Jacob Paludan had established himself as both a poet and a novelist before, relatively late in his career, he came to the essay. Qualified as a pharmacist, Paludan had an unusual background. He moved to Ecuador for two years after completing his training in Denmark. From there, via New York, he returned to Denmark. In his novels and indeed later in his critical work he is a conservative who voices skepticism about culture in the United States. Thus he stood in opposition to his Danish contemporaries Tom Kristensen and Johannes V. Jensen, who admired American technology and traveled several times to the U.S.
When asked what Paludan’s major contribution has been, a student of Danish literature will answer the novel Jørgen Stein (1932–33). In this important work and other novels, Paludan is a social critic in much the same way as Henrik Pontoppidan, Nobel Prize winner in 1917, had been a critic of the social situation in Denmark. As an essayist, however, Paludan’s attitude changed over time. To begin with, his essays reflected his somewhat rigid approach to and analysis of culture. Later, however, while remaining an essentially conservative thinker, Paludan became more flexible and less dogmatic, no longer making sweeping condemnations of American or Danish culture, but rather addressing himself to small details in Danish life and letters. It is at times startling to find the gentle essayist of the war and postwar eras to be the same writer as the abrasive critic of the 19205 and 19305 Paludan’s career as an essayist began with the volume Feodor Jansens jeramiader (1927; The jeremiads of Feodor Jansen). Paludan claimed he was the editor rather than the author of the volume; there was, however, no other candidate for the position of Jeremiah. Ten essays make up the jeremiads section; they read like traditional essays on subjects such as newspapers, friendship, the new youth, and poets. The last part of the volume is entitled “Jansen og det kvindelige” (Jansen and the feminine); here there are clear echoes of Paludan’s dislike of life in the United States. In particular, in evincing his skepticism concerning feminism, Paludan makes several disputable statements, declaring, for instance, that women attach themselves to people, and men to objects. Another of his odd observations is that young women do not need friends, and that friendship with men exists only once they are older. “What the young woman needs is admirers!” he claims.
What Paludan must have thought of these ideas in later decades, when his essays were more charitable, benevolent, and good-natured, is a matter of conjecture.
In contrast to this first collection of essays, Paludan’s later essays turn to other subjects, often situations in the natural world, and his experiences and reflections. His essays in the 1960s are easier to read, more general in nature, but with little point. We read them in the same way we read his memoirs like Siden de spørger—og andre omkredsninger (1968; Since you are asking and other roundabout ways). The collection Mørkeblåt og sort (1965; Dark blue and black) to an extent sums up the author’s work with an abundance of aphorisms Paludan described as a rough mosaic.
Paludan’s work as a journalist gave him access to a large audience, permitting him to submit short articles and essays to periodicals, newspapers, and journals for several decades. While some of his essays may seem dated today, they are nevertheless the testimony of an eyewitness, of a thinking man, whose concern is his country and its future.
Jacob Stig Henning Paludan. Born 7 February 1896 in Copenhagen. Trained as a pharmacist, qualified 1918. Traveled to Ecuador and the United States, 1920–21. Literary critic for various newspapers, after 1925, including Dagens Nyheder (Daily news), Politiken, and Århus Stiftstidende; editor, Hasselbalchs Kulturbibliotek, from 1940.
Founding member, Danish Academy.
Awards: several, including Holberg Medal, 1939;
Danish Academy Prize, 1964. Died in Copenhagen, 26 September 1975.
Essays and Related Prose
Feodor Jansens jeramiader, 1927
Aaret rundt: Trykt og utrykt, 1929
Tanker og bagtanker, 1937
Som on intet var hoendt, 1938
Smaa apropos’er, 1943
Søgende aander: Redegørelse og debatter, 1943
Han gik ture, 1949
Skribenter på yderposter: Redegørelser og debatter, 1949
Retur til barndommen, 1951
Fremad til nutiden, 1953
Sagt i korthed, 1929–1954, 1954
Bøger, poeter og stilister, 1954
Littercert selskab, 1956
Gloede over Danmark, 1958
Landeveje og tankeveje: Udvalgte essays fra 30 aar, 3 vols., 1963
Mørkeblåt og sort, 1965
Skrivebord og stjernehimmel, 1972
Other writings: several novels (including De vestlige veje, 1922; Søgelys, 1923; En vinter lang, 1924; Fugle omkring fyret [Birds Around the Light], 1925; Markerne modnes, 1927; Jørgen Stein, 1932–33), a collection of poetry, and four volumes of memoirs.
Benthien, Børge, Jacob Paludan, en bibliografi, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1980
Danske digtere i det 20.aarhundrede, vol. 1, edited by Ernst Frandsen and Niels Kaas
Johansen, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1951:331–52
Frederiksen, Emil, “Der Essayist und Prosaverfasser Jacob Paludan,” Ausblick: Zeitschrift für Deutsch-Skandinavische Beziehungen (1964):43–44
Frederiksen, Emil, Jacob Paludan, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1966
Hallar, Søren Christian, Jacob Paludan, Copenhagen: Hasselbalch, 1927
Heltberg, Niels, “Jacob Paludan,” American-Scandinavian Review 40, no. 2 (1952):142– 45
Profiler: Jacob Paludan et al., Copenhagen: Andersen, 1944
Smith, Johannes, “En fornem pen-i dansk skrivekunst,” Perspektiv 3 (April 1956)
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