Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1102
It is obvious that Inger-Johanna is her father’s favorite. He is an army captain, in charge at Gilje. When a fellow officer, Captain Rönnow, stops at the house, Captain Jäger is delighted because the guest seems so charmed by Inger-Johanna. Mrs. Jäger is a sister of the governor, and Captain Rönnow tells the Jägers that he will petition the governor’s wife, with whom he is in favor, to take Inger-Johanna into their home for a year, so that she can learn the ways of society in the city. Gilje is a deserted mountain post and not at all suitable for a young lady of Inger-Johanna’s obvious charms.
Captain Jäger wants his beloved daughter to visit her aunt, but when he learns the cost of the new clothing required, he storms at his poor wife and cannot be quieted. Perhaps his blustering is caused by sorrow at losing his favorite daughter, although he is happy that she will have such a fine opportunity.
Before Inger-Johanna leaves, she meets a student named Arent Grip, the son of an old friend of her father. In spite of his radical ideas, the girl finds him interesting and is glad that he, too, will be in the city.
After the departure of his oldest daughter, the captain’s house is desolate, for Thinka, another daughter, goes to work for a judge in Ryfylke. Poor Jorgen, the only son, and a younger daughter are put through hours of lessons to ease their father’s loneliness.
Each letter from Inger-Johanna is read again and again. After her initial shyness wears off, she loves her life in the city. Parties and balls delight her. Both Captain Rönnow and Grip are present at many of the functions, her aunt having secured a place for Grip in her husband’s office. The aunt also writes to confide that she secretly hopes a match will develop between the girl and Captain Rönnow, who is advancing rapidly and will be a good catch. The aunt is not fond of Grip; she finds him too spirited and unrestrained in expressing his unpopular ideas. Inger-Johanna, however, completely wins over her aunt, who insists that the girl return home for a visit and then come back to the city for another season.
During his daughter’s visit, Captain Jäger is in a delighted mood. Grip calls on the family again and arranges to spend time alone with Inger-Johanna. They take a surveying trip into the mountains with her father and Jorgen, and Grip finds Jorgen a bright lad who deserves a better education. In his talks with Inger-Johanna, Grip claims that fundamentals are all that matter in life, not the external symbols of success. He wants people to be themselves, not influenced by worldly values.
Inger-Johanna returns to the city before Thinka comes home for a visit. The younger daughter fell in love with a young clerk in her uncle’s office, but when her relative learned of the affair, he fired the clerk, who is poor and without prospects. Thinka often thinks of him after her return home, although her parents urge her to forget him.
Sheriff Gulcke calls at Gilje and finds Thinka attractive. Because his wife died only three months before, he can say nothing so soon after his loss; but during his stay, he often casts an appreciative eye toward Thinka. In the meantime, Thinka writes long letters to her sister, to tell of her love for the poor clerk, for whom she promised to wait. Inger-Johanna, tiring of balls and city life, writes that she remains only to please her aunt. Grip changed her way of thinking and made her see the uselessness of such a life.
Jorgen goes to the city to school. Grip tutors him but says that Jorgen should be sent to England or to America to learn a mechanic’s trade, because that is the field in which he has great talent. Later Jorgen sails for England and then to America, a fact that Captain Jäger forever holds against Grip.
Thinka is right in her fear that she will never be allowed to marry her clerk. Sheriff Gulcke asks for her hand, and because she is without will to deny her father’s wishes, she accepts the older man. After the marriage, she is a good and faithful wife, acting almost as a nurse to her husband. He is kind to her and consents to her every desire, but her heart is sad. Inger-Johanna is dismayed that her sister has no will of her own, and she refuses to accept the idea that women are to bend to the will of their fathers and husbands.
Inger-Johanna is soon to be tested. Captain Rönnow writes her father for her hand. It is the proudest moment of Captain Jäger’s life. At first, Inger-Johanna accepts, for Grip makes no proposal and she knows that Captain Rönnow is the man her father desires for her. Before the wedding, however, she returns suddenly from the city. She admits to herself and to her family that she can love no one but Grip and cannot marry Captain Rönnow. Although her father is bitterly disappointed, he cannot force his favorite daughter to marry against her will. Sorrowfully, he writes his old friend his decision.
From that day on, Captain Jäger’s health rapidly fails. He suffers dizziness and weakness. He is forced to take a leave of absence from his military duties. One day his carriage does not return home. When the servant goes to look for him, he finds the horse standing at the foot of Gilje hill, the reins loose on the ground. The captain of Gilje is dead.
Twenty years pass. Mrs. Jäger is dead, and Jorgen is doing well in America. Inger-Johanna, a schoolteacher, teaches the children the ideas and ideals she learned from Grip. Meanwhile, he wanders over the land, a drunkard and an ascetic by turn. He carefully avoids Inger-Johanna but constantly seeks news of her. Finally he goes to her school and stands by the window to hear the sound of her voice. He sees her face again as she looks out into the night. He leaves then, sick with pneumonia. When word of his illness reaches Inger-Johanna, she goes to him and nurses him until his death. Often he is irrational; at times he is completely lucid. After his death, she knows that he gave her her only reason for living, her spirit for truth and freedom.
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