“Sorrow-Acre” opens with a leisurely description of the Danish landscape, and it is clear that the setting is to be as strong a character in this folktale as any of the humans populating its stage.
It is the end of the eighteenth century, and at the opening of the story, everything is still in its time-honored place, from manor house through the church to the peasant huts in the village. The winds of change are beginning to blow, however (the serfs will be freed here in 1887), and enlightened ideas from England and the Continent are just beginning to be heard in this semifeudal land.
Adam has been serving in the Danish legation to the court of King George, but now he has returned to his ancestral home “to make his peace with it.” In his long absence, his sickly cousin and the heir to this estate has died, leaving Adam, for the moment, as the heir himself: The old lord has now married his son’s betrothed, and he hopes to perpetuate his line with another son. During the day of the action of “Sorrow-Acre,” Adam spends most of his time in the company of his young step-aunt, and the indication is that he himself will marry her after his uncle’s death.
Early in the morning after his arrival, Adam is strolling the grounds and meets his uncle, who, in Adam’s childhood, was a second father to him. The uncle is up early, even for this first day of the harvest, but, as he explains, “a matter of life and death” is being acted out that day. It seems that a young peasant has been accused of setting fire to one of the lord’s barns. His guilt is not clear, for those who have accused him have reasons to be...
(The entire section is 674 words.)