Karl Gjellerup was born in Roholte, in southern Zealand, as the son of a minister. His father, Pastor Carl Adolph Gjellerup, died when he was three years old. Gjellerup was brought up in Copenhagen by his mother's (Anna Fibiger) cousin, the minister and poet Johannes Fibiger. Gjellerup was expected to have a career in church. In 1874 he entered the University of Copenhagen, where he studied theology, graduating in 1878. However, under the influence of Darwinism, Herbert Spencer, and the critic Georg Brandes, he had already started to feel attraction to atheism before taking the degree. Brandes's university lectures arouse much attention - he advocated free development of the individual and naturalism in literature.
Although Darwin's The Origin of Species was not against religion, its argumentation did not support the account of the creation in the Bible. Gjellerup's break with Christian faith was the subject of his two early novels, but later he became interested in Buddhism and other Oriental religions. EN IDEALIST (1878), Gjellerup's first published work, depicted a young intellectual, who denounces theology and religion. In was followed by GERMANERNES L?RLING (1882), where the central character, a young theologian, undergoes similar crisis as Gjellerup - he becomes a freethinker and develops his own beliefs. In 1884 appeared the verse drama BRYNHILD, inspired by Wagner's Der Ring der Nibelungen. The work earned Gjellerup a state pension for life.
In 1883 and 1884 Gjellerup travelled in Germany, Greece, and Russia. From 1885 to 1887 Gjellerup lived in Dresden, Germany. He was influenced by Goethe's and Friedrich Schiller's humanism and idealist philosophy with its views that what would normally be called 'the external world' is somehow created by the mind - physical world does not exist independently of the human mind. These thoughts, his combination of the demand for truth with an idealism, inspired two novels: MINNA (1889), a love story set in the Germany of his day, and The Pilgrim Kamanita (1906), set in India and examining the idea of reincarnation. In Minna the title character is contrasted with the frivolous artistic circles of the times. Also Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev were important writers for Gjellerup - their influence was especially seen in the novels dealing with ethical problems. MOLLEN (1896), a story about crime and passion, was inspired by Emile Zola.
Gjellerup was married with Eugenia Anna Caroline Heusinger, a cousin of Georg Brandes. In 1892 he settled permanently in Dresden with his family, and started to use German in his writings. A Nietzschean contempt for the masses appeared in some of his plays in the 1890s. Among Gjellerup's later works are DIE OPFERFEUER (1903) and DIE WELTWANDERED (1910, Verdensvandrerne), which dealt with Buddhist concepts of rebirth and soul's wandering towards nirvana. Later it was used as part of the Thai high school curriculum. Christian themes were dealt in DER GOLDENE ZWEIG (1917). Gjellerup died on October 13, 1919. Although he was greatly admired during his life time, his posthumous reputation is undeservedly diminished.
For further reading: Nobel Prize Winners, ed. by Tyler Wasson (1987); Karl Gjellerup - en biografi by Georg Norregard (1988); Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, ed. by Jean-Albert Bede and William B. Edgerton (1980); 'Karl Gjelerup: A master of expression of Indian thought' by Nicolae Zberae, in Indo-Asian Culture 19:1 (1975)
EN IDEALIST SHILDRING AF EPIGONUS, 1878 - An Idealist, A Descriptionof
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