PUBLISHERS OF LITERARY FICTION SINCE 1983
Barbara is the only novel by Jorgen-Frantz Jacobsen. Set in the 1700s and originally written in Danish, the manuscript was left behind on his death in 1938. This excellent translation by W. Glyn Jones was published over 70 years later. The story is based on a Faroese legend, “Beinta and Peder Arrheboe”.
Barbara is the widow of two former pastors when the ship Fortuna arrives, bringing Poul, the new pastor. Poul is warned about Barbara, but he falls for her charms. Barbara has genuine feelings for Poul but cannot resist the attention of other men. When ships come to port she is seduced, like many other women, by the sailors. Barbara and Poul marry, but she falls for Andreas and leaves with, him.
A story of infatuation and vanity, it is, as the cover suggests, a story of a Faroese Moll Flanders; though Barbara has very little moral sense, she has a certain charm about her, and her story and interactions with Poul and Andreas make the novel come alive. There are nice descriptions of life and customs on the Faroe Islands. The dialogue –believable, concise, and interesting – and descriptions create a great sense of time and place. I enjoyed the read, even though I felt it was sad in places, and would recommend it for its historical and geographical interest.
A Faroese legend tells how Beinta, a beautiful, but evil, parson’s wife, causes the unhappiness, and death, of her three husbands. After an unhappy love affair, the Faroese writer Jorgen-Frantz Jacobsen turned the tale around, understanding rather than condemning the woman at its heart.
Writing in the first half of the 20th century, and setting the story in the 18th, Jacobsen created a woman who is still modern today. His Barbara is no evil temptress but a free spirit who, while understanding the concept of fidelity, cannot keep to it. Her third husband, Pastor Poul, reads her scriptures and understands their marriage can only succeed if he keeps temptation from her...
This is not just the story of an extraordinary woman, but an extraordinary place – the Faeroe Islands. Jacobsen was born in the capital, Torshavn, living there until sent to Denmark at 16 to complete his education. It’s a paean to his homeland, to the rugged life of a society dependent on the weather and the tides, whose fate is tied to visiting ships. In the novel the aptly named Fortuna brings Barbara both happiness and sadness.
We view this hierarchical society through the eyes of Pastor Poul: a man of learning and ambition, sent to the Faroes to improve the local clergy. Jacobsen understands the beauty of the Faroes, and how they might appear to the modern, cultured Dane.
Tragically, Jacobsen died from TB at 38, soon after this book was finished; it’s his only novel. Praise must go to the sparkling contemporary prose of translator W Glyn Jones. And to Dedalus for rescuing this novel from cold storage and bringing it to English speaking readers.