PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
'Jacobsen was admired by Joyce for his episodic scene-to-scene abandonment of teleological narrative, and this fictional account of a real-life 17th-century woman is a fine European classic. Marie, married firstly to a bastard nobleman, then to a wealthy landowner, finally runs off with a coachman and finds the love of her life. While writers in English were anxiously purging female sexuality from their novels, Jacobsen was capturing his heroine's fearless sensuality. No wonder Rilke, Freud and Thomas Mann were also among Jacobsen's admirers, and again, we owe this English version to a small independent publisher. '
Jacobsen’s use of inner thoughts and philosophical discourse was innovative at the time, and his style influenced later writers such as Strindberg and James Joyce. There is more introspection than action in this novel, but the power of Jacobsen’s descriptive prose and his insight into Marie’s character and motivations make it a satisfying read. With its numerous historical footnotes, Marie Grubbe will also appeal to anyone with an interest in this period of European history.
The English establishment was shocked by Lady Chatterley’s Lover and its depiction of raw female sex- ualty, which questioned the tradition of women lying back and thinking of England. Of course, the object of such lust could only be a man from the low- er orders, possessing an unrefined sex- ual core. Yet Danish author Jens Peter Jacobsen had trod this path a century earlier, basing it on a true story. Marie Grubbe might have been a 17th century heiress, but here she is as modern as any teenage girl – bored by the constraints of her life and wanting love. First she falls for a Danish hero, a bastard son of the king who had beaten the Swedish siege of Copenhagen. When he dies she marries another illegitimate offspring of Christian IV (he clearly put himself about) but when he treats her badly she turns to other men, leading to divorce while being allowed to keep her dowry. Her father arranges a marriage to a dull older nobleman and on his estate she discovers his coachman. Twenty years her junior, in Soren she finally finds the man to satisfy her. When she is ejected from the marital home, she takes up with the coachman making him her third husband, staying with him until then end. Victorian England would have found this story wanton and fanciful, yet in Denmark it has rightly become a classic. While ensuring that the reader understands from the start that Marie is no milksop heiress, Jacobsen takes her side and explores her feelings. Sigmund Freud said the book had a profound emotional impact on him. The translator Mikka Haugaard is to be applauded for the readable style.
'First published in 1876, Marie Grubbe contributed to the general foment preceding and ultimately generating modernism, counting among its many admirers James joyce, Sigmund Freund and Stefan Zweig and forming the model for Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Jens Peter Jacobsen's novel takes for its eponymous heroine an intriguing historical figure, a seventeenth-century Danish noblewoman who married into the royal family, only to divorce her husband and enter into another, still more lifeless marriage, before finally ending up as the impoverished wife of a ferryman several decades her junior. The key detail of Grubbe's life story was that this third marriage was her happiest. Marie Grubbe sets out to render the nature of this peculiar woman who rejected the court life so coveted by her contemporaries.
A trained scientist, and Charles Darwin's translator, Jacobsen hoped to take 'the fixed laws of nature and let them inhabit the world of fiction'. He is credited with initiating naturalism in Danish literature, and his Marie Grubbe is as original, superior and doomed as one of Thomas Hardy's heroines. Initially seeing marriage as a way to break the monotony of daily life, 'something opening new vistas fill of pleasure', Grubbe sleepwalks into a marriage with a playboy member of the royal family. The bulk of the novel comprises their courtship, brief happiness, and torturous decline, during which Grubbe comes to look at her husband with ' a cold, almost mocking curiosity'. In the prolonged inner scream of this marriage, Grubbe turns to self mutilation: 'she would trace the course of blue and pale purple capillaries running beneath her white skin... and she really would follow her desire and bite like some cruel, small beast, bite upon bite'. Brute desire, not reason, animates the action of Marie Grubbe. Its heroine is tempted into adultery with her brother-in-law after watching him beat a man: ' the savagery... had a strong effect on Marie; for that night... she said to herself that she loved him'. Such startling psychological depth forms the lasting interest of this novel, which depicts a thoroughly modern woman, her erotic life fully fledged, though tragically thwarted.'
Michael LaPointe in The Times Literary Supplement