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Contents:
  1. Craig Brown on Oscar Wilde's 'perverse' love of paradox
  2. Perversion of justice
  3. More in Opinion
  4. The Sin of Pride

Craig Brown on Oscar Wilde's 'perverse' love of paradox

He was born in , the son of a Jutland pastor, into a family that had produced countless clergymen. Unlike Per, Pontoppidan seems to have remained on friendly terms with his family, despite drifting away from his inherited Christianity. In his memoir, published in , three years before his death, he declared himself to be an out-and-out rationalist, dismayed by the tenacity of religious superstition. Like Per, he left the provinces to study engineering at the Polytechnic Institute in Copenhagen. Brandes and Pontoppidan corresponded for decades.

Brandes had read Mill, Hegel, Feuerbach, Strauss. He was an advocate of European naturalism, and of fiction that attended to the social and political moment. It was time, he argued, to open Denmark up to the outside—a movement that became known as the Modern Breakthrough.

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Nathan, sometimes nicknamed Dr. Brandes was Jewish, and Pontoppidan, remarkably alert to European anti-Semitism throughout the novel, writes that Per had kept his distance from Dr. With the ruthlessness of the provincial hero, Per decides that marriage to an heiress of the vast Salomon merchant fortune will speed him on his way. At first, though, he stirs in Jakobe a deep-seated hatred of Christian culture, and she treats him with an insulting haughtiness. Bookish, sensitive, twenty-three, and already considered a bit of an old maid by her family, Jakobe had been a sickly child, and the target of anti-Semitic bullying.

Four years earlier, Jakobe had been in a Berlin railway station. On the floor of the waiting room were hundreds more desperate, emaciated paupers. Suddenly, she realized that they were Russian Jews, on their way to America via Germany. With great ironic power, Pontoppidan convinces us that Jakobe and Per must inevitably hate each other, and then, soon enough, that these two damaged creatures could have found comfort only in each other.

Their relationship is passionately erotic and ardently intellectual; Jakobe, again like some heroine out of D. Lawrence, is helplessly attracted to Per, despite the blaring correctives from her conscience. Jakobe is utterly alive and complex, and burns at the living center of the book. Pontoppidan endows her with an extraordinary intellectual restlessness, and allows her some of the most movingly lucid secular proclamations I have ever encountered in fiction.

One of these statements, a long letter that she writes to Per, becomes an eloquent, scalding testament to her atheism and her faith in the known limits of our worldly existence.

Perversion of justice

Never will I forget the impression that some plaster casts of bodies excavated in Pompeii made on me. There were, among others, a master and his slave, both evidently caught by surprise in the rain of ash. But what a difference in the facial expressions! He was overturned on his back, his eyebrows were raised up to his hairline, the thick mouth open, and you could virtually hear him screaming like a stuck pig. The other, by contrast, had preserved his mastered dignity unto death. His almost-closed eyes, the fine mouth pressed shut, were marked by the proudest and most beautiful resignation in relation to the inevitable.

Every time the lad tries to do it, his confidence wavers, his hand shakes, and he fails the test. Per turns back to the hillside shrine. Throughout, Per is hard to comprehend in his cloudy questing. And yet, troubled by this very homelessness, he feels that one must choose: on one side, renunciation; on the other, the world.

Which is it to be? In the end, Per surrenders to the religious impulses of a faith he seems to stand outside of. We have been here before, in this world of a deformed and contradictory atheism. The novel encourages such readings. And I am still a world conqueror. If you have rejected the content of the faith, why mimic its more self-punishing practices? Kierkegaard said that one had to be a kind of lunatic in order to be a true Christian. Is there a difference between this form of religious madness and actual madness? Instead of looking at Per, we should perhaps look toward Jakobe, whose own renunciation takes her into the world, not away from it, and who seems to manage this turn without compromising her defiant secularism.

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  • The Perversity of Human Nature.
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  • Die Außenpolitik Konstantins des Großen (German Edition);
  • Kirsten Powers: A perverse pride in foolish policies – Orange County Register?
  • CONTINUE TO BILLING/PAYMENT.

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More in Opinion

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The Sin of Pride

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