Thursday, August 27, 2009

Peder Victorious

Peder Victorious by O. E. Rolvaag
Nora O. Solum, translator
Gudrun Hovde Gvale, introduction
trade paperback, 340 pages
University of Nebraska Press
1929, edition 1982
ISBN-13: 9780803289062
very highly recommended

Peder Victorious, the sequel to Rölvaag's massive Giants in the Earth, continues the saga of the Norwegian settlers in the Dakotas. Here again, years later, are all the sturdy pioneers of the earlier novel, Rölvaag's "vikings of the prairie"—Per Hansa's Beret and their children, Syvert Tönseten and Kjersti, and Sörine. The great struggle against the land itself has been won. Now there is to be a second struggle, a struggle to adapt, to become Americans.The development of the Spring Creek settlement in these years is manifested in the rebellious growing up of Peder Victorious. Peder is a beautiful and moving novel of youth and youth's self-discovery. It is the story, too, of Beret's pain and dismay at the Americanization of her children, what Rölvaag described as the true tragedy of the immigrants, who made their children part of a world to which they themselves could never belong.Out of the inevitable conflict between the first-generation American and his still Norwegian mother, Rölvaag built a powerful novel of personal growth, guilt, and victory.
My Thoughts:

First, read Giants in the Earth before Peder Victorious AND before you read the quotes. If then interested, read this review before Peder Victorious. Second, although Gudrun Hovde Gvale's introduction is certainly well worth reading, unless you want a synopsis of the whole story before you read the novel, don't read it until after you have finished the book. Alternately, if you just want to know what happens without read the book, by all means read it. There is also a biographical note on Rolvaag at the end of the novel.

Giants in the Earth is more accessible and perhaps more riveting than Peder Victorious, but for those who are interested, this novel of settlers on the South Dakota prairie brilliantly shows the conflicts that must have arose with the Americanization of the Norwegian settlers. As Peder matures throughout the story, the conflicts that surely sprang up between the original Norwegian settlers and their now American children are illustrated in Peder's life. The relationship between Peder, as well as his other siblings, and their mother is especially poignant. The normal separation of children from their parents is magnified as the children are also separating themselves from their parent's culture and their own heritage. While I would very highly recommend Peder Victorious, I know it is not a book for everyone and needs to be read after Giants in the Earth.


Gvale: " is more of a Norwegian book translated into English than the preceding one. In the original the Norwegian style fits the contents more intimately..." pg xix

The moment the sun lifted his red face above the horizon, Peder was up; and in summer, just after the face had dropped out of sight, Peder was in bed again... opening

But the intimate comradeship between God and Peder came to an end during the spring that Father was found dead over west on the prairie. Suddenly God changed; He became a hard, heartless monster, One that one must look out for. pg. 5

- St. Luke's was certainly blessed with a remarkable board of deacons, aye - that he must say! Here they were chasing around the prairies, poking their noses into all the filth of the whole settlement. And then they came dragging the stuff into the congregational meetings! ... Funny the minister didn't consider himself above such things. If this continued, they'd have to bring lunch with them to church, and bedding too - since they'd have to camp here most of the time to hold congregational meetings.... Let him who knew himself guiltless cast the first stone!" pg. 24

Beret and Peder sat in one of the seats near the front. She felt, as the proceedings were about to begin, that perhaps she ought to take the boy and leave the room; but then it occurred to her that being present at the trial might impress upon him the fatal consequences of sin - and so she stayed. pg. 28

A period of storm and disruption broke loose over St. Luke's Norwegian Evangelical Congregation. The boat keeled perilously, with no one to calm the troubled waters. The worst of it was that Reverend Isaksen wanted the steady hand and clear eye of his predecessor, and was, therefore, but ill-fitted to stand at the helm in the terrific tempest which now began to rage. pg. 44

The desirability of a congregation consisting exclusively of confessing Christians arose out of the turmoil. And no sooner had the idea found utterance than it began to gain followers. Several of the brethren saw it at once: there was but one thing to do - they must withdraw from St. Luke's and set up a church of their own! pg. 49

That kind of Christianity which must go off by itself in order to thrive may have a hard time of it when it gets to heaven. pg. 64


Anonymous said...

‘Lo Lori:

Sorry to be so late in coming to your site. But having just finished ‘Peder Victorious’, and that after just finishing a re-reading of ‘Giants in the Earth’ some 50+ years after reading it the first time, I wanted to see if anyone had written anything of interest to me about Peder and so I stumbled upon your site.

I actually read Peder from a 1929 edition of the book purchased at a local bookstore and so I didn’t have to confront the problem of a review and synopsis at the front end of the book. These do bother me; I think they should really be placed at the end of the book as ‘Aferwords’. Such a simple concept. Why read a synopsis of a novel before reading the it? It’s never made any sense to me at all. If someone finishes the book, they’ll naturally want to read a bit more about it.

I think that ‘Peder Victorious’ is every bit as good a novel in its own way as ‘Giants in the Earth’. It seems to me Rolvaag has matured some as a novelist; I was astonished to encounter what these days we would call magic realism toward its end with Beret seeing Per Hansa in perhaps her delirium. And yes, I agree with you that ‘Giants’ may appeal to some readers who will find Peder a bit too dry or lacking in the frontier rough and tumble. But it seems to me it makes up for that in its subtlety and fine delineation of character and motive. The strength of the characterization of Beret, say.

A final word on the pleasures of reading old used editions if I may. I took a couple of buses over to a used/new book store I knew had a copy of 'Peder Victorious' and for a mere $8.95, I got a lovely 1929 edition in fine shape and with a loving inscription on the front blank page in a woman's fine hand:

To Elmer

from Edna

Christmas 1929

And the question occurred to me as I read that whether they may have lost a lot in the Stock Market crash and maybe this was Elmer's only gift from Edna that Christmas. I also mused that Elmer must have read and loved "Giants in the Earth" when it came out in 1927 for Edna to have given him Rolvaag's next novel as soon as it came out. And that's the thing about buying used books: you can muse to your heart's content about how the Elmer's of the world felt about the book and how the Edna's hoped they would feel. Such a wonderful bonus from used books with inscriptions.

I will probably take the same buses over there and pick up a 1931 edition of ‘Their Father’s God’ tomorrow, although I bought a used copy of it by Bison Books before I learned of this used one.


PS My copy of ‘Giants’ was from my uncle who all his life resided in eastern South Dakota, just up the road in Brookings. What a delight that was to hold and read and think about.

Lori L said...

Gestur, thank you for taking the time to add your thoughtful comments to the review.
Actually my copy was a used edition too, just a newer one, thus the addition of the problematic introduction and extra material. For me both Giants and Peder would be very highly recommended. Giants in the Earth is a frontier novel and captures the time and struggles perfectly. Peder in many ways is a more modern novel, tackling struggles with society.
I actually have a (used) copy of Rolvaag's The Boat of Longing waiting to be read some time...

Anonymous said...

‘Lo Lori:

Yes, I think you’ve put your finger on it: it’s in so many ways a modern book; indeed, at times it seems to me very modern indeed.

But it also has so much of that Old World charm as well, as with its wonderful old expressions.

Take, for example, when that rough-hewn fellow, Tambur-Ola, has been carrying on in a somewhat offensive way in a gathering, and we read:

“O-o-h, how terrible you talk!” Sofie shuddered, and got up.

“I s’pose so”, Tambur-Ola replied wearily. “But it is as the hen said: One must cackle with the beak one has.”

And such lovely, lyrical gems as well.

“Time out of mind he had loved her.”

And I, too, picked up a lovely Borealis Books edition of “The Boat of Longing” today, published just across the river from me. And I read on the back cover that “The Boat of Longing was Rolvaag’s favorite of all his books.” Sounds good to me, and the cover of my edition sure has an alluring photo.


Lori L said...

Yes, you are right - there are some lovely turns of phrase in Rolvaag that are charming to readers today.
Thanks for mentioning that The Boat of Longing was Rolvaag's favorite. That will add to the enjoyment of it.