Will Rees at The Times Literary Supplement:
The Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55) was firmly convinced that his first book was also to be his last. His family’s grim medical history led him to assume that he would die young, and he felt that his short time would be more agreeably spent as a rural pastor. But “things did not go as I expected and intended”, he later wrote. “Oh, no.” Because that first book,Either/Or (1843), quickly propelled Kierkegaard to literary celebrity and signalled the beginning of one of history’s most frantic writing careers.
As a child Kierkegaard was sensitive, sulky, ironical and precocious. In other words, he had precisely that youthful temperament which, while not a sufficient condition, is nonetheless a necessary condition for the later burgeoning of genius. In adolescence, Kierkegaard’s shyness gave way to defensive wit, his lack of physical endowments conditioning the need for a different type of strength. At school, he was talented but not exceptional, always overshadowed by his eldest brother, Peter. But posterity has been kind to the younger Kierkegaard: his childhood indolence is seen now as an indictment of the tedious pedagogical system of the time, rather than of his moral or intellectual stamina. Indeed, it is precisely here, in the oppressive nineteenth-century classroom, that the mature Kierkegaard’s radically individualistic, anti-authoritarian attitude developed – even if, for now, it could only manifest itself as naughtiness.