Niels Lyhne Summary

Summary (Essentials of European Literature)

Bartholine was not like her family. They were common types, not desirous of knowledge or power, seeing little beyond the daily routine. Bartholine, however, loved beauty, lived in poetry. When Lyhne came to woo her, she accepted him as a matter of course, for he was of a family of poets and travelers. Her husband disappointed her, however; he was the youngest, and all gifts of insight had been given to his older brothers.

When Niels was born, she put her hopes in him. Her son must be a real poet. She brooded on her boy and dreamed dreams for him, but Niels remained an ordinary insentient boy until he began to play with the pastor’s son. The two youngsters played at the usual imaginative childhood games, but they had one special pastime. They told each other, turn and turn about, an interminable story which continued for months. Then Erik, a little older and a little stronger, became their leader. He had no time for stories; their play now was of pirates and secret caves.

When Niels was twelve years old, two new people came to the Lyhne farm, Herr Bigum, a tutor, and Edele, Lyhne’s unmarried sister. The tutor was forty years old and insignificant; he had failed to pass his examinations for the priesthood. Edele was a belle from Copenhagen. Her carefree social life had ruined her health, and she had been sent to the country to recuperate. Niels, strongly attracted to his aunt, followed her constantly. One day he heard the ridiculous tutor declare his hopeless love for Edele. When Edele died, her death filled Niels with melancholy. He became quieter and more imaginative.

Since Erik was older, he went away to school first. He early showed promise as an artist. When Niels visited him, he found his old friend already a sculptor with a studio covered with dust. That first day Fru Boyle was in Erik’s studio. She and Erik were laughing heartily over a book of poetry. Fru Boyle was a voluptuous, thirty-year-old widow. Her husband, who was in his sixties when they were married, had been dead for some three years. She led a Bohemian life, entertaining students and artists, and she was estranged from her family.

Niels, neglecting his duties as a student, spent most of his time with the widow. Wiser than he, she had no desire for a real love affair. Niels, too sensitive to push his love, was content to have their intimacy remain poetic and platonic. From time to time he felt guilty about his neglected studies and about his almost forgotten parents, to whom he seldom wrote. He was abruptly brought back to duty when he was notified of his father’s sudden death.

Niels was alarmed when he saw how sad and aged his mother had grown. To please her he planned a trip so that she could see the places she had dreamed of so long. She agreed to go on the journey, but with many misgivings. They...

(The entire section is 1158 words.)