Short summary - Niels Lyhne - Jens Peter Jacobsen

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - Niels Lyhne
Jens Peter Jacobsen

The novel is a story of the life and searches of a Danish intellectual, a contemporary of Jacobsen, which the author takes a generation back - about twenty years.

The book opens with a description of the characters of the hero's parents: his mother is an enthusiastic romantic soul living in a world of poetic dreams, and his father, who has seen the largest capitals of Europe, is a person educated enough to understand the importance of education and not take the height of poetic soaring too seriously.

Nils Lühne is friends with the pastor's son Fridtjof and the son of distant relatives, Eric, temporarily placed in the care of his father, who is predicted to have a future as an artist-sculptor. The boys are taught by a home teacher - "who did not complete the course" (i.e. failed in the exams) the theologian and philosopher Bigum, who considers himself an unrecognized genius, "whose contemporaries have not yet been born." Poor and unattractive, he is hopelessly in love with a relative visiting Lune, Nils Edele, a young aunt, a brilliant socialite sent to the village to improve her health. Beautiful and elegant, accustomed to salon communication, the young woman keeps even relatives at a distance and sharply, although not without inner sympathy, rejects Bigum's love when he finally dares to explain himself. Really, what was the teacher hoping for? Undoubtedly, he knew her answer in advance and fired his imagination in vain. You should not strive for the impossible. But if he wants to suffer, let him suffer! Naturally, she cannot forbid him to suffer. Yes, she doesn't care!

A year later, in early spring, Edele, the subject of Niels' first boyish love, dies of consumption. No one found out about her own love for the famous artist, for whom Edele was just one of thousands of fans. Nils passionately experiences her death. At the moment of parting, he asks God to leave Edele alive, but God does not hear him, and the boy rejects God, without ceasing, in essence, to believe in him, because he still does not think about faith.

Soon the friends part. Eric is sent to study with a famous sculptor, and Niels and the pastor's son Fridtjof enter the University of Copenhagen; they are captivated by the intellectual and artistic life of the capital, they enthusiastically perceive new ideas and trends. Niels, among the few chosen ones, becomes a regular in the house of Fru Boye - a brilliant thirty-year-old beauty, a widow, known for her free views and ease of by no means, however, dissolute behavior. A clever and artistic coquette, Fru Boye captivates Nils - she plays with him, enjoys adoration, admiration for her beauty. Niels is painfully in love with her.

A year passes. A young student is urgently called home to Lönborgården, where his father is dangerously ill. Niels does not find him alive, Shocked by the death of her husband, his mother also falls ill. She feels doomed, but gradually her condition gets better so much that she and Niels go on a trip to Italy and Switzerland, which Bartholina has dreamed of all her life. Surprisingly, historical castles, squares and treasures of art do not cause much enthusiasm for her. Their ideal literary image promised much more. Bartholin Lune is slowly fading away. But she experiences a close, as never before, unity with her son and dies in his arms in Klaran, after which Niels immediately returns to Copenhagen.

After the experience, Niels sees Fru Boye in a different light - the word "bohemia" just asks him to mind. But the unforeseen happens: Mme Boye, who previously preached a free feeling, is engaged, she is getting married: all her previous behavior was a pose; yes, she is the most ordinary woman, and she wants to get into the world again, she needs support. Although Nils is not indifferent to her: she herself does not know whether she is playing another “scene” or really wants love, Fru Boye almost gives herself to Nils. But he does not want to destroy the dear illusion of a tender platonic relationship. Niels is left alone. And he greedily swallows books (“Learning is as wonderful as living in the world!”), engages in aesthetics and philosophy, and writes poetry. He reaches such a degree of emancipation that he refuses to believe in God, preaching faith in atheism, about which he frankly tells the free-thinking conservative (there are some!) Dr. Yerril. According to Lune, the streams of love emanating from people to God will return to earth with general atheism. Then they will turn from man to man, the heavens will be empty, and kindness, justice and wisdom will reign on earth.

Meanwhile, Eric returns from Italy, having gone there as a novice sculptor, and returning as a successful painter. Together with Erik, they visit the estate in Fjordby in the summer, where another aunt of Nils lives with her husband, a landowner and a merchant. Here, in the estate, both friends fall in love with Nils's cousin - young, fairly educated and very natural Fenimore. More cheerful and energetic Eric wins her love, his marriage proposal is accepted, and Niels returns to Copenhagen alone.

He again suffers from loneliness: constantly being in public, he watches them, but he is not with them. Niels feels that he still has not found himself, and all his scientific, philosophical and poetic studies are nothing more than preparation for a jump, which he may never dare to take.

Two years later, a letter arrives from Eric. He is in despair: he and Fenimora live in complete spiritual solitude. They rent a house on the shore of a fjord in the provincial wilderness. There is no intellectual communication here! Eric feels he's exhausted, he's lost his talent, and he can't bring himself to pick up a brush.

Nils immediately sets off - a friend needs him and must help him! But it is impossible to help Eric - Nils understands this at the first meeting. Inspiration appears and disappears inexplicably, and Eric, refusing to be creative, spends all his time in drinking parties and revelry. There was no trace left of their former love with Fenimora. They got fed up with her. Nils feels sorry for Fenimora, he would like to revive her for a new life and save her from humiliation. However, his pity causes Fenimora only embitterment. Although little by little the ice of alienation between them is melting. Until finally what was supposed to happen happens: Nils and Fenimora discover that they love each other. Niels offers Fenimore to run away, but she hesitates to decide, cannot imagine how her loving and very traditional-minded parents will perceive the escape. Hidden love degenerates into vicious passion. Once, during the next spree of Eric, Fenimore is waiting for Nils, who promised to run to her on skates on the ice of the fjord (Niels lives on its other side), but receives an urgent notice - Eric died, he crashed in a neighboring city: the horse suffered, the carriage overturned, and Eric hit his head on a stone wall.

Nils is already visible under the moon on the ice, and Fenimore runs barefoot across the snow towards him. She unleashes rude curses on her lover. Eric's death is a punishment for her sin, for cheating on her husband! Fenimore sees the recent past in a completely different light.

Niels leaves her with a heavy soul - he scourges himself: "If it was not possible to become anything worthwhile, then you must certainly become Judas."

Almost two years after that, Nils Luhne spends abroad. In Italy, he is friends with the famous singer Madame Odero, they live at one time nearby in a hotel. Oddly enough, but it is communication with Nils that heals the singer - she suffered from a sore throat - and, without waiting for Niels to return to the hotel (he accidentally left at that moment), having tried her voice in the garden, Madame Odero leaves, she can not wait to set foot again to the stage. And Niels Lune once again loses a soul close to him. But at least he helped someone too!

Nils returns home to Denmark to his native estate and is surprised to find that he likes farming and rural work. He marries the modest seventeen-year-old daughter of a landowner neighbor, they have a son, and the couple live happily for three whole years. The wife idolizes Nils and happily passes into his "faith", which he painted with such ardor once to Dr. Yerril. But misfortune happens: Gerda falls ill and dies. Before her death, in order to facilitate her departure, Niels, at her request, sends for a priest, and he gives communion to the dying. Thus, as it seems to Niels, Gerda, on the verge of death, still betrays him.

But Nils Lune's misfortunes do not end there - after a few months his son also falls ill - the child convulses, the family doctor does not have time to arrive on time, and Nils, ready for anything to save the boy, betrays himself - he again, as in the days of childhood , cries out to God, he is ready to believe in Him if He performs a Miracle. But the miracle does not happen, and Nils is left alone.

The same 1863. Late autumn. There is a threat of war with Prussia. Niels Luhne enlists in the army. On a gloomy March day, he was mortally wounded and placed in the infirmary. Niels suffers for three days - a bullet hit his lung. Dr. Yerril asks him if he should send for the pastor. Let him take communion before his death. “Dying people,” according to the doctor, “have no views,” and Niels might feel better because of this?

But Niels stands his ground to the end. Even if it's pointless. And before his death, he raves in a dream about armor and that he will die standing up.