(Essentials of European Literature)

Arne was born on the hillside farm of Kampen. He was the son of Margit, betrayed one night when she attended a dance. The man said to be the child’s father was Nils, the tailor, who in his free time fiddled for country dances. Arne’s grandmother was a frugal widow who saved what she earned so that her daughter and her grandson might not want for lack of a man to look after them. In the meantime, the fiddler-tailor Nils drank more and tailored less so that his business fell off.

By the time Arne was six years old, he knew a local song written about the wild behavior of his father. His grandmother insisted that Arne be taught his origin. Not long afterward, Nils suffered a broken back in a barn fight with Baard Boen. About the same time, the old grandmother, who felt that her days were numbered, warned her daughter against wasting the money saved for her use.

When the grandmother died, Arne’s mother brought Nils home to be nursed. The next spring, Margit and Nils were married and Nils recovered enough to help with some of the farm work. At first, Nils was gloomy and morose because he was no longer able to join the fiddlers and the dancers at weddings, and he drank heavily. As his strength returned, he began to fiddle once more. Arne went along to merrymakings to carry his fiddle case. By this companionship, Nils slowly weaned Arne away from Margit. Occasionally, the boy was remorseful, but his father’s hold grew stronger as time passed.

Finally, during a scene of drunken violence, Nils died. Arne and his mother took the blame for his death partly upon themselves. Arne became aloof from the villagers; he tended his cattle and wrote a few songs.

He became more and more shy. At a wedding, interpreting one of the folktales as referring to him, he told a wild story, part truth, part fancy, about his father’s death. Then he rushed from the house. He had consumed too much brandy, and while he lay in the barn recovering, his mother told him she had once found Nils there in the same condition—on the occasion of Arne’s christening.

Arne began to take a...

(The entire section is 864 words.)