Discover our guide with the famous Danish authors who have created some of the most magical and exciting stories of the modern world.
With a rich culture and literary history, Denmark is a must-visit destination for aspiring writers and poets. Danish literature has given us the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson and some of the greatest philosophical and existentialist works ever.
Some of the best Danish authors have given the world incredible works of literature that encapsulate the human experience, inspire readers and entertain people of all ages. If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll love our round-up of the best literary realism books!
- 1. Hans Christian Andersen, 1805 – 1875
- 2. Jens Peter Jacobsen, 1847 – 1885
- 3. Søren Kierkegaard, 1813 – 1855
- 4. Johannes V. Jensen
- 5. Henrik Pontoppidan, 1857 – 1943
- 6. Karen Blixen, 1885 – 1962
- 7. Peter Høeg, 1957 –
- 8. Tove Ditlevsen, 1917 – 1976
- 9. Klaus Rifbjerg, 1931 – 2015
- 10. Saxo Grammaticus, c. 1150 – c. 1220
- 11. Jussi Adler-Olsen, 1950 –
- 12. Ludvig Holberg, 1684 – 1754
- 13. Georg Brandes, 1842 – 1927
- 14. Martin Andersen Nexø, 1869 – 1854
- 15. Sven Hassel, 1917 – 2012
- 16. Carsten Jensen, 1952 –
- 17. Inger Christensen, 1935 – 2009
- 18. Lene Kaaberbøl, 1960 –
- 19. Karl Adolph Gjellerup, 1957 – 1919
- 20. Jakob Ejersbo, 1968 – 2008
- 21. Jens Christian Grøndahl, 1959
- 22. Naja Marie Aidt, 1959 –
- 23. Morten Nielsen, 1922 – 1944
- 24. Josefine Klougart, 1985 –
- 25. Knud Sørensen, 1928 – 2022
1. Hans Christian Andersen, 1805 – 1875
We all know the fairytale of The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling, but many readers have never asked who the original author of these much-loved stories is. The answer is Hans Christian Anderson – a Danish writer and world-famous author who created some of the most popular stories of the modern world.
Andersen’s first fairy tale, The Tallow Candle, was discovered in a Danish archive in October 2012. The story is about a candle that didn’t feel appreciated. Despite his first fairy tale never making it to the public during his lifetime, his later works were a great success, like A Journey on Foot from Holmen’s Canal to the East Point of Amager.
Andersen’s first published collection, Fairy Tales Told for Children (First Collection), included several encapsulating tales, but best known today, it had the first version of The Princess and the Pea. Andersen continued to publish collections of fairy tales, each containing many original stories behind the much-loved Disney adaptations that our world is so fond of.
“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”Hans Christian Anderson, The Complete Fairy Tales
Check out Fairy Tales Told for Children (First Collection) on Amazon; click here.
2. Jens Peter Jacobsen, 1847 – 1885
Jens Peter Jacobsen was a poet and novelist who wrote about the complexities of human relationships. His most famous novel, “Niels Lyhne,” explores the struggles of an artist in a changing society. Jacobsen’s works were influential to the modernist movement in Danish literature.
Jacobsen’s prose was wildly successful in the late 19th century, and his historical novel Fru Marie Grubbe is the first Danish novel that portrayed a woman in a sexual way, which was groundbreaking at the time. In his second novel, Niels Lyhne, he spoke on his atheist beliefs and commented on the tragedies he had witnessed.
Jacobsen also wrote several successful poems influenced by late romanticism, many of which were wistful, dreamy and naturalistic. Sadly, Jacobsen became very unwell with tuberculosis, eventually leading to his death in 1885 at just 38 years of age.
“For the first time his mind grasped the fact that when life has sentenced you to suffer, the sentence is neither a fancy nor a threat, but you are dragged to the rack, and you are tortured, and there is no marvelous rescue at the last moment, no awakening as from a bad dream. He felt it as a foreboding which struck him with terror.”Jens Peter Jacobsen, Niels Lyhne
Check Niels Lyhne on Amazon; click here.
3. Søren Kierkegaard, 1813 – 1855
Søren Kierkegaard was a passionate theologian, philosopher, poet and social critic who wrote many passionate works and critical texts on Christianity and organized religion. Although this might seem more common nowadays, such critical pieces were daring to publish in the early 19th century.
Kierkegaard published some of his work under a pseudonym; this was a common technique for authors to communicate opinions that were not their own. Kierkegaard used this technique to create indirect communication with his more critical works. His most known writing on religion is Fear and Trembling, The Sickness Unto Death, and Either/Or.
“I see it all perfectly; there are two possible situations — one can either do this or that. My honest opinion and my friendly advice is this: do it or do not do it — you will regret both.”Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or: A Fragment of Life
Check out Either/Or: A Fragment of Life on Amazon; click here.
4. Johannes V. Jensen
Johannes V. Jensen was a Danish author known as one of the best Danish writers of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994 “for the rare strength and fertility of his poetic imagination combined with an intellectual curiosity of wide scope and a bold, freshly creative style.” He wrote novels, poetry, and essays, often exploring the relationship between humans and nature. Jensen’s works include The Long Journey, The Fall of the King, and Myths.
“His body arches up, resting only on head and heels. He stares in anguish at the ceiling and screams, screams like a woman in labor. Finally he collapses, and his cries begin to subside. Little by little he falls silent and lies quiet.”Johannes V. Jensen, The Fall of the King
Check out The Fall of the King on Amazon; click here.
5. Henrik Pontoppidan, 1857 – 1943
Pontoppidan wrote novels and short stories, often exploring the struggles of the lower classes in Danish society. Pontoppidan’s works include Lucky Per, The Promised Land, and The Apothecary’s Daughters. He was born in 1857 in Fredericia, Denmark, and began his writing career as a journalist. He later turned to fiction, and his works often dealt with themes of social criticism and realism.
Pontoppidan is best known for his novel Lykke-Per (Lucky Per), which tells the story of a young man who rises from poverty to become a successful engineer. The novel is considered a masterpiece of Danish literature and is still widely read today.
“Every man’s soul is an independent universe, his death the extinction of the universe in miniature.”Henrik Pontoppidan, Lykke-Per
Check out Lykke-Per on Amazon; click here.
6. Karen Blixen, 1885 – 1962
Dinesen was born in north Copenhagen; her father was a writer and army officer, inspiring her to begin writing herself. She shared a relaxed attitude to life with her father and was interested in the outdoors and hunting.
Her first novel was a challenge to publish as many publishers refused to work with her, but with the help of her brother, she was picked up by Dorothy Canfield, who published her book Seven Gothic Tales. Her works often explored the themes of love, loss, and identity. Dinesen’s works include Out of Africa, Seven Gothic Tales, and Babette’s Feast.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
Check out Out of Africa on Amazon; click here.
7. Peter Høeg, 1957 –
Peter Høeg is a Danish author of literary fiction. His most famous work is the novel Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, which tells the story of a woman who investigates the death of a young boy. The novel was a bestseller in Denmark and has been translated into many languages.
Høeg’s other works include the novels The Quiet Girl and The Susan Effect. His most famous work, Smilla’s Sense of Snow, explores the life of a woman who investigates the death of a young boy.
Check out Smilla’s Sense of Snow on Amazon; click here.
8. Tove Ditlevsen, 1917 – 1976
Tove Ditlesven was a Danish poet and author who published in various genres; she was well-known in Denmark and is regarded as one of the best-known Danish writers. Diltevsen writes with themes of female identity, memory, and loss of childhood woven into her works.
Her first volume of poetry was published in her early twenties, and she experienced quick success and popularity with this endeavor. Three of her novels are written to form an autobiographical trilogy – Barndom (Childhood), Ungdom (Youth) and Dependency
“Childhood is long and narrow like a coffin, and you can’t get out of it on your own.”Tove Ditlevsen, Childhood
Check out The Copenhagen Trilogy on Amazon; click here.
9. Klaus Rifbjerg, 1931 – 2015
Klaus Rifbjerg authored an impressive 170 novels, books and essays throughout his successful career; he also co-produced the film 4×4, which is known worldwide. Rifbjerg grew up on the island of Amager and was raised by his parents, who were both teachers. His breakthrough novel Den Kroniske Uskyld was immensely popular after publication and was made into a film in 1985.
From then on, Rifbjerg published a mixture of novels, poetry and short stories. His works often explored the themes of love, identity, and death. Some of Rifbjerg’s best-known works include The Witness, Anna, and The Death of a Beekeeper.
Check out Witness to the Future on Amazon; click here.
10. Saxo Grammaticus, c. 1150 – c. 1220
Saxo Grammaticus, also known as Saxo cognomine Longus, was a famous historian, theologian and author thought to have been the main advisor to Valdemar I of Denmark, making him a significant historical Danish figure.
Saxo Grammaticus wrote the Gesta Danorum, a history of Denmark from its mythological origins to the late 12th century. His work is considered a valuable source of information on early Danish history and mythology.
“Among them was Ladgerda, a skilled amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.”Grammaticus Saxo, The Danish History, Books I-IX
Check out The History of the Danes on Amazon; click here.
11. Jussi Adler-Olsen, 1950 –
Jussi Adler-Olsen is a contemporary Danish author known for his crime novels. His most famous work, “The Keeper of Lost Causes,” follows the story of a detective who investigates cold cases.
His most famous series of novels follows the investigations of Detective Carl Mørck and his team at the Department Q police department. The first book in the series, The Keeper of Lost Causes, was a bestseller in Denmark and has been adapted into a film. Adler-Olsen’s other works include the standalone novel The Alphabet House.
“Carl closed his eyes and tried to recall a couple of significant moments in his life. After a few seconds of nothingness, he opened them again.”Jussi Adler-Olsen, The Keeper of Lost Causes
Check out The Keeper of Lost Causes on Amazon; click here.
12. Ludvig Holberg, 1684 – 1754
Ludvig Holberg was a writer and philosopher who wrote plays, essays, and novels. His works often satirized Danish society and politics. He is considered one of the most important figures in Scandinavian literature.
Holberg’s most famous works include the plays Jeppe of the Hill and Erasmus Montanus, which are still performed today. He also wrote the novel The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground, considered one of the first works of science fiction.
“Madness is the characteristic of the true poet. All those who express themselves with clearness, precision and simplicity are deemed unworthy of the laurel wreath.”Ludvig Holberg, The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground
Check out Jeppe of the Hill on Amazon; click here.
13. Georg Brandes, 1842 – 1927
Georg Morris Cohen Brandes was a Danish scholar who impacted the literary and scholastic world in Scandinavia and Europe from the 1870s to the turn of the 20th century. At 30, he created the principles of new realism and naturalism, which condemned hyper-aesthetic and fantasy writing styles.
Brandes is known for bringing European literary ideas to Scandinavia and advocated for literature that spoke on contemporary social issues. Brandes’ works include Main Currents in 19th Century Literature and The Romantic School in Germany.
“He who possesses liberty otherwise than as a thing to be striven for, possesses it dead and soulless; for the idea of liberty has undoubtedly this characteristic, that it develops steadily during its assimilation.”Georg Brandes, Main Currents In Nineteenth Century Literature, Volume 4
Check out The Romantic School In Germany on Amazon; click here.
14. Martin Andersen Nexø, 1869 – 1854
Martin Andersen Nexø was prominent in Danish and Scandinavian literature during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He was a popular novelist who created renowned literary works like his four-volume series titled Pelle the Conqueror, which was made into a film in 1987.
The story follows the life of Pelle Karlsson, a young boy from a poor family who seeks a better life. It’s a humbling and inspiring story highlighting the struggle of Danish immigrants living in poverty during the 19th century. Nexø’s works often explored the struggles of the working class.
Check out Pelle the Conqueror on Amazon; click here.
15. Sven Hassel, 1917 – 2012
Pedersen. Hassle often wrote novels set during World War II based on his experiences as a soldier. He has created many popular novels that have a sense of grit, determination and realism through his marvelous storytelling abilities.
Hassel’s best-known works include Legion of the Damned, Wheels of Terror, Monte Cassino, and Blitzfreeze. His novels reflect on the horrors of war and give insight into the effects on the soldiers and the struggles they faced.
“You must drink lots of wine. We must get you normal again. I don’t want to travel with an imbecile. Not that I’m quite right in the head myself. What have I let myself in for?”Sven Hassel, Legion of the Damned
Check out Wheels of Terror on Amazon; click here.
16. Carsten Jensen, 1952 –
Carsten Jensen is known for his novels, essays and travel writing that gained recognition for his writing style that blends personal experiences, historical events and social commentary. His writing tackles complex issues and explores human nature and psyche.
His most famous work is the novel We, the Drowned, which tells the story of the people of a small Danish town and their relationship with the sea. The novel was a bestseller in Denmark and has been translated into many languages. Jensen’s other works include the novel The First Stone and the essay collection My War Gone By, I Miss It So
“Hope can be like a plant that sprouts and grows and keeps people alive. But it can also be a wound that refuses to heal.”Carsten Jensen, We, the Drowned
Check out We, the Drowned on Amazon; click here.
17. Inger Christensen, 1935 – 2009
Inger Christensen writes thought-provoking poetry and prose with beautiful simplicity and insight into deep emotions. She is often associated with the New Simplicity movement and delves into existential themes. Christensen is known for her experimental writing style and her use of language.
Some of her most famous work is the poetry collection Det, which explores themes of nature, language, and the human condition. She also wrote the novel Azorno and the essay collections Alfabet and The Condition of Secrecy.
“Our relationship was beyond language—and thus also beyond time. We were one big space (which was, of course, a very small space).”Inger Christensen, The Condition of Secrecy
- Used Book in Good Condition
- Christensen, Inger (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
- 64 Pages - 05/17/2001 (Publication Date) - New Directions (Publisher)
Check out Alphabet on Amazon; click here.
18. Lene Kaaberbøl, 1960 –
Lene Kaaberbøl is one of the most modern authors on our list. She is best known for the “W.I.T.C.H.” series, a spin-off of the popular Italian comic book series of the same name. Kaaberbøl contributed to popular adaptations of the comics, creating additional stories and adventures based on the characters – teenage girls who possess magical powers and are on a mission to protect the universe.
Kaaberbøl has a diverse range of works, including fantasy novels, crime fiction and young adult literature. Her writing often combines mystery, adventure and supernatural elements, creating wonderful novels with imaginative narratives.
“Because even though you don’t want anyone to own you, it doesn’t mean that there is nowhere you belong.”Lene Kaaberbol, The Shamer’s War
Check out The Shamer’s Daughter on Amazon; click here.
19. Karl Adolph Gjellerup, 1957 – 1919
Gjellerup was a Danish poet and novelist best known for exploring philosophical and spiritual themes. He is often associated with Symbolism and Modernism, and his works reflect his interest in mysticism, spirituality and the human condition. Romanticism heavily influenced his early works, but he later turned to more philosophical and spiritual themes.
Gjellerup is perhaps best known for his novel The Pilgrim Kamanita, which tells the story of a young man embarking on a spiritual journey to enlightenment. The novel is considered a classic of Danish literature and is still widely read today.
Check out The Pilgrim Kamanita on Amazon; click here.
20. Jakob Ejersbo, 1968 – 2008
Little is known about his early life; most of his writing was published posthumously following a short 10-month battle with esophageal cancer. Before his death, Ejersbo published Nordkraft, a critically acclaimed novel about a small group of entangled friends struggling with drug use and tumultuous relationships. The book sold more than 100,000 copies, which was considered unusually high for the Danish literature market at the time.
Ejersbo died in Aalborg in 2008 at just 40 years old, his lost talent rocking the Danish writing and publishing community. Although he lived alone at the time of his passing and was not married nor had children, the editor of Gyldendal, a major Danish publishing house, spoke at Ejersbo’s funeral, saying, “To see so much originality, so much talent go to waste and never get the chance to unfold. It is unbearable.”
Check out Nordkraft on Amazon; click here.
21. Jens Christian Grøndahl, 1959
Jens Christian Grøndah was born in 1959 in Copenhagen and studied philosophy for a short time before attending the national Danish film school to become a director. He published his first book in 1985 when he was 26 years old and subsequently published 18 more novels, children’s books, and seven volumes of written essays.
His most notable work is An Altered Light, which tells the story of a successful female lawyer in Copenhagen who must rediscover herself after her husband announces his desire to get a divorce. He has written several other works, including Often I Am Happy, Silence In October, and Lucca, for which he won The Golden Laurel, a coveted Danish booksellers award, in 1998.
“If you can’t say yes, you’ve already said no.”Jens Christian Grøndahl, An Altered Light
Check out An Altered Light on Amazon; click here.
22. Naja Marie Aidt, 1959 –
Naja Marie Aidt is a popular Danish poet and author who was born and raised in Greenland until moving to Copenhagen later in her childhood. Her first collection of poems, titled While I’m Still Young, was published in 1991, and she nearly immediately became a full-time writer in 1993. Her work has won numerous awards, including the Danish Critic’s Prize for Literature and the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, and has been translated into nine languages.
Aidt’s work often deals with dark and complex topics, such as violence, death, and loss. However, she also writes about love, hope, and resilience. Her work has been praised for its beautiful and lyrical language and honest and emotionally charged portrayal of the human experience.
“The Greek word for ‘butterfly’ is ‘psyche’, which also means ‘soul’. And so, when Socrates speaks about the soul, the butterfly follows along. A beautiful shadow fluttering inside the word ‘soul’.”Naja Marie Aidt, When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back
Check out When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back on Amazon; click here.
23. Morten Nielsen, 1922 – 1944
Morten Nielsen was a young Danish poet tragically killed at 22 who died after being shot accidentally during a weapons trade during World War II and the Danish resistance to German occupation. During his lifetime, he only published one short collection of poems called Warriors Without Weapons in 1943, just one year before his death.
Most of Nielsen’s work was published ten years posthumously, and his most famous poetry, titled Moment, is in the Danish Cultural Canon. His poems soon became a hallmark of a younger generation’s quest for freedom from oppression, and his prose is still cherished today for its raw and unapologetic look at issues faced by the young people of his time.
24. Josefine Klougart, 1985 –
One Of Us Is Sleeping is a story about a young woman who faces not only the loss of her mother, who is dying of terminal cancer but also heartbreak in many other forms. Klougart’s novels often explore the darker aspects of human nature and One Of Us Is Sleeping is no exception. The novel is moving and sometimes shows a disturbing exploration of grief, love, and loss.
She taught at the University of Bern in Switzerland as a guest professor in 2017 and co-wrote a book with Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson titled Your Glacial Expectations. Klougart’s works have been translated into more than 13 languages, and in 2011, she was nominated for the Nordic Council Literature Prize for her book Rise and Fall. She also received the Danish Royal Prize for Culture and resided in Copenhagen.
Check out One of Us Is Sleeping on Amazon; click here.
25. Knud Sørensen, 1928 – 2022
In 1961, at 33, Sørensen published his first poem called “Eksplosion”. Since then, he has written numerous essays, novels, poetry, and a radio play. In 1997, his critically acclaimed novel En tid won Weekendavisen won the Danish Critic’s Prize For Literature.
Sørensen was awarded a lifetime writing grant by the Danish Arts Agency and many other scholarships and grants for his work’s meaningful impact on Danish literature. He died in September 2022 at the age of 94.
Check out New and Selected Poems: Knud Sørensen on Amazon; click here.
Looking for more? Check out our round-up of the best 20th century authors!