cover image Niels Lyhne

Niels Lyhne

J. P. Jacobsen, Jens Jacobsen. Fjord Press, $19.95 (212pp) ISBN 978-0-940242-30-2

This is a brand-new translation, the first in over half a century, of a celebrated Danish classic. First published in 1880, Niels Lyhne won the admiration of many giants of the early 20th century: Mann, Ibsen, Freud, Joyce, Strindberg and, above all, Rilke, who declared this one of his ``indispensable'' books. It is not hard to see why. The novel, which describes the somewhat melancholy, idealistic life of young poet Lyhne and his involvements with a number of passionately portrayed women, is romanticism incarnate. The prose, vibrantly translated, heaves and sighs and throbs like the music of Mahler. There is a constant yearning toward a perfectly realized happiness, anguished talk about the impossibility of religious faith and the difficulties of atheism, some wonderfully atmospheric nature writing. The trappings are old-fashioned, certainly--particularly the numbers of lingering deaths caused by inexplicable illnesses; but Jacobsen's insights into the hearts and souls of women fighting against idealization are extremely impressive. Niels Lyhne is more than just a charming period piece; it is a summation of a way of thought that inspired a whole generation of remarkable European artists, and Fjord is to be congratulated for bringing it to us. (July)