Study Guide

Pan

by Knut Pedersen

Pan Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Pan has a rather complex narrative structure. It is a first-person novel in which the main part of the story is told by the narrator-protagonist, Glahn, two years after the events that are being narrated took place. The main part is followed by an epilogue, also in the first person, in which the story of Glahn’s death is told by an unnamed hunting companion.

The main story takes place in northern Norway during the summer months of the year 1855. Glahn, a lieutenant who has obtained leave from his commission, is living a rather primitive life as a hunter and fisherman in a forest cabin near the trading post Sirilund. He is tired of civilization, he says, and has left behind the norms of cultured society, being unable to get along well with cultivated people. In narrating his story, Glahn tells both about the external events of his life out in the wilderness and about his reflections on existence, and it is clear that he is trying to become an artist.

During visits to the trading post, Glahn becomes acquainted with Edvarda, the daughter of the trader Mack. Being attracted to her both because of her social position and for her own sake, he tries to win her, but Edvarda is emotionally unpredictable, and a love-hate relationship, in which they take turns torturing each other, develops. Glahn also enters into a sexual relationship with Eva, who, despite her marriage to the local blacksmith, is the mistress of Edvarda’s father, Mack,...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Pan Summary (Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Pan depicts the stormy romance between the vacationing Lieutenant Thomas Glahn and Edvarda Mack, the beautiful daughter of the most influential businessman in the Nordland region. The story is narrated by Glahn himself, who, two years after the events of 1855, has decided to write down his memories, as he says, for his own amusement. A second narrator, Glahn’s murderer, relates the events of 1861 leading up to the fatal act.

Glahn’s narration is prompted by a mysterious note that contains two green feathers. Although he feigns indifference, his emotions are stirred by these tokens. As the reader comes to learn, they are the belated and nearly final interchange in his volatile relationship with Edvarda.

Glahn had journeyed to this wild, northern region in order to indulge his passion for nature’s magnificence and for the independent life of hunting and fishing. Beginning in the late spring, he lived with his dog, Aesop, in a simple hut, occasionally venturing into the nearby coastal town of Sirilund. On one of those visits, Herr Mack, his landlord and a wealthy trader, introduces him to the Doctor, a lame older man who seems to have been chosen by Herr Mack for his daughter, Edvarda. At first, Edvarda makes little impression on Glahn, but soon he is fascinated by her beauty and manner.

Their mutual attraction is enormous, but each is willful and perverse. Edvarda is sometimes vulnerable, often coquettish, and at times disdainful. Glahn can never be sure where he stands with her, and yet this unpredictability continues to attract him, even while he senses that he is being played for a fool. The mixture of serenity and awe that Glahn feels during the long summer days in this magnificent setting is counterpointed by the complexity of his anxiety-ridden affair.

Part of the complication grows out of Glahn’s own nature. Socially awkward, his courtship of Edvarda puts him in situations which show his worst side. On one such occasion, he gives her two feathers of the kind that he uses to make fishing lures. Only a short time later, he disgraces himself by impulsively throwing her shoe into the water. Further social engagements trigger irresponsible, insulting actions that embarrass Edvarda while making Glahn less and less welcome to Herr Mack. The stubborn pride in both characters makes apologies and forgiveness difficult. Drawn to each other by an overpowering erotic magnetism, they routinely destroy each other’s happiness. In...

(The entire section is 1016 words.)