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Hans Henny Jahnn: Epilog [Epilogue]

This the final part of Jahnn’s massive trilogy. Jahnn never finished it, though it is still 432 pages long, and it was published after his death. It really is not up to the standard of the previous two books. Indeed, it is almost as though Jahnn got tired but just felt that he had to carry on and take the story a bit further. It starts off more or less where the previous book ended. Gustav is dead, probably murdered. However, the story starts with Gemma Bohn, who is married to Egil. They are bringing up Nikolaj, who is Gemma and Gustav’s son, though neither he nor the other children know this. They plan to have two children of their own but end up with three – all boys. They are Asger, Sverre and Ivar. Egil is a good father to all four, though Nikolaj does tend to be somewhat difficult and struggles at school. However, when Gemma reads in the paper that Gustav has been murdered, she immediately tells Egil and says that Nikolaj should go to Fastaholm, Gustav’s home. Egil advises against it but is decided that he will go. Asger overhears his parents talking and realises that Nikolaj is only his half-brother. He raises the issue with his mother, concerned that Nikolaj is so different from the other three. This continues to be an issue.

Nikolaj finally does set out. He makes his way to his father’s home but it is all locked up. However, he does meet Daniel Lien, the vet, who was close friends with Gustav. Both with the taxi driver and Lien, Nikolaj maintains that he is not related to Gustav and that he is the son of Egil Born, though Lien seems to see a family resemblance to Gustav. Lien is very helpful and takes hm to the grave where Nikolaj places a wreath. Meanwhile, the police are investigating the murder of Gustav and they suspect Ajax von Uchri, Gustav’s former servant, whom we had met in the former book. Lien, however, is adamant that Ajax is not the sort of person to commit murder. Nikolaj is determined to set out on his travels, without any specific destination in mind but to go wohin die Kraft seiner Seele zog [where the strength of his soul took him]. He sets out on a train journey but, when it is starting to get dark, decides to interrupt his journey at the next station. When he gets out, he finds he is in the middle of nowhere. He sets out walking in what he thinks might be the direction of the village and, eventually, arrives at a fine-looking hotel.

Nikolaj decides to stay at this hotel and books in. During dinner, he starts talking to a man. He introduces himself to the man but the man does not reciprocate. It soon seems that the man knows something about him, including that Gustav Horn was his father. Eventually, he gets the man to reveal his name and he says that he is Alfred Tutein. We know, from the previous book, that Tutein is dead. However, Nikolaj, while having heard of Tutein, is unaware that he is dead. We soon guess that the man is almost certainly Ajax von Uchri. The two become friends, though the relationship over the next few days seems something like father-son or, more plausibly, uncle-nephew, but with some homosexual undertones (though, as we soon learn, both men are heterosexual). They vow to become closer and even draw up a formal contract to that effect, with von Uchri pledging to help Nikolaj in his musical career. Tutein/von Uchri sets off for Stockholm to find a job, with a view to Nikolaj joining hm. Von Uchri finds a job in a restaurant and Nikolaj returns home. His mother is shocked to see how much he has changed. Here is where the book really falls down. Most of the rest of the book tells of what happens when Nikolaj gets home – his domestic, personal and romantic life but, more particularly the life of his brothers, most of all, Asger. Most of the description is mundane and routine. Just when we think we might be getting back to what happens in Stockholm, the book abruptly ends. Or, rather, it more less ends, as there are a few fragments, which show that Nikolaj did return to Stockholm, got married (to Inger) and that she became pregnant. We also learn who killed Gustav.

The fading away of the final book should not detract from what a great work this book was in its earlier parts. Yes, maybe it did need an editor to cut it back and, yes, even the Germans seem to have more or less forgotten this work, though the first part is in print in German. It is a thoroughly original work and, while certainly not to everyone’s taste, it should be an integral part of twentieth century European literature.

Publishing history

First published 1961 by Europäische Verlagsanstalt
No English translation