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||Martin Andersen-Nex° (1869-1954) - pseudonym of Martin Andersen|
Danish writer, first rate social realist, whose novels depicted the oppressed life of the poor and helped to raise social consciousness. Nex°'s views and his engagement in the political and humanitarian issues of his day did not make him popular in Denmark. In 1922, after a trip to the Soviet Union, he joined the Communist Party.
"It has always been considered a sign of good birth to be able to count one's ancestors for centuries back. In consequence of this, Ditte Child o' Man stood at the top of the tree. She belonged to one of the largest families in the country, the family of Man." (in Ditte: Girl Alive!, 1917)
Martin Andersen-Nex° was born in the slums of Copenhagen into extreme poverty. He was the fourth of eleven children. His father, a stonemason, was an alcoholic. Mathilda Mainz, Martin's mother, was a daughter of a German blacksmith. When he was eight, the family moved to the town of Nex° on the island of Bornholm; from there he adopted the name as his own in 1894. With the help of a patron, Nex° was able to go to school. In his youth he worked as a farmhand, shepherd, shoemaker's apprentice, and mason's assistant. Nex° would later recall the time when he was as a shepherd probably the happiest in his life. Following pleurisy, he traveled between the years 1894 and 1896 in Spain and Italy, where he was an apprentice to a cobbler for a period. In Denmark he earned his living as a hod-carrier and general laborer. During this time he became a socialist.
After studying two years at the Askov Folk High School, Nex° graduated in 1897 as a teacher and found work at a Gruntvigian folk school in Odense. His first collection of stories, Skygger (1898), dealt with the world of the destitute. Along with the modest success of Familien Franck (1901) he gave up teaching and devoted himself entirely to writing.
Dryss (1902) echoed fin de siŔcle pessimism but Soldage (1903), a travel book about Spain, expressed the author's faith in the working class. His breakthrough work, Pelle erobreren (4 vols.), which appeared between in 1906-1910, has been regarded as a Danish classic. The novel told the story of Pelle, a poor boy, whose life in part one shares much similarities with Nex°'s. In his childhood Pelle and his poor Swedish father, Lasse, work as servants on an estate on Bornholm. As a young man he becomes a shoemaker's apprentice. But an individual artisan cannot competite with factory industries. Pelle experiences the misery of the exploited workers in Copenhagen. In part two Pelle travels to Italy and in part three he becomes a leader of a shoemaker union. Nex° contrasts the social-democratic worker's movement and passive proletariat, and Pelle leads a labor fight to victory. However, his home is wrecked and he is sent to prison as an "agitator", but novel ends optimistically. Pelle rejects anarchism, finds his individuality, and with his wife Ellen he establishes a new country home. Critics have compared Nex°'s work to Maxim Gorky's novels. The film version of the novel by Bille August, Pelle the Conqueror (1987), won both the Palmes d'or at Cannes and Oscar for Best Foreign Film.
Ditte menneskebarn (1917-1921), which exhibited the naturalism of Zola, was more pessimistic than Pelle Eroberen. Once more Nex° recorded the life of a child of the rural proletariat, who moves to Copenhagen. But while Pelle conquered all obstacles, Ditte works herself to death at the age of twenty-five in spite of her hunger for life. Ditte has a good heart, but she fights alone against poverty. She has a child with the son of a farm owner, which results in her being thrown out of her job. In Copenhagen she is exploited by everybody. Nex°, who admired the Soviet revolution, depicted the darkest sides of capitalism in this novel. Ditte's suffering is not meaningless. Her willingness to help others is a sacrifice for the sake of future generations.
"Martin Andersen Nex° is the only Danish writer of his generation whose literary creativity rests on a Marxist world view. But there is an easily discernible difference between him and the socialists authors of the 1930s: Nex° still believes in human goodness, believes that it asserts itself in spite of everything - cutting across all social and economic relationships." (Sven H. Rossell in A History of Scandinavian Literature 1870-1980, 1982)
In 1922 Nex° toured in Russia with the German Expressionist painter George Grosz, in order to prepare an illustrated documentary on the plight of the Soviet state. On the trip he also attended the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, where Lenin a held speech. Between the years 1923 and 1930 Nex° lived in Germany, but left the country due to the rise of Nazism. Midt i en JŠrntid (1929) was a satire on the economic corruption during the trade boom of World War I. Morten hin R°de, 1945-47 (2 vols), which Nex° began to write in Sweden, returned to the world of Pelle who has become a bourgeois social-democratic minister. The poet Morten represents now the spirit of rebellion. He is a childhood friend of Pelle, and remains true to the revolutionary ideals of his class, while social democrats like Pelle have adopted bourgeois values
During World War II Nex° was held for a time by the Danish
police as a Communist. He took refuge in Sweden in 1943 and then went
to the Soviet Union. After the war in 1945, when Russian scientists
started to collect information about atomic bomb, Nex° helped them to
meet the Danish phycisist Niels Bohr. Bornholm, where Nex° lived, was
the final holdout of German army in the closing days of the war.
Russian soldiers stayed there until 1946.
In 1949 Nex° settled in the German Democratic Republic. He was made an honorary citizen and a gymnasium was named after him. Nex°'s memoirs, Erindringer (Under the Open Sky), came out in 1932-39. It gives much information of the background of his novels. Nex° died in Dresden, East Germany, on June 1, 1954. He was married three times, first to Margrethe Thomsen in 1898, then to Margrethe Frydenlund Hansen, and finally to Johanna May, in 1925.
For further reading: Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Vol. 3, ed. Steven R. Serafin (1999); Venskab og revolution, Martin Andersen Nex°s og Marie Nielsens venskab og politiske virke 1918-24 by B°rge Houmann et al. (1990); World Authors 1900-1950, Vol. 3, ed. Martin Seymour-Smith, Andrew C. Kimmens (1996); A History of Danish Literature by S. Rossel (1992); Quest for a Promised Land: The Works of Martin Andersen Nex° by F. and N. Ingwesen (1984); A History of Scandinavian Literature 1870-1980 by Sven H. Rossell (1982); Martin Andersen Nex°: ╚crivain du prolÚtariat by J. Le Bras-Barret (1969); Martin Andersen Nex° als Dichter und Mensch by W. Berendsohn (1966); Martin Andersen Nex°s Weg in die Weltliteratur by W. Berendsohn (1949); Three Ways of Modern Man by H. Slochower (1937) - See also: Moa Martinson