(Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

The courtroom was crowded, for popular interest in the two cases about to be heard—a false accusation charge brought against the farmer Alexandersson by his servant girl, Alma Jonsson, and a separation suit between Baron and Baroness Sprengel—was running high. The young Judge, only twenty-seven years old, was uneasy: he was taking the bench for the first time. He conferred at length with the Pastor before opening the proceedings.

The Alexandersson-Jonsson case was first. The old farmer admitted accusing the girl of theft; he had, he claimed, caught her red-handed. There were, however, no witnesses; and, as the charges could not be proved, his accusations were false—so the girl’s lawyer asserted. While the court was cleared, Judge and jury conferred. All agreed that the farmer, though actually in the right, was nevertheless technically guilty. Had he denied accusing the girl, nothing could have been done to him; by being honest, however, he had lost his case. Finally the Judge called Alexandersson in and sentenced him to a fine of a hundred crowns—enough, Alexandersson claimed, to cause the loss of his farm.

The divorce case came next. The Sprengels had planned to handle things as amicably as possible. The baron was to bring the complaint against his wife, charging her with a disposition incompatible with his. She was to have a sizable annuity and the custody of their one child, a son. The baron, however, was to retain the right to supervise the child’s education. These were to be the terms, and none of the personal details of their quarrel were to be brought out.

Such was their agreement; but, once the proceedings began, they found that the agreement was not to be honored. The court, the young Judge curtly informed them, would decide the disposition of the child. Meanwhile, the separation case must be decided: the husband, as complainant, must substantiate his claim.

Confused by the...

(The entire section is 796 words.)