Soren Aabye Kierkegaard was a profound and prolific writer in the Danish “Golden Age” of intellectual and artistic activity. He was born in 1813 and his extensive body of work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. He is known as the “father of existentialism.”
Kierkegaard led a somewhat quiet and uneventful life. He rarely left his hometown of Copenhagen and traveled abroad only five times. He went four times to Berlin and once to Sweden. Historical records of his life show that his prime recreational activities were attending the theatre, walking the streets of Copenhagen to chat with ordinary people, and taking brief carriage jaunts into the surrounding countryside. He received a priviledged education and was educated at a prestigious boys’ school (Borgerdydskolen), then attended Copenhagen University where he studied philosophy and theology.
Søren Kierkegaard was born into an affluent family in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. His mother, Ane Sorensdatter Lund Kierkegaard, had served as a maid in the household before marrying Soren’s father. She is recorded as an unassuming figure: quiet, plain, and not formally educated. She is not directly referred to in Kierkegaard’s books, although she greatly affected his later writings. His mother died on July 31, 1834, at age 66. His father, Michael Pedersen Kierkegaard, was known as a melancholic, anxious, deeply pious, and fiercely intelligent man. He was convinced that he had earned God’s wrath which led him to believe that none of his children would live past the age attained by Jesus Christ,(33). He believed that his personal sins, such as cursing the name of God in his youth and possibly impregnating Ane out of wedlock, necessitated his continued punishment. Though many of his seven children died young, his prediction was disproved when two of them lived past 33 years old: Soren and Peter Christian Kierkegaard, (who became a Lutheran bishop and was several years Soren’s senior). This early introduction to the notion of sin and its connection from father and son was to lay the foundation for much of Kierkegaard’s work. Despite his father’s occasional religious melancholy and obsessions, Kierkegaard and his father shared a close bond. He encouraged Soren to explore his imagination. Kierkegaard’s father died on August 9, 1838 at the age of 82. Shortly before his death, he asked Søren to become a pastor. Søren was deeply influenced by his father’s religious experiences and felt obligated to fulfill his wish.
Kierkegaard attended the School of Civic Virtue, where he excelled in both Latin and history. In 1830, he went on to the University of Copenhagen to study theology, but while there he was drawn more towards philosophy and literature. Kierkegaard wrote his dissertation, On the Concept of Irony with Continual Reference to Socrates, which was found by the university panel to be a noteworthy and well-thought out work, but a little too wordy and literary for a philosophy thesis. Kierkegaard graduated on October 20, 1841 with a Magister Artium, which in today’s academic world would be designated as a Ph.D. With his family’s extensive inheritance Kierkegaard was able to fund his education, his living, and several publications of his early works.
Kierkegaard met the love of his life Regine Olsen on May 8, 1837. She became a muse for his work and his subsequent broken engagment to her was generally considered to have had a major influence on his work. Kierkegaard formally proposed to Regine on September 8, 1840. However, Kierkegaard soon felt disillusioned and melancholic about the prospect of marriage. On August 11, 1841 he broke off his engagement. He stated purblicly that he believed that his “melancholy” made him unsuitable for marriage, but his precise motive for ending the engagement remains unclear. It is generally believed that the two remained deeply in love, perhaps even after Regine married Johan Frederik Schlegel. Their contact was limited to chance meetings on the streets of Copenhagen. Some years later, Kierkegaard did go as far as to ask Regine’s husband for permission to speak with her, but Schlegel refused.
Kierkegaard died November 11, 1855 in Copenhagen leaving behind on of the most proflic bodies of work to have ever been written