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Henningsen, Agnes 1868–1962

(Agnes Kathinka Malling Henningsen, Helga Maynert)

PERSONAL: Born November 18, 1868, in Skovsbo (one source says Ullerslev), Denmark; died 1962; daughter of Peter (a tenant farmer) and Ophelia Petra Amalia Cathinca (Malling) Andersen; married Mads Henningsen, c. 1887 (divorced, 1907); married Simon Koch (a writer and civil servant), 1919 (died, 1935); children: (first marriage) four.

CAREER: Novelist and playwright.

AWARDS, HONORS: Otto Benson author's prize, 1938; Herman Bang prize, Gyldendal publisher, 1946; Holger Drachmann prize, 1953; Jeanne and Henir Nathansen merit award, 1960.

WRITINGS:

Glansbilledet: En Historie om Damer (novel; title means "The Paper Saint: A Story for Ladies"), Nordiske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1899.

Strømmen (novel; title means "The Current"), Nordiske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1899.

Polens Døtre (novel; title means "Daughters of Poland"), Nordiske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1901.

De Spedalske (novel), Nordiske (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1903.

Moralen (play), first produced at the Folketeatret, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1903.

Den uovervindelige: Skuespil i fire Akter (five-act play; title means "The Invincible"; first produced at Dagmarteatret, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1908), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1905.

Lykken: En Elskovhistorie, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1905.

Elskerinden (play; first produced at Dagmarteatret, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1906), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1906.

Den elskede Eva (novel; title means "The Beloved Eva"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1911.

Hœvnen (play), first produced at Dagmarteatret, Copenhagen, Denmark, 1912.

Den rige Fugl (play), first produced at Royal Theatre, 1916.

Den store Kœrlighed (novel; title means "The Great Love"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1917.

Den Guderne elsker (novel), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1921.

Troense (play), first produced at Royal Theatre, 1922.

Barnets Magt (novel), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1923.

Den fuldendte Kvinde (novel), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1925.

Das vollkommene weiß, G. Kieipenheuer (Potsdam, Germany), 1926.

Kœrlighedens Aarstider (novel; title means "Seasons of Love"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1927.

Det rige Efteraar (novel; title means "Rich Autumn"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1928.

Den sidste Aften (novel; title means "Last Evening"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1930.

Le kun, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1935.

Det rigtige Menneske (novel; title means "The True Person"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1938.

Let Gang på Jorden: Erindringer (memoir; title means "Take the Carefree Path"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1941.

Letsindighedens Gave: Erindringer (memoir; title means "The Gift of Recklessness"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1943.

Byen erobret: Erindringer (memoir; title means "The Conquered City"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1945.

Kœrlighedssynder: Erindringer (memoir), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1947.

Dødsfjende—hjertenskœr, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1949.

Jeg er levemand, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1951.

Den rige fugl: Erindringer (memoir), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1953.

Skygger over vejen: Erindringer (memoir; title means "Shadows on the Path"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1955.

Vi ses i Arizona (novel; title means "See You in Arizona"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1956.

Den lidenskabelige pige (novel; title means "The Passionate Girl"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1958.

Bølgeslag (novel; title means "Breaking Waves"), Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1959.

Contributor, sometimes under pseudonym Helga Maynert, to periodicals, including København.

SIDELIGHTS: Agnes Henningsen was a significant Danish writer whose publications include both fiction and autobiographical accounts. She was born in 1868 in Skovsbo, Denmark, where her father worked as a tenant farmer. A self-avowed libertine, Henningsen became engaged, when she was only fifteen years old, to an uncle, and was thereupon sent away to continue her schooling. Four years later, she married a tutor who shared her belief in sexual freedom. In the early 1890s, when her husband, who had begun working as a schoolteacher, proved to be financially irresponsible, Henningsen commenced earning an income by writing for various periodicals, and in the following years she maintained her literary career while raising four children, the youngest of whom was conceived outside her marriage.

As Henningsen became an increasingly familiar figure in Copenhagen's literary society, her husband entered into a relationship with one of his female students. The ensuing scandal compelled him to flee Denmark and travel to the United States, where he eventually achieved prominence as a Danish diplomat. After her marriage ended in 1907, Henningsen divided her family, sending two children to live with her husband's parents and moving the other two with her into her married lover's home. While living in this unusual arrangement, Henningsen wrote about the negative ramifications of female sexuality in Glansbilledet: En Historie om Damer and Strømmen, two novels described by Lise Prœstgaard Andersen in the Dictionary of Literary Biography as "somewhat depressing." Henningsen fared better with her next tale, Polens Døtre, which concerns a pair of complicated relationships maintained by an engaging lecturer who espouses freedom of erotic expression. Despite its focus on the sordid consequences of sexual recklessness, Polens Døtre found favor with Danish liberals who championed the book as a compelling representation of liberated eroticism.

Henningsen continued to probe the emotional repercussions of eroticism in novels such as Den elskede Eva and Den store Kœrlighed. In both novels, Andersen noted, Henningsen provides "descriptions of the sexual affairs of so-called liberating people [that] are anything but positive." As Andersen added, "The erotic scenes in these novels would probably not offend most modern readers, and it is clear that the author is much more concerned with depicting subtle emotions than with sexuality."

In the late 1920s, eight years after she remarried, Henningsen commenced work on a series of three autobiographical novels: Kœrlighedens Aarstider, Det rige Efteraar, and Den sidste Aften, charting a young woman's development as a writer and lover. The series begins with the heroine mired in a stifling marriage, and it continues with her ending that relationship for life with another man. But even as she realizes a measure of prominence as a writer, the heroine continues to suffer in her personal relationships, including a second marriage. The trilogy ends with the heroine vying with a young woman for the company of a gigolo. After completing Den sidste Aften, the end of the trilogy, Henningsen failed to produce a new publication for five years, and in the last years of the 1930s she issued only one further work, Det rigtige Menneske, which she wrote in honor of her late husband, Simon Koch.

In 1941, with World War II raging across Europe, Henningsen revived her literary career with Let Gang på Jorden: Erindringer, the first of several autobiographical volumes. "The memoirs begin with the author's birth and come to an end sometime in the 1930s, before the death of Koch," wrote Andersen. "Each volume is written in a gripping, impressionistic style and ends in an exciting climatic point." The series also includes Byen erobret: Erindringer, in which Henningsen recalls the scandal of her first husband's involvement with a student, and Skygger over vejen: Erindringer, the final memoir, in which she relates an infidelity undertaken while her husband lay dying. Andersen summarized Henningsen's series of memoirs as "the largest autobiographical work in Danish literature," and she praised it as "one of the best written and most entertaining works in this genre." Writing about the memoirs in Scandinavian Studies, Marina Allemano noted, "In her long autobiographical narrative … Henningsen shows that the idea of the fully emancipated, creative, feminine, and maternal woman cannot be embodied by a single person within the existing discourses and socio-political realities of her lifetime, and for that reason alone, she tells the stories of a multitude of other women."

Upon completion of Skygger over vejen, Henningsen returned to fiction, producing a trilogy comprised of Vi ses i Arizona, Den lidenskabelige pige, and Bølgeslag, which is described by Andersen as "a variation on her theme of a women's right to freedom in love and her duty of absolute honesty toward herself and others." Henningsen was in her late eighties when she commenced work on this series, and she was in her early nineties when she completed it in 1959.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

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

Henningsen, Agnes, Let Gang på Jorden: Erindringer, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1941.

Henningsen, Agnes, Letsindighedens Gave: Erindringer, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1943.

Henningsen, Agnes, Byen erobret: Erindringer, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1945.

Henningsen, Agnes, Den rige fugl: Erindringer, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1953.

Henningsen, Agnes, Skygger over vejen: Erindringer, Gyldendal (Copenhagen, Denmark), 1955.

PERIODICALS

Scandinavian Studies, summer, 2004, Marina Allemano, "Somatic Gaps and Embodied Voices in Agnes Henningsen's Memoirs," p. 155.

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Henningsen, Agnes 1868–1962

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