Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Pelle the Conqueror by Martin Andersen Nexo

Was it not writing about the blacking factory that made Dickens the writer that he was? We are given those elaborate fictions, avoidances and detours and most of all Mother who had left him there pasting labels with low boys being shamed by true devoted women in the novels. If he had written The Blacking Factory would there have been other novels left in him? There is healing in pure fabulism and an adoring public is a sovereign emollient. It might be claimed that Martin Andersen Nexø writer of Pelle the Conqueror is a counter example of how truth telling, of the realist sort in which there was only one way the world was, may leave one with but one story to tell.
This is quite false because it is based on the illusion that there is one way that the world is when the real truth is that there is 'more in the mind than before the mind' (Bradley) and the 'unrestricted desire to know' (Lonergan) what that residue is gives us the impetus to tell stories. Finding the truth is an extension of telling the truth. We can start from where we are with the clew of native truth in our hands.

Martin Andersen Nexø in 'Pelle' starts there writing about what he knows, the island of Bornholm in the Baltic where Swedish farm labourers came in search of work hiring themselves out for a season or more to large farmers. The wages there were much better than in Sweden. He deals in his memoir Under the Open Sky with his Bornholm days. It is available on Internet Archive:
under the open sky
I read 'Pelle' on the recommendation of Tom the Amatuer Reader at 'Wuthering Expectations':
incomporable joys
He's right about the general optimistic tone, the clue is in 'conqueror' and though I was probably reading the earlier translation by Jesse Muir got from Gutenberg it was quite readable. This is the sort of book that brings one back to a totally different era and here the famous movie of the same name is useful in giving a sense of the locale and set up of the farm and the yard with the cow shed where Pelle and his father Lasse worked. It was full of feeling and love between the father and son but not sentimental. A feature of the story was the superstition of the peasants who interpreted events as karmic balancing. A farm hand denies being the father of a girl's child before the magistrates swearing with three fingers on the bible. Those fingers will become infected if he lies. All the other farm workers know him to be a liar but he get away with not having to support his child. Working at the chaff mill where Pelle drives the ox that turns the grinder this man is feeding it. No harm comes to him but when another man takes a turn his fingers get caught in the machine and have to be amputated. It 's the wrong man but the same fingers which is interpreted to mean that the account is cleared. There are several other incidents like this and Pelle has charge of a field in which there is a cairn under which he believes that an infant that was drowned at birth is buried and over which he sees a light shining representing the trapped spirit of the child.

Reading all this I was reminded of the story of Michael Kierkegaard a lonely shepherd boy on the heath who cursed God for visiting such misery on him. The curse that rebounded he believed to be the death of his children who would outlive him. Four of them did die and Soren took the overwhelming demand of the presence of God seriously and in his sophisticated way kept to the balancing of the cosmic book as the peasants in 'Pelle' did.

Martin Andersen Nexo turned Communist later and ended his long life in Dresden. I may go on to read more of the Pelle books, there are four and chance the improving ideology.


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I am glad to hear that the old translation was readable. If I want to read the whole thing, I'll need it.

Your idea about Dickens is a subtle creative problem. When should an author hit a subject head on, and when should he write around it?

ombhurbhuva said...

Could it be that translations that are nearer to when the mother-text was written can give a better feel of the time in the way that old photos have a different air. I'm reading different translations of Dostoyevsky and I can't make up my mind. One has the title 'The Karamazov Brothers' which sounds like they are in business. What board meetings?!:
- What do you care how much we made last year, take it spend it on gypsies.

Dmitri showed no sign of anger but the old duelling scar grew livid:

- No, no, no, he cried