The Danish philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855) is widely recognized as the father of modern existentialism. He was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, into a deeply religious, but melancholy, Lutheran family with a brilliant self-taught father, Michael, who, though a successful businessman, was haunted by guilt. Søren suspected God had cursed him for his sins to suffer the penalty of outliving all members of his family, two wives and his seven children. Indeed, all but two children, including Søren, did precede Michael in death. Søren was the youngest child and received special nurturing from his father, playing games likely to expand the imagination.
In 1830 he entered the University of Copenhagen to study Theology, but spent most of his time reading literature and philosophy. He left the church, joined a fraternity, and lived a debauched life, spending his father's money. His father, brokenhearted by his son's immorality, reprimanded Kierkegaard, leading to a break between them.
In 1838, after spending eight years dallying at the University, Kierkegaard experienced a religious awakening, recommitted himself to the Christian faith, and was reunited with his father. He turned from his frivolous living, finished his degree within a year, and earned the equivalent of a doctorate the next year, writing a long dissertation on Socratic Irony (1841).
While finishing his degree, in 1839, Kierkegaard fell in love with Regina Olsen, who was ten years younger than he, courted her, and the next year they became engaged. Almost immediately, he realized that the relationship would never work, that he was too melancholy for her, and that the relationship would destroy both of them. He sought to break the engagement and finally, a year later in 1841, succeeded, creating a citywide scandal.
Kierkegaard escaped from the public opprobrium by journeying to Berlin, where he wrote his first book Either-Or, contrasting the aesthetic (Epicurean) with the ethical (StoicKantian) way of life. He published the two-volume work pseudonymously (under the name of “Victor Eremita”—the victorious hermit). It soon became a best seller, and all Copenhagen wondered who this brilliant author was. Other works followed, all written under different pseudonyms—Johannes de Silentio (Silent John), Vigilius Haufniensis (Watchman of the Harbor—Copenhagen is a harbor town), Johannes Climacus (John the Climber—to eternity), and so forth, some thirty books in all. He published all his work at his own expense. Only his first work made him a profit.
His life was filled with constant and intense suffering. He was frustrated in love, frustrated in his vocational aspirations—he was unable to get a teaching post, suffering a severe back ailment which may have led to his premature death. He was held in disrepute by most of his community. He opposed journalist corruption and suffered at the hands of the press. Yet he found solace in a deeply religious life. His last battle was with the organized