Niels Lyhne by Jens Peter Jacobsen

“Aber die Stimme sprach vergebens, denn ein nüchtern gelebtes Leben ohne das süße Laster der Träume war kein Leben – das Leben hatte ja nur den Wert, den die Träume ihm gaben.” (Jacobsen, Jens Peters. Niels Lyhne. Reclam, 1984, p. 12).

What Jens Peter Jacobsen referred to as the “sweet vice of dreams” in his novel, Niels Lyhne, I have grown to know all too well. I believe that certain books remain tucked away on a shelf for years and emerge at exactly the right time. I began a project of reading the books that inspired great writers. After finishing Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, I learned that both he and Hermann Hesse had been inspired by Jacobsen’s 1880 Danish work.

The book centers around certain life events of the young man, Niels Lyhne. Throughout his life he endures revelations that portray a gripping literary tension between romanticism and realism. The challenges that surround his confrontations with both emotion and logic come to full fruition in topics such as happiness, religion and love. The characters reveal and speak to an ache in the heart of romantics and idealists who struggle to reconcile their place in a world of ever looming disillusionment.

At 218 pages long and written in an exquisite 19th century stylistic elegance, this book will speak to those of you caught in a world torn between ideals and reality. Those who feel they never quite belong will find solace in the insight and acknowledgement of the “sweet vice” we were born to carry.