1847-1885, scientist (translator of Darwin and awarded the University's gold medal for a dissertation on fresh-water algae) and exclusive poet associated with the so-called "modern breakthrough" in Danish literature in the 1870s. Jacobsen's immediate importance was his status as the "writer of his generation".
With the novel Niels Lyhne (1880) he voiced the disoriented and confused rejection of the old values, Romanticism's dream and religion. As a pessimistic, defeatist novel it set the norm for the decadence and death urge that were characteristic of the 1890s and turn of the century, while the debate within it forms part of the struggle for a view of life based on atheism and science.
Jacobsen's breakthrough came already in 1876 with the historical and psychological novel Fru Marie Grubbe, which for the first time in Danish literature presented a profound portrayal of a woman as a creature of instinct and desire and as a being searching for her own identity.
The book's defiant individualism asserting human values as opposed to society's judgement was also a sign of modernity. Like the single volume of short stories Jacobsen published in 1882, three years before he died of tuberculosis, both novels are unique in an age of realism on account of their highly charged, atmospheric prose and almost lyrical style.
Jacobsen's late Romantic or early Symbolist poetry was not published in book form until after his death. Jacobsen was of great importance to German literature around the turn of the century, including Rilke and Thomas Mann, and later to Kafka. Composers like Schönberg and Delius wrote music to texts by Jacobsen.
Johan de Mylius, Gyldendal Leksikon