On this day…2 June

On 2 June 1974 Tom Kristensen died

Born in 1893, Tom Kristensen was a Danish writer of poetry, prose fiction, travel writing and criticism. He wrote about Joyce’s works, and his own writings were influenced by Joyce’s writing. Kristensen and Joyce met during Joyce’s visit to Copenhagen in 1936.

Kristensen went to University in Copenhagen where he studied Danish, German and English literature. He published his first book of verse, Fribytterdrømme (Freebooter Dreams) in 1920. Influenced by Nietzsche’s idea of chaos, Kristensen sought beauty in the chaos of modern city life, and his works reflect his interest in modern forms, from Expressionism to Furturism to Modernism.

Kristensen travelled in the Orient and Spain in the 1920s, and out of his experiences came the book of poetry, Påfuglefjeren (The Peacock Feather, 1922), and the travel book En Kavaler i Spanien (A Gentleman in Spain, 1927). He also wrote journalism and criticism for the newspaper Politiken for many years, and his experiences as a journalist, and his own drinking, provided the background for his most famous novel, Hærværk (Havoc , 1930).

Kristensen read Ulysses, and Stuart Gilbert’s book about Ulysses, while living in Riga, and his novel Hærværk was very clearly influenced by Joyce’s style. Kristensen also wrote what seem to be the first critical reviews of Joyce’s work in Danish, published in Politiken on 15 and 16 October 1931. Joyce himself had seen these articles, and remembered them when he met Kristensen.

Kristensen and Joyce met during Joyce’s visit to Copenhagen in 1936. Joyce visited the bookshop in the Politiken building and ordered a book, asking that it be sent to his hotel. The bookseller recognised his name and pointed out that they stocked his Ulysses in the shop. Kristensen happened to be in the shop at the time and arranged to meet Joyce the next day, when Kristensen introduced Joyce to Kai Friis-Møller, another Danish poet, who had translated TS Eliot’s works into Danish. They discussed Ulysses and Work in Progress, though Joyce was reticent about confirming or denying Kristensen’s interpretations of his work.

While in Copenhagen, Joyce visited Martins Forlag to see about a Danish translation of Ulysses. Joyce thought Kristensen would be the most suitable translator of Ulysses, and asked him if he would undertake the task. Kristensen said he would, but only if he was given ten years in which to do it! The Danish translation was finally made by Colonel Mogens Boisen and published in 1949.

Kristensen moved to the island of Thurø in 1946 where he died and is buried.


Sources & Further Reading:

Byram, MS: ‘Ulysses in Copenhagen – James Joyce and Tom Kristensen,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 14, no. 2, Winter 1977, pp. 186-90.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.