FINE ARTS

A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen

Yale Univ. Sept. 2017. 272p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300218930. $30. LIT
COPY ISBN
During his lifetime, Danish writer Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847–85) was admired by the likes of Henrik Ibsen, Knut Hamsun, and August Strindberg. However, unlike his Scandinavian contemporaries he remains largely unknown and unread in America—something writer Jensen hopes to change with this new biography. Jacobsen died at 38 of tuberculosis, having written two novels and a handful of short stories. This book follows his brief life and career while placing it in context of the literary and political landscape of late-19th century Denmark. In addition to writing novels and short stories, Jacobsen was a botanist, an avowed atheist, and Danish translator of Charles Darwin. For him, atheism was work, not merely a static rejection of God or religion but an existential position that he wrestled with both in his fiction and everyday life—setting him apart both from the dominant Christian culture in Denmark and the more polemic atheist intellectuals with whom he was surrounded.
VERDICT With admiration and pith, Jensen relates the importance and influence of Jacobsen as a great writer. Recommended to readers of 19th-century literature and those with an interest in literary and cultural history.

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