Authors: Henrik Pontoppidan

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Danish novelist

July 24, 1857

Fredericia, Denmark

August 21, 1943

Charlottenlund, Denmark


Henrik Pontoppidan was born in Fredericia, Denmark, on July 24, 1857, one of sixteen children of Marie F. Oxenbøll and provincial clergyman Dines Pontoppidan. At age seventeen he went to Copenhagen to study engineering at the Polytekniske Læreanstalt (College of Advanced Technology), now Danmarks Tekniske Universitet (Technical University of Denmark). He began writing after a summer trip to Switzerland and soon realized that he wished only to be a writer, so he left school to pursue his new vocation and supported himself as a schoolteacher. Pontoppidan hated the facile religious sentimentality prevalent in the school, and he disliked the easygoing way of life of the Danish people, feeling that it lacked the emotional and intellectual intensity that he respected.

Henrik Pontoppidan

(© The Nobel Foundation)

Pontoppidan’s early work, of which Det forjættede land (1892; The Promised Land, 1896) is representative, protests against the injustices of peasant life; Pontoppidan’s hopes for reform rested with liberal politics, though he was aware that the hardness of human hearts cannot easily be overcome. A little later, in the eight volumes of Lykke-Per (1898–1904; Lucky Per, 2010), he used autobiographical material to portray the life of a prototypical Dane in modern Denmark. In his five-book series De dødes rige (The kingdom of the dead, 1912–16), Pontoppidan reached the nadir of his pessimism; the five volumes show his disappointment with the results of liberalism and despair of social progress. He never fully emerged from this pessimism.

Though Pontoppidan had entered politics and had served a short time in the Danish legislature, he withdrew from public life entirely during his last years. He wrote little after his retirement; his last novel, Mands himmerig (Man’s heaven, 1927), is a bitter attack on those who failed Denmark during World War I: the politicians, the journalists, the isolationists, and the war profiteers.

Pontoppidan, under the influence of Georg Brandes, took up the techniques of realism and wrote with great accuracy of various social groups. His style is smooth and seemingly effortless. He represents the most modern elements in Danish thought; it was for this that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1917. He died at his home in Charlottenlund, Denmark, on August 21, 1943.

Author Works Long Fiction: Sandinge menighed, 1883 Ung elskov: Idyl, 1885 Mimoser: Et familjeliv, 1886 (The Apothecary’s Daughters, 1890) Isbjørnen: Et portræt, 1887 (The Polar Bear: A Portrait, 2003) Spøgelser: En historie, 1888 Natur: To smaa romaner, 1890 Muld: Et tidsbillede, 1891 (Emanuel; or, Children of the Soil, 1892) Det forjættede land: Et tidsbillede, 1892 (The Promised Land, 1896) Minder, 1893 Nattevagt, 1894 Den gamle Adam, 1894 Dommens dag: Et tidsbillede, 1895 (with Muld and Det forjættede land forms the three-novel cycle Det forjættede) Højsang: Skildring fra alfarvej, 1896 Lykke-Per, 1898–1904 (8 volumes; Lucky Per, 2010) Lille Rødhætte, 1900 Det ideale hjem, 1900 Borgmester Hoeck og hustru: Et dobbeltportræt, 1905 (Burgomaster Hoeck and His Wife, 1999) Det store spøgelse, 1902 (serial), 1907 (book) Hans Kvast og Melusine, 1907 Den kongelige gæst, 1908 (The Royal Guest, 1977) Torben og Jytte, 1912 Storeholt, 1913 Toldere og Syndere, 1914 Enslevs død, 1915 Favsingholm, 1916 (previous 5 novels collectively known as De dødes rige) Et kærlighedseventyr, 1918 Mands himmerig, 1927 Smaa romaner, 1885–1890, 1999 (Flemming Behrendt, editor) Smaa romaner, 1893–1900, 2005 (Flemming Behrendt, editor) Smaa romaner, 1905–1927, 2011 (Flemming Behrendt, editor) Short Fiction: Stækkede vinger, 1881 Landsbybilleder, 1883 Fra hytterne: Nye landsbybilleder, 1887 Krøniker, 1890 Skyer: Skildringer fra provisoriernes dage, 1890 Kirkeskuden: En fortælling, 1897 (reprinted from Stækkede vinger) Drama: De vilde fugle, pb. 1902 (adaptation of Højsang) Asgaardsrejen, pb. 1906 Thora van Deken, pr. 1914 (with Hjalmar Bergstrøm; adaptation of Lille Rødhætte) Nonfiction: Reisebilder aus Dänemark, 1890 Enetaler, 1897 (serial), 1993 (book) Kirken og dens mænd, 1914 En vinterrejse: Nogle dagbogsblade, 1920 Drengeaar, 1933 Hamskifte, 1936 Arv og gæld, 1938 Familjeliv, 1940 Undervejs til mig selv: Et tilbageblik, 1943 Meninger og holdninger: Af Urbanus’ dagbog, 1994 (Erik H. Madsen, editor) Bibliography Haarder, Jon Helt. “Towards a New World: Johannes V. Jensen and Henrik Pontoppidan.” Danish Literature as World Literature, edited by Dan Ringgaard and Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017, pp. 167–92. Discusses parallels between the lives and works of Pontoppidan and fellow Danish writer and contemporary Johannes V. Jensen, with a focus on Pontoppidan’s Lucky Per and Jensen’s Kongens fald (1900–1901; The Fall of the King, 1933). Ingwersen, Niels. “The Modern Breakthrough.” A History of Danish Literature, edited by Sven H. Rossel, U of Nebraska P, 1992, pp. 261–317. Offers a brief but precise introduction to Pontoppidan, stressing his pessimistic worldview; does not mention his plays.

Lebowitz, Naomi. “The World’s Pontoppidan and His Lykke Per.” Scandinavian Studies, vol. 78, no. 1, 2006, pp. 43–70. Academic Search Complete, Accessed 12 Sept. 2017. Discusses Lucky Per’s focus on the problem of spiritual authority, Pontoppidan’s use of fairy tales in his work, and similarities between him and the novel’s protagonist, among other topics. Mitchell, Phillip Marshall. Henrik Pontoppidan. Twayne Publishers, 1979. A full-length monograph and an excellent introduction to the writings of Pontoppidan. Contains a selected bibliography of primary and secondary sources.

Categories: Authors