"I gave her Helled Hagen—"
Jan walked out on the veranda to check on the weather. Earlier in the evening some more snow had fallen but now the night was still and white, with starlight and a half-moon. He looked for the two new "moons" and the capsule of the first which in turn had become a moon itself, but they were not visible. "And God created the two great lights, the bigger to rule by day and the smaller by night, and then the Russians made two somewhat smaller." Jan would have preferred to let things be as they were and that all new moons should fall down again. They disturbed him.
He filled his lungs with the cold, refreshing air and thought perhaps he was among the last to dare drink in the winter night without fear that it was deadly. It had tasted so wonderful ever since he had had pneumonia a year ago. Double pneumonia. He had been delirious for a whole day. The children had mimicked him months afterward: "Oh, I'm so sick, Felicia, so sick, so sick, Felicia!" She had been sitting at his side the whole time, and she was paler than he when it was over. The penicillin had made Jan weak in his knees so he couldn't walk normally for a while, and he was getting quite fed up with his daughters walking behind him, dragging their feet, they too, complaining: "I'm so sick, Felicia!" But the sickness had given him something the children and the others couldn't share: they didn't realize the air could have an aroma like fine wine. The doctor had said it was "only" because he needed oxygen so much. Everything good must be labeled "only." He remembered something a boy in school had said when the teacher had birched him out in the yard: "Every time something is real good you get it in the ass." God only knows what the teacher might have done with the air if Jan had said it tasted good.
The moon shone on a line of dark spots in the snow, they continued between the tall birches and on toward Old Venhaug. They were footsteps, he discovered, more noticeable in the new snow, darker in the moon shadow. He also noticed that they had come across the veranda. The tracks did not return. He pulled back his sleeve and looked at his wrist watch. All was dark at Old Venhaug. His eyes returned to Felicia's tracks:
I took proud Brunhild from Glassberg
In full daylight.
[p. 273] I gave her Helled Hagen
Jan walked backward and saw his shadow grow smaller and smaller until he had no shadow at all, standing under the entrance light. He stopped for a moment in the living room, then he crossed over to the bookcase and took down Strindberg's Black Banners.
Soon he found the place:
". . . that nasty female tennis game, rather bent on hurting the opponent than, as is the case in the real game, getting in a beautiful ball . . ."
"When, as now is the case, the woman has absolute veto in every disagreement between them, then the man is defenseless, and then the lie rules the world . . ."
". . . no, I've never in our circle seen a married man unfaithful, if not forced by his wife . . ."
"Jealousy is the husband's purification-spring which keeps his thoughts free from being entangled with another man's sexual sphere, through the wife. A man who is not jealous, but accepts, is a sodomite. I know one man who enjoyed his wife's affairs and loved the 'family friends' . . ."
"It is only an invective and as such a lie . . ."
The last quotation he had underlined when, as very young, he had come across Black Banners. The book had later been lost, but when Felicia brought Strindberg's works to the house, he had in 1946 reread Black Banners. When he came to the sentence he had again underlined it—in a sort of pious tribute to his youth, but it was also something else.
Then, so long ago, he had not paid much attention, perhaps none at all, to the context where the quotation appeared. It had only struck the seventeen-year-old as a profound truth that invectives are lies. The remark was directed against the supposition that a man was a woman-hater when he had been married several times and had children with all the wives. Then it was a lie to call him a woman-hater. Jan considered the logic more than dubious, but accepted as earlier that invectives were lies.
He felt the whole thing was rather difficult to argue about. If, in certain circles, no husband could be unfaithful to his wife except on her demand, then that flock of husbands must be of a peculiar brand of morality, all with Lesbian wives. On the other hand, male jealousy was supposed to be an expression of purity and a protest against being driven [p. 274] into another man's sexual sphere—and the man without jealousy was a sodomite—an invective so rough that even at best it didn't cover such men's inclinations.
It was remarkable to see jealousy raised to the utmost virtue, this feeling that always was more or less connected with self-contempt, contained in a feeling of unmitigated shame.
Jan went upstairs and to bed. He lay awake for long, his hands folded under his head, and thought through the nature of jealousy once more. Jealousy had once almost killed him and he felt he was familiar with it. It seemed obvious to him that Strindberg on this subject had happened to say something quite opposite to the truth. Jealousy in a sexual meaning might be absent altogether, it could be weak, it could have all degrees up to a cause for murder. In some societies it was unknown. Some people, especially men, affected jealousy because they thought it was the proper behavior. Generally speaking Jan considered it had two causes: fear that the desired one might entirely get out of the picture, and apprehension as to what people might say about the so-called cheated member. The first might be reasonable, but it was after all self-worship and not love. The second was to be the victim of a dubious convention. In both cases jealousy was a cry for force in love, something in itself unreasonable, but accepted in law—which consequently should lead to jealousy also being accepted through law. Yet, on the contrary, certain forms of jealousy were punishable. It was a virtue, or something degrading, depending on from which direction the wind blew. It was precisely as degrading to be jealous, as not to be, and anyone smelling it started at once to figure out new laws instead of abolishing old ones. The same people who derided the jealous one, were ready with a whole arsenal of accusations against the one who was not jealous. But how about themselves? Where was the love, or at least some common sense, in this idiocy of thought and feeling? What caused healthy, normal, grown people—often greatly gifted—always at some stage of their lives to pose the question, to themselves and to others whether it was possible to love two? The question obviously was answered the moment it was raised. How was it possible people didn't believe their own experiences?
They dared not. Under persistent and devastating pressure they were made to believe they were perverse when they showed signs of being normal. Others again accused them of being emotionally sick because they feared they themselves might be, when actually deep down they were equally sound. What plagued the calm, considerate Jan the most was the enormous hypocrisy. Those fiery, even hysterical, defenders of the one-man-one-woman idea—those were the ones especially marked as [p. 275] tearing the wildest at their chains, or sinning with their shackles rattling. Those who had discovered the two-and-two combination, and felt happy in it, seldom voiced an opinion about something that was a problem only for those yelling. Where was the key to the peculiar riddle that all must act in the same way, not only in controllable matters, but also behind closed doors, even in their beds? Perhaps it was strangest of all that the very ones who stuck to the holy norm because it suited them, never were attacked by sinners of other hues—nor were these people who liked the official norm very aggressive toward the polygamists. It was only the men with obviously unhappy marriages who insisted on punishment for polygamy. In short, people seemed to become tolerant when they were happy in their own situation. Those who stuck their noses into other people's business had nothing enjoyable to stick them into at home.
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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