Mrs Marie Grubbe

J.P. Jacobsen (1847-1885)

By Dorthe Sondrup Andersen, master's degree in literature and culture writer, 2006

Naked skin, silk and steel 

On a summer’s day in the middle of the seventeenth century, the writer I. P. Jacobsen arrives at Tjele Manor. Not as himself, but as the scent of flowers flowing in through the slightly parted lips of noblewoman Marie Grubbe, filling her tender breast and bringing oxygen to her brain. Perhaps that is something the writer should not have done, for erotic fantasies abound in there that are in stark contrast to the 14-year-old girl’s childish appearance and bright summery surroundings. 

Fatal attraction 

Marie Grubbe is sent to Copenhagen just before the Swedish king places an iron ring around the city, and she falls helplessly in love with the city’s military commander-in-chief. Marie is even excited by the fact that the gallant officer uses a bit of force to get his first kiss.

Unfortunately the war hero dies under circumstances that cause Marie to despise him, and consequently she quite happily marries the King’s protégé, Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve. The marriage begins gently and pleasantly enough, but when, after a long stay abroad, Ulrik Frederik gets a bit heavy-handed with her in an erotic situation, Marie grabs a dagger and stabs him. No wonder Ulrik Frederik subsequently prefers to keep his distance, but this just causes her to attack upon his mistress. 

From spark to bonfire 

Her marriage is just a detail in Marie’s life. Both before, during and after, men are attracted to her like moths to the light of a kerosene lamp. Some die from it, others get burnt, and the lucky ones use the same tactics as Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve and keep a certain safe distance. Even though to some extent the novel Mrs. Marie Grubbe is based on a true story, it would be a shame to reveal how it ends. Suffice it to say that a very young man’s very resolute actions during a violent fire at Tjele Manor leave an indelible impression on Marie. And on the reader for that matter. 

Marie Grubbe shortly after the divorce from Ulrik Frederik Gyldenløve. Drawing by Kristian Zartmann (1843-1917), 1903. 51,5 x 38,1 cm. Statens Museum for Kunst.
J.P. Jacobsen's writing pad with numerous custom drawings and sketches. Det Kongelige Bibliotek.

Did you know?

Source: J.P. Jacobsen Selskabet

Marie Grubbe was a real person who lived from 1643 to 1718 and was noble daughter of Erik Grubbe from Tjele between Viborg and Randers. J.P. Jacobsen is not the only one who has written about Marie Grubbe: Holberg, Blicher, H.C. Andersen and in recent times Ulla Ryum and Juliane Preisler have also portrayed the interesting woman.

The committee's justification

By the Committee for Literature, 2006

“The music and pomp, the homage and admiration of the men, were like a crimson carpet spread out for her feet to tread upon”. 

Marie Grubbe is the story of a young girl from a noble family in the 1600s who achieves high status in the court of Copenhagen only to end up as a poor ferryman’s wife. Marie is a rebel who breaks out, first from the cold, unfeeling home with her father on the Tjele estate, and later from a celebrated but bleak marriage that has given her all of the outward pomp that this proud and ambitious main character is otherwise so keen on. Marie shapes her life according to her own desires, and this is expressed through her sexuality. However, this is not simply the story of a femme fatale and her ever-revolving list of suitors. It is rather the story of a lonely individual who defies her circumstances and attempts to find her inner self, paying a heavy price in doing so.

The story is based on the life of a real woman. Holberg, Blicher and H. C. Andersen had previously written about the rebellious Marie. However, even though J. P. Jacobsen looks back to the past, this is a novel that points to the future. European authors such as Rilke, Thomas Mann and T. E. Lawrence were inspired by the Danish author, who died aged 38 and left behind just two novels along with a handful of short stories and poems. The portrait of Marie Grubbe ushers in a time of new, shifting relationships between men and women. Marie’s emotions are exposed in sensual individual tales separated by epic leaps, like scatted mosaic pieces, that together tell a life story. Jacobsen is at the same time without illusion yet intensely empathetic in his betrayal of a liberated woman’s indomitability and deceptions, and all of this is expressed in the language: streams of consciousness, laden with atmosphere, detailed prose that borrows elements from Baroque, both in the dialogue and in the desire to drive the lyrical descriptions to capture the smallest expressions and movements of a restless, passionate mind.


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