Gress, Elsa 1919-1988

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GRESS, Elsa 1919-1988

PERSONAL: Born Judith Elisa Gress, January 17, 1919, in Copenhagen, Denmark; died July 18, 1988, in Copenhagen, Denmark; daughter of Edvard Tobias and Elisa Hedevig (Pallesen) Gress; married Clifford Wright (an artist), 1956; children: (with Richard Lewis) David; (with Wright) Barbara, Jonathan. Education: University of Copenhagen, M.A. (comparative literature), 1944.

CAREER: Writer and translator. Worked for British Broadcasting Corporation.

MEMBER: Danish Academy.

AWARDS, HONORS: Schultz literature prize for best novel, 1947, for Mellemspil; Rockefeller grant, 1951; Jeanne and Henri Nathansen literary prize, and Kollegernes Aerspris, both 1965; Tage Brandt travel grant, 1966; Poul Hennigsen prize, 1969; Årets Radise prize, 1971; Kritikernprisen, 1971, for Fuglefri og fremmed; Jeanne and Henri Nathansen memorial grant, and Videnskabers prize, both 1974; Søren Gyldendal prize, 1974; Holberg Medal, 1976.


Strejftog: essays, K. E. Hermann (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1945.

Mellemspil (novel), Schultz (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1947.

Concertino, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1955.

Nye strejftog: essays og eistler, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1959.

Elysisk aften: at være kætter, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1959.

Prometheus på flugt: Essays, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1961.

Er der nogen der hører efter? (essays), Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1961.

Habiba og andre noveller (stories), Spectator (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1964.

Det uopdagede køn, Spectator (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1964.

Mine mange hjem: erindringsbog, Spectator (Copen-[hagen, Denmark), 1965, translated as My Many Homes: A Memoir, Decenter (Glumsø, Denmark), 1968.

Det professionelle menneske: essays og artikler 1941–66, introduction by Hans Hertel, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1966.

Om Kløfter: essays, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1967.

Boxiganga: teater som livsform (based on her screenplay; also see below), Spectator (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1968.

(With David Gress) Lurens toner: børnebog, Spectator (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1968.

Fugle og frøer: afsnit og epistler, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1969.

Den sårede Filoktet, Forlaget Drama (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1970.

Fuglefri og fremmed: erindringsbilleder, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1971.

Apropos virkeligheden: essays, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1972.

Feminologi (feminist history), Kongelige Bibliotek (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1972.

Compañia: erindringsbilleder, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1976.

Dramatikeren Soya: tale ved overrækkelsen af det danske Akademis store pris d. 28.11.1975, Borgen (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1976.

Salamander, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1977.

Engagement: epistler og essays om kunst og liv og andet mere, illustrated by husband, Clifford Wright, Gyldendal (Copehagen, Denmark), 1977.

Dæmoniske damer og andre figurer: dramatiske tekster, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1979.

Fanden til forskel: essays, monologer og dialoger, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1979.

Vist koster det noget: erindringsbog, Berlingske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1980.

Udsigter og indsigter, illustrated by Clifford Wright, Mistral (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1981.

(With Palle Gress) Viser og ballader, SiSu (Toftlund, Denmark), 1982.

Blykuglen: epistler og essays, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1984.

(With others) Henrik Stangerup, University of Odense Press (Odense, Denmark), 1986.

Simurghen (novel), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1986, translation by Gress published as The Simurg, Quartet (New York, NY), 1989.


Hvis (radio play), Danmarks Radio, aired 1947.

Jorden er ingen stjerne, Arena (Fredensborg, Denmark), 1956.

(With others) En by ved navn København (screenplay), Minerva Film, 1960.

En negers Komedius (radio play; based on a story by Adrienne Kennedy; also see below), Danmarks Radio, 1966.

Boxiganga (screenplay), [Copenhagen], 1967.

Philoctetes Wounded, and Other Plays, Decenter (Glumsø, Denmark), 1969.

Den sårede filoktet (also see below), Decenter (Glumsø, Denmark), 1969.

Ditto Daughter, produced in Roanoke, VA, 1971.

Liv, produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1974.

Den sårede filoktet (radio play), Danmarks Radio, 1974.

M.I.M.I.R.: Libretto til musik drama, music by Tom O'Horgen, produced in Copenhagen, Denmark, 1969, produced in New York, NY, 1975.

Donny Johnny: Play in Two Parts, music by James Wilson, produced in New York, NY, 1975.

(With Kaspar Rostrup) Kristihimmelfartsfesten (produced in Gladsaxe, Denmark, 1983), Nordiske Landes, 1982.

Erindring om fremtiden (television play), Danmarks Radio, 1988.

Balladen om Carly Dreyer (television play), Danmarks Radio, 1988.


(Author of foreword) Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist, translated by L. Moltke, Bzûger (Geneva, Switzerland), 1971.

(Author of foreword) Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, translated by Aslaugh Mikkelsen, Bzûger (Virum, Denmark), 1971.

(Author of foreword) Charles Dickens, Pickwick Klubben, translated by L. Moltke, Bzûger (Virum, Denmark), 1971.

(Author of foreword) Lidija Dombrovska Larsen, De vingede ûjine: digte, tenginger, gouacher, Ildfugl (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1973.

(Author of libretto) Aria to Ariel; or, Grinning at the Devil, music by James Wilson, Henrik Nebelong (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1989.

Translator of numerous works into Danish, including writings by Arnold J. Toynbee, Louis Guilloux, Edna Ferber, Aldous Huxley, Erskine Caldwell, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac, Philip Roth, Virginia Woolf, Richard Wright, Marshall McLuhan, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

SIDELIGHTS: A prominent figure in Denmark's literary circles during her lifetime, Elsa Gress dismissed the notion of gender-specific oppression and instead advocated individualism and humanism. Gress established her reputation as Denmark's literary grande dame with Strejftog: essays, a collection of prose on art and aesthetics; Hvis, a radio play about suicide; and Mellemspil, a novel about a young girl's search for a new life in a dreary post-World War II London. In addition to novels and essays, she authored plays for stage, radio, and television, and also penned a libretto to the opera Aria to Ariel; or, Grinning at the Devil. In addition to original works, Gress contributed to Danish literature through her translations of numerous works by noted British and American authors, her translated works as diverse as Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers and Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

After receiving her secondary-school diploma in 1937, Gress traveled throughout Germany and England, but returned to school and in 1944 earned a master of arts degree in comparative literature at the University of Copenhagen. Immediately following World War II, she traveled to England to recover from the hardships of the war years and the shock of her older brother's suicide. While in London Gress went to work for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and also wrote her award-winning novel Mellemspil.

During the 1950s Gress traveled and continued to write, and her play Jorden er ingen stjerne is a loosely veiled rendering of this vagabond lifestyle. In the late 1960s the best of Gress's essays were published as Det professionelle mennske: essays og artikler 1941–66. By the late 1970s, she had written Salamander, a passionate and, at times, brutal love story. According to Dictionary of Literary Biography writer Lanae H. Isaacson, Salamander "explores what happens when an experimental theatrical company loses its artistic fire" through the story of a young, selfish artistic director whose control of troupe members extends off-stage. Gress's final novel, the 1986 work Simurghen, is a collective presentation of people and scenes from the author's intense and dramatic life. Gress died in Copenhagen two years later, in 1988, shortly after completing the English translation of her final novel, which was published in 1989 as The Simurg.



Bloom, Claire, editor, The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature, Prentice Hall (New York, NY), 1992.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 214: Twentieth-Century Danish Writers, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Gress, Elsa, Mine mange hjem: erindringsbog, Spectator (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1965.

Gress, Elsa, Vist koster det noget: erindringsbog, Berlingske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1980.

Rossel, Sven H., editor, A History of Danish Literature, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 1992, pp. 441-442.


Booklist, February 1, 1979, Sylvia S. Goldberg, review of Salamander, p. 857.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1978, Faith Ingwersen, review of Salamander, p. 640.

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Gress, Elsa 1919-1988

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