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Niels Lyhne Paperback – Jun 27 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
This highly influential late-19th century Danish novel portrays the melancholy life of an idealistic young poet.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Jacobsen has made a more profound impression on my heart than any other reading in recent years. (Sigmund Freud)See all Product Description
Inside This Book(Learn More)
She had the black shining eyes of the Blid family, with fine, straight eyebrows; she had their strongly contoured nose, their powerful jaw and full lips. Read the first page
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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As I closed it, I thought: "I should have read this when I was 18."
And I still kind of think that. The point of view is more immediately relevant to someone just in the throes of figuring out The Meaning of Life.
But now, as I go through my notes and passages from the book, I believe that I did Jacobsen (and the novel) a real disservice. There's something more complicated going on here than the typical Sorrows of Young Werther Sturm und Drang.
I've now, in retrospect, come to see Niels Lynhe as a kind of rewriting of the Book of Job. Only, in the case of our protagonist, it is his atheism which is tested by life. It's an interesting idea, but also a confusing one-- the whole notion of being tested implies agency of some kind (and Lyhne certainly does seem to lead a complicated and cursed life) which throws the whole question of his atheism into a different light. Even the remarks of his friend as he lay dying seem to me to bring into doubt where Jacobsen sat in this debate. The idea that God rewards steadfastness rather than a particular point of view? I feel humbled by my own arrogance that I had reading the book, as I consider now that there is something quite subtle being questioned-- a very delicate point that I'm not sure that I understand even now.
So here's the value for me in doing these reviews and taking notes-- if I'd just left my experience of the book once I put it down, I believe that I would have missed part of the value in the reading experience. I'd recommend it in the end.
(I have no complaints about either the Penguin Classics edition or the Nunnally translation. The introduction wasn't particularly informative, but at least it wasn't tiresome either.)
The book was deemed controversial for the professed atheism of the protagonist. Indeed Niels refutes the opportunity to renege his atheism at the hour of his death when given the opportunity, and all the more receives the blessing of his friend Hjerrild who claims that if he were God he would rather "Bless the one who would not change his mind at the end". However this is a crucial theme of the book - the loss of a metaphysical authority to make sense of things. The primary focus remains the fearless search for reason and meaning, sensations and love in a world that seems intent on defeating any such quest and demeaning the valor of the heart. The love scenes are of such profound beauty that they delight and excite, inspire and enliven. A constant focus being the idealism of love and the dreaded pragmatic vicissitudes that vulgarize it and, by the book's end, the redemption that may yet come of it. The narrative takes us from the day-dreams of youth to the hope for greatness, and to finally the realization that life is to be endured for what it is. A stark realism pervades the last pages, where hope is lost and truth declaimed as inadequate to satisfy the longings of the brave. It is a novel whose poetry is stifled by the vulgar apprehensions of everyday life. It is a novel that dreams the big dreams and fears the nightmare only to eventually consign itself to the inevitable brutal truth that makes for a "difficult death." It is with reason and accuracy that much as been made of Rilke's, Hesse's, and Thomas Mann's debt to the book; indeed "The Notebooks of Brigge", "Tonio Kruger", and "Damien" thread a common theme and live a similar fate, but there are some passages in Niels Lynhe that are simply brilliant aesthetically, and anyone who forgoes reading Jacobsen's novel should feel deprived of one of literature's best books ever written.
Here's a sentence from the first paragraph of the text:
"It tells of his ekrly dreams and ideals, his efforts to know and to achieve, his revolt against the dreaniswathed dogmas in which people take refuge fromjTarsh. reality"