(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Emanuel Hansted, the minister son of a wealthy Copenhagen couple, long ago left his hometown to take over a pastorate in the country. Somewhat of a reformer, he has become enthusiastic about the socialism rife in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century, and to prove his fellowship with the peasants whom he serves, he has married a young peasant woman and has undertaken to farm the land on which his rectory is situated.

As the years have passed, Emanuel’s wife, Hansine, has presented him with three children; his land, however, has repaid him only with debts. Although he tries experiment after experiment, Emanuel’s fields do not produce enough to support his family. Stubbornly, Emanuel refuses to acknowledge that he is no farmer; he even continues to refuse any payment from his parishioners and gives away the money he receives for the benefit of the poor.

Despite Emanuel’s sacrifices, and despite his never-flagging efforts to share their lives and his ties with them through marriage, the peasants do not accept him as one of them. The fact that he came among them as an outlander is too strong for them to forget, even in the times of stress that come when the newly formed People’s Party of Denmark, representing chiefly the peasantry, tries to control the government in order to provide for the education of the masses and to improve the lot of the common people generally.

To the casual eye, Emanuel might seem to be a peasant, for he has nothing to do with the few gentry who live in the vicinity. He even distrusts the doctor, whom he has to call in occasionally to treat a member of his family. Indeed, Emanuel summons Dr. Hassing only when an emergency arises. As for his family, Emanuel has put his father and his sister entirely out of his mind; he acknowledges as kin only his wife and children, who tie him to the peasantry.

One summer, all of nature and humankind seem determined to show that Emanuel is a misfit in the rural area he has adopted. His crops are even poorer than usual; nature refuses to send the weather he needs to produce successful yields in the fields he has planted with borrowed seed. In the capital, Copenhagen, the Conservative Party gains in strength and defeats the People’s Party—first in small items, then in large. As the peasants lose their political power, the people of Emanuel’s parish begin to look at him as one who belongs to the other side.

As if these problems were not enough, Emanuel’s oldest child, a son, begins to suffer from an ear inflammation that has gone untended for two years. At last, upon Hansine’s insistence, Emanuel sends for Dr. Hassing. The physician cannot believe that Emanuel has permitted the child’s health to fall into such a dangerous state; Emanuel, on his part, does not seem to understand that the child is really ill. Failing to follow the doctor’s advice, he treats his son as if he were...

(The entire section is 1193 words.)