim Kamanita: A Legendary Romance, edited by Amaro Bhikkhu, illustrated by Chuang Muanpinit, A. Bhikkhu (CA), 1999.

Die hügelmühle (novel), five volumes, W. Baensch (Dresden, Germany), 1909.

Verdensvandrerne, romandigtning i tre bøger; omslagstegning af Valdemar Andersen, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1910.

Der Goldene Zweig (title means "The Golden Bough"), Quelle & Meyer (Leipzig, Germany), 1917.

Das Weib des Vollendeten, ein Legenden-drama von Karl Gjellerup, 2nd edition, Quelle & Meyer (Leipzig, Germany), 1921.

André Gide, Karl Gjellerup, Paul Heyse (includes Minna), A. Gregory (New York, NY), 1971.

Also author of tragedy Scipio Africanus, drama Arminius, and short stories.

SIDELIGHTS: A co-recipient of the 1917 Nobel Prize for Literature, Karl Gjellerup was a novelist and playwright whose works repeatedly explore religious and philosophical issues. His influences ranged from Christian to Darwinist to Buddhist sources, and his fiction consequently explores the issues of the human soul, the nature of existence, and fate. Among his more successful efforts are the play Brynhild and the novel Der Pilgrimen Kamanita. Though popular in their day, Gjellerup's works are infrequently read today, and the Nobel Prize he won was little noted because at the time the world's attention was focused on World War I.

Born in Denmark, Gjellerup's first major influence was a relative named Johannes Fibiger, a clergyman who raised the boy from the age of three after his father died. From Fibiger, Gjellerup learned to be a scholar, being exposed to music, literature, and philosophy from all around the world. Fibiger's influence also led Gjellerup to study theology at the University of Copenhagen. While he was a student he was greatly influenced by Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and by the time he graduated he had become an atheist. In his early works, including En Idealist and Arvelighed og moral, the author's belief in evolution and science over religion and mysticism is clear. His Germanernes Laerling, furthermore, is an obviously fictionalized novel about "a young theologian dealing with a crisis of faith," as an essayist for the Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement observed.

As he matured, Gjellerup became increasingly concerned with the concepts of free will, fate, and the human condition. After moving from his native Denmark to settle in Germany, he fell under the influence of the writers Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich von Schiller and began a deeper philosophical exploration of the underlying truths of the universe and existence. Fate comes into play in the romantic tragedies Brynhild and Wuthhorn, both of which are about lovers who find themselves torn apart from each other by circumstances beyond their control. In another love story, the novel Minna, Gjellerup injects his own experience of divorce from his first wife in writing about another doomed relationship. By the 1880s, when these works were being released, Gjellerup had found great popular success; along with this came a government pension, which left him financially comfortable and able to focus on his writing.

In the early 1900s the author began exploring new ground as he studied Buddhist theology. This can be clearly seen in his lyrical novel Der Pilgrimen Kamanita. The novel, once again about two lovers who are painfully separated from each other, is set in India. It explores the Buddhist notions of life, death, and rebirth as the lovers become reunited only after they have died. For this and many other contributions, Gjellerup was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1917; two years later he passed away.



Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, Volume 25, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2005.


Nobel Prize Web site, http://nobelprize.org/ (January 8, 2005), "Karl Gjellerup—Autobiography."