Karl Adolph Gjellerup (1857-1919)

Writer, MA theology 1878, Nobel Prize winner for literature 1917.

Karl Gjellerup came from a family of clergymen, but when he graduated with a theological degree he had lost faith; presumably due to his experiences with biblical criticism. His novels often focused on the relationship between Christians and heretics, and he clearly sided with the latter ones. He was a devoted disciple of the radical literary critic Georg Brandes, and his strong support of Darwinism and naturalism was evident in his dissertation Arvelighed og Moral [Heredity and Morality] (Copenhagen: Andr. Schous Forlag, 1881) for which he was awarded the prestigious university Gold Medal. Shortly after Charles Darwin’s death in 1882, Gjellerup published a poetical tribute to the memory of the British naturalist entitled Aander og Tider: Et Requiem over Charles Darwin [Spirits and Times: A Requiem of Charles Darwin] (Copenhagen: Andr. Schous Forlag, 1882), in which he depicted God as a lost and lonely man, who passively witnessed that his creation, nature and man, did not care about him anymore. According to Gjellerup, Darwin had initiated a new secular worldview that would do away with old Christian dogmas. Gjellerup defined one of the most anticlerical and pro-evolutionary positions in the Darwinian debates in Denmark. In 1892 Gjellerup left Denmark and settled in the German city of Dresden, where he was first influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche’s aristocratic philosophy and then by Indian religiosity which eventually led him to religious views sympathetic to Christian mysticism.

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

Return to list of biographies