Kierkegaard’s Muse: The Mystery of Regine Olsen

Joakim Garff, trans. from the Danish by Alastair Hannay. Princeton Univ., $32.95 (350p) ISBN 978-0-691-17176-0
Garff (Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography) sketches a measured, perceptive portrait of Regine Olsen, Kierkegaard’s jilted fiancée, reanimating her not as the philosopher’s immortalized muse but as a living, breathing person. Garff’s unique access to Regine’s letters to her sister Cornelia from 1855 to 1860, while her husband, Fritz Schlegel, was governor of the Danish West Indies, provide rich insight into colonial life but little in terms of Regine’s thoughts about her youthful, thwarted love. Garff thus returns to Kierkegaard’s own words to examine at length how he rejected the actual Regine so that he might make her his poetic inspiration and authorial dedicatee. As Kierkegaard died in 1855, Garff can only speculate that he still exerted an influence on Regine up until her own death in 1904. Garff’s reverence for the “master-thinker theologian” doesn’t blind him to Kierkegaard’s evident failures where Regine was concerned, and he also avoids mythologizing the muse, portraying Regine as a sensitive woman in whom deep passions ran unexpressed beneath a calm propriety. Readers not well versed in Kierkegaard’s biography may find some of the connections between the dead man’s writing and Regine’s life tenuous, but this is nonetheless a laudable addition to the biographical trend of bringing to prominence the women in the lives of much-admired men. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/24/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 336 pages - 978-1-4008-8878-8
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