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By Eyvind Johnson
Translated from the Swedish by Elspeth Harley Schubert
Library of Congress Catalogue Card Number: 77-134666
New York: The Vanguard Press, Inc., 1960
316 pages

Bob Corbett
Feb, 2015

For much of the novel I was reading it as historical fiction with the emphasis on the “history.” I think that was a mistake. The novel is primarily a gripping love story which happens to be set in Carolingian times and much of the action is dictated by what was going on in one period of those times.

The central action concerns Charlemagne’s decision to conquer the Lombards and bring them under his rule. He actually succeeds with the northern Lombards, but never does quite rule those of the southern Italian area of Beneventum.

We follow the fate of the Lupgis family who lived in northeast Italy. They were Lombards and their local lord, Duke Rodgaud, decided to rebel against Charlemagne’s rule and to take back their freedom. This turns out to have been a badly planned and fool hardly undertaking and they are brutally suppressed and many of the main characters are punished by Charlemagne with prison sentences and even death.

The Lupgis family was a prominent family in Duke Rodgaud’s area and the three young sons of the Lupgis family became warriors in the short uprising. The oldest son is imprisoned for several years; the second son has run away from the home village and disappears for many years. The central figure of the novel, however, is Johannes Lupgis. He is a very scholarly boy of about 16 when the rebellion broke out. He is not taken prisoner, and is also closely allied with his uncle, Anselm, a monk and scholar. (This Italian Anselm is no relation whatsoever to the famous English monk, Ansel of Canterbury, of two hundred years later.)

All three of the Lupgis boys were deeply in love with the local Duke’s beautiful young daughter, Angila. She was only 14 when the rebellion broke out, but the rest of the novel concerns the desire of each of the three sons, but especially of Johannes, to find her and make her his wife.

Eventually Johannes Lupgis is accepted into Charlemagne’s Court as secret secretary. Charlemagne likes him a great deal, but is still cautious because of his family’s history with the rebellion of some years earlier.

Johannes does plead the case for his oldest brother, Warnefrit, who has been In Charlemagne’s prison for nearly 10 years. However, when Johannes goes to the prison to free his very ill brother, he himself is arrested and put into the prison, but his brother is sent home.

Johannes has been betrayed by the husband of Angila, who has long since left her village and married one of the minions in Charlemagne’s chain of command. That jealous husband has set up Johannes who spends several years in the prison, never ceasing to dream of his hopes to free Angila from her husband and take her back to their ancestral village.

Eventually Charlemagne comes to learn of Angila’s husband’s lie and the husband is imprisoned while Johannes is set free. Unfortunately Angila is now deathly ill herself and Johannes decides to at least take her home to their village so she is free of her husband and will have some last years with Johannes.

Alas, it doesn’t come to a happy ending, but, in essence, the last days of both Angila and Johannes are happier than one would have suspected.

It is this touching and sad love story that is the essence of the novel. Nonetheless, the reader is treated to a fairly comprehensible understanding of the nature of Charlemagne’s reign, his phenomenal power, and his brilliance as both a warrior and ruler.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett