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By Henrik Pontoppidan
Translated from the Danish by Mrs. Edgar Lucas
Nobel Prize Library
New York: Alexis Gregory and Del Mar, California: CRM Publishing, 1971 New Directions Book, 1982
97 pages

Bob Corbett
December 2014

I enjoyed this shortened version of Henrik Pontoppidan’s novel The Promised Land. Alas, I could find no full work of his translated into English, thus I had to resort to this shortened version in a volume that presented several other Nobel Prize winning authors as well. Nonetheless, this 100+ page version of the novel was very rewarding and well demonstrated why Pontoppidan would have won the prestigious award.

The novel is set in 1885 and shortly after. The main character, Emanuel Hansted, is the parish priest in a small village in Denmark. He has lived in the village for 7 years and married a local woman, Hansine. The have three children, Laddie, a five year old whom Emanuel loves very much, but who dies very early in the tale. His daughter, Sigrid, a year younger than Laddie, is a sweet girl and soon has a little sister Dagny.

Times are dramatically changing. In the past the wealthy and nobility have run Denmark without question and the rural folks were completely second class citizens even in their own estimation. But a flash of democracy is taking the nation and even the peasants in this poor and fairly remote village are on fire with the new movement.

Emanuel has been drafted onto the Parish Council, but he is not much interested in politics nor very savvy. The local political leader, Jensen, wealthiest peasant in the village, is politically savvy and head of the Parish Council.

Another important village figure is Hansen the weaver, a member of the Council as well and is worried that the government and conservatives are moving against the people. He admits the city folks haven’t yet acted, but he wants the Council to be watchful. They want to be “politic” about this situation. They all decide to play it cool and watch and listen.

There are other village folks who enter into the novel to give us a larger picture. There are two notorious “boozers” “Beery Suend” and “Brandy Per” who act about exactly as we might imagine, with great irresponsibility and a famous ability to find money to get drunk as often as they can.

Aggerbolle is the local vet, who detests the peasants and resents that these poor citizens think they should have a voice in government.

Emanuel, new to this political activity, is nonetheless very excited by the future going on around him. It so reminds me of myself in the late 1950s and early 1960s when I got seriously involved in leftist political movements especially Civil Rights and anti-Vietnam protests. Like him, I had not been raised to political activism and had to find it on my own.

Miss Ragnhild is a wealth woman, daughter of previous pastor, living back in Copenhagen and citified. She visits the area to see relatives and she and Emanuel seem perhaps a bit attracted to each other, though they have extremely different views on all matters in life and seem to argue a great deal in the relatively few times they are together. Emanuel’s wife notices this, for sure.

As time goes on it become clearer to Emanuel that he really isn’t a very good pastor and especially doesn’t like living in the rural areas. His wife notes this too, and she, a local girl, is more and more unhappy with their relationship, though she loves Emanuel very much. Yet she sees, probably more clearly that Emanuel himself, how drawn he is becoming to Miss Ragnhild.

In a very sad ending, his wife decides to separate from Emanuel and he chooses to return to live in Copenhagen and leave the profession of minister to become something else. In quite a surprise at the end, his wife sends the two children with him, telling him she knows they will get much better schooling and care in the home of his wealthy father.

The novel is well written, believable, and instructive on that particular period of life and politics in Denmark. I wish I had had the entire novel to read rather that his 100+ page extract. I don’t even have any idea how long the original is.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett