Erling had known her for many years but was still on a journey of discovery into her world and knew he would continue so for the rest of his life. He had found the woman for whom the light within him never would burn out. There were not many who knew her well, but the opinions a great many people had about her were most definite. Concerning worth-while persons, opinions are always definite and conflicting, and the truth is to be found neither in the middle nor at the fringes. Perhaps the conflicting impressions constituted the truth.
Felicia insisted, to an especially high degree and as far as humanly possible, on being her own master, and on planning for the future as long as there was some sense in doing so. She did not want a commuter's life, broken up by the daily round trip; she wanted a definite world in one place—even if in a submarine, she had once said. As a child—a rich little girl—she had read about "ladies of the world" and had become rather frightened. She herself did not doubt that she was vain, but she did not care to put on airs for just anyone. Her family background was such that she knew a great many people, but she accepted no invitations and invited no one. Guests very seldom came to Venhaug. As a young girl at home in Slemdal she had found it almost painful when her father had to give a party. She had been greatly pleased one time long ago to read about the drop of water mirroring the whole world, and she had always, almost automatically, limited her outside world, but felt she had received the whole world in the bargain. She might still pick up some [p. 13] needlework and withdraw to her room, sit down with it on the bed, a book on the table beside her, and be quite happy. Not long ago she had received a letter from a schoolgirl friend who when quite young had married an Englishman and later made a name for herself in the theater over there, a ball of energy like herself, but to Felicia she was a stranger. It was pleasant to read what Lydia wrote, pleasant to answer her, nice perhaps to visit her some time, or have her come to Venhaug, but that was all. A career was nothing for Felicia, and when she married Jan she had clearly realized what this would mean to her: that he wasn't torn by an ambition which expresses itself in search for publicity, in restlessness, much journeying, and perhaps a few drops of poisonous envy. On the other hand, she must not have realized how hated she was, or why her friends were so few. To outsiders she seemed the conceited, scheming Felicia Venhaug, who always buttered her own bread, and took with force what wasn't given her freely. Perhaps there was this ounce of truth in it, that she never had pretended to be humble or self-effacing, and that she wasn't at all blind to her own position; but they were completely wrong on the point where most were sure they were right; as the women expressed it: every male in Østlandet between fifteen and sixty had been in her bed. Some men, worse gossipmongers than their wives, often said the same, because they either didn't know her or were silly enough to believe the stories. Felicia herself seemed entirely uninterested in the talk. She never cared what was said about her, wouldn't listen to it even, and proved her lack of interest in the only way such things can be proved: she had never bothered to say she was not interested in what others thought and said.
A common device for probing into other people's private lives is to express discreet warnings under a cloak of morality and thus provoke a defense. It was a long time since Felicia had been exposed to this, and those who had tried were not happy with the result. They would never forget her frozen smile and waiting silence while they themselves began to stammer, look in other directions, finally giggle in embarrassment, not knowing what to do with themselves—until at last Felicia mercifully would ask how things were at home, with the children, or whatever one asks girl friends for no reason whatsoever. Afterwards Felicia did not immediately forget such an experience, but she suppressed it completely and didn't worry about it, and when something similar was repeated she quite automatically turned on the old reaction. The result was inevitably the same.
Erling knew she was a hated and feared "desire-dream," and the most miserable imitations of her roamed the bars. She herself did not seem to [p. 14] know this, and to her the likeness would hardly have been striking. One of them had casually said to him across the table, while putting on her lipstick: "Is it true that I look exactly like Felicia Venhaug?" He might otherwise have considered spending the night with her, since as usual he had left Lier without getting a hotel reservation.
All Felicia knew and learned was bound up in her own world at Venhaug. She might listen to a political discussion but would rather not enter into it. She voted at the elections, but no one knew how. Once her tongue slipped and after that Erling suspected she voted with the conservatives, because in principle she was against any party in majority. It might be just as good a political prejudice as are all the others by which the country is ruled. Actually, she spoke very seldom about anything not related to Venhaug and the people there; even the sun and the moon seemed to have been placed in the firmament in order to serve Venhaug, and it might sound as if she thought meteorologists exceeded their competence when they spoke of the weather in other places.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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