Pessimism in Danish Literature at the Turn of the 20th Century

The primary purpose of this project is to map central aspects of pessimism in Danish literature around the year 1900. The basis of the study is the examination of the reception of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy in Johannes Joergensen’s, Henrik Pontoppidan’s, Karl Gjellerup’s and Ernesto Dalgas’ literary activities.

In addition, this study aims to demonstrate that the reception of Schopenhauer’s philosophical pessimism in the various bodies of work can be read as a broader critique of modernity.

On this background, this study argues that despite the different ways in which the works evince Schopenhauer’s pessimism, the overall reception expresses a passive, negative reaction to the crisis of modernity. Moreover, this passive response is an existential alternative to Nietzsche’s active and potent vitalism, in which many of the authors of the time find a new existential ground.

Thus far, the intellectual interest in Friedrich Nietzsche’s impact on Danish literature has overshadowed the reception of Schopenhauer’s philosophy in Danish literary history.  This study is a contribution to cast light onto the importance of the ideas of the pessimistic philosopher for the Danish literary production at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.