The Emperor of Portugallia (1914) by Selma Lagerlöf


The plot: In a small town in the countryside in Sweden in the 1860s, a poor farmer, Jan, becomes a father and for the first time feels happiness and love. When his daughter, Glory Goldie Sunnycastle, turns 17 years he is pressed for money by his landlord. His daughter moves to a larger city to help save her parents. While she does manage to save her parents, her letters stop coming and the other townfolks start talking behind the parent’s back. In his grief of not understanding what is happening the poor farmer sinks into insanity.

And there stood Jan, holding in his two hands something soft and warm done up in a big shawl, a corner of which had been turned back that he might see the little wrinkled face and the tiny wizzened hands. He was wondering what the womenfolk expected him to do with that which had been thrust upon him, when he felt a sudden shock that shook both him and the child. It had not come from any of the women and whether it had passed through the child to him or through him to the child, he could not tell.

My thoughts:

This book must be well written consider how angry I became. How dear those judgemental townfolks?

Thanks, I needed that. Okay, before I go on, Townfolks…

According to Wikipedia, Löfgren called this book the Swedish King Lear. While I understand the tragic male character being driven mad by a cruel world, I don’t think this is an apt comparison. King Lear fell because of his own hubris. I don’t want to say that Jan had a hand in his own demise, but rather was a victim of a cruel world in the vein of the works of Victor Hugo. At the same time, my anger isn’t geared at the daughter nor the landlord who tries to trick money out of Jan. My anger is geared towards the townfolks. They where the ones who didn’t help Jan, who condemned Gloria when all she did was try to help her family and who looked sideways at Jan after he got sick.

The book starts with how Jan has never really felt any feelings. Feelings is a luxury, and I can imagine that just like Jan, it’s a luxury the townfolks can’t afford. At the same time, it’s a luxury they can’t afford because of the callousness of the townfolks. Had the townfolks been kind, they could have the luxury to want to feel… anything. Okay, townfolks you can come back. One thing…

I don’t doubt that this might have been Selma Löfgren’s intent. Here she shows what apathy towards our neighbours can do. While the landlord is the one that does the active bad thing, it’s the townfolks who end up ruining this small families life. There will always be people in power who try to abuse that power, maybe that’s whay I didn’t get that mad at the landlord, but that’s why we need to stand together. You could be next.

Have you ever been really angry when reading a book? Which one? Why? Comment down below.


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