Johannes Vilhelm Jensen (1873-1950)

Writer, studied medicine 1894-96, Nobel Prize winner for literature 1944.

During the first half of the twentieth century Johannes V. Jensen published more than twenty poems, essays and novels discussing Charles Darwin and evolution. In Den Moderne Verden [The Modern World] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1907), Jensen praised Darwin and compared him with N.F.S. Grundtvig. Jensen regarded both of them as seers, rural heroes and advocates of progress. He furthermore claimed that ‘the theory of evolution was the simple and sober-minded farmer’s view of life in bloom’. Jensen strongly condemned what he called ‘bad Darwinism’ which was defined as the vulgarization of Darwin theory of evolution by Friedrich Nietzsche, who fabricated the Superman and claimed that might was right. Jensen was convinced that this misuse of Darwin led to German militarism and the two world wars. Jensen was also critical of the freethinkers of the 1870s, especially the literary critic Georg Brandes, who made Darwinism fashionable but did not understand the essence of the theory, and the writers Henrik Ibsen and Herman Bang who focused too much on heredity and degeneration instead of the liberating and progressive aspects of evolution. According to Jensen, modern man owed his soul to Darwin, but ironically Jensen was more a Lamarckian than a Darwinian. In the 1920s he wrote several essays where he argued for the direct adaptation of animals to their environment and use-inheritance. He was a great admirer of the Lamarckian zoologist Herluf Winge and sceptical of laboratory studies and genetics, which during the 1920s and 1930s made Lamarckism seem more and more outdated to many scientists. In his great evolutionary epic Den lange rejse [The Long Voyage] (Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1908-22) Jensen outlined a specific Nordic history of mankind from the transition from brute to man, through the stone, bronze and iron ages to Christoffer Columbus whom Jensen envisioned as a Nordic type. According to Jensen, the struggle against nature, especially the cold climate, had made the Nordic race particularly strong. The novel was based on an idiosyncratic reading of evolutionary archaeology and anthropology. Jensen embraced the imperialist and racist aspects of sociocultural evolutionism. According to Jensen, the Anglo-Saxon races in Britain and America and the Jutlandic races in Western Denmark were culturally and biologically related and represented the climax of human evolution and civilization. His most detailed discussions of Darwinism can be found in his later writings Æstetik og Udvikling [Aesthetics and Evolution] (1923), Evolution og Moral [Evolution and Morals] (1925), Dyrenes Forvandling [The Transformation of Animals] (1927), Aandens Stadier [Planes of the Spirit] (1928), Retninger i Tiden [Modern Views] (1930), Det Blivende [The Eternal Things] (1934) and Vor Oprindelse [Our Origin] (1941) all published by Gyldendal in Copenhagen.

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

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