Oliver Andersen, a man who lost a leg and possibly (the villagers speculate) something more in a mysterious shipboard accident. Lazy, self-seeking, and full of guile, Oliver is nevertheless charming and sympathetic. He drifts from job to job, never failing to capitalize on his handicap. With his wife, Petra, he rears a large family (though his paternity is questionable) and is much like a self-indulgent, boastful child himself. Fortune and misfortune alike leave Oliver unfazed for long; he squanders the gains from his spectacular salvage of a wrecked ship and from his discovery of the loot from a mail robbery, but his resiliency and cunning enable him time after time to turn misfortune to his advantage.
Petra Andersen, an attractive woman who is engaged to Oliver before his accident but who rejects him for Mattis the Carpenter when Oliver returns disabled. Later, she reconsiders and marries him, and shortly thereafter she bears a son. Her repeated “visits” to Scheldrup Johnsen, the wealthy double consul’s son, and to lawyer Fredriksen, who holds the Andersens’ mortgage, often save the family from financial ruin.
Frank Andersen, Petra’s eldest son, who is introverted and academically brilliant. He studies languages at the university and eventually returns to the village as headmaster of the local senior school.
Abel Andersen, Petra’s second son, a blacksmith. Called the Squirrel as a child, he is lively, industrious, and straightforward. His infatuation with Little Lydia and his unswerving determination to marry her despite her equally determined...
(The entire section is 706 words.)