Book Review: Jorn Uhl by Gustav Frenssen

Dear Reader,

This is not going to be a proper book review. It has been a while since I read this book, but I have been meaning to post something on it. This is an older German novel. I came across it thanks to Charlotte Mason who discusses it in detail in her fifth volume, Formation of Character. She uses the main character, Jorn (there should be an umlaut in his name but I don’t know how to do that; my apologies to Germans), as an example of a child who, although largely ignored by the adults in his life, comes to have his own sort of education (I discussed this a little in this earlier post).

Charlotte’s comments intrigued me so much that I set put to find the book. The only copy I could find was electronic. You can download it here. The copy is not the best. There are a lot of odd things in the text (like stray letters), but I quickly adjusted to just ignoring them.  Apparently, this book, which was contemporary in Charlotte’s time, had a surge of popularity then. But it seems not to have stood the test of time well since I couldn’t find even a single hard copy.

That is a shame because this was an enjoyable book. The story was at times slow, as older books often are, but it did draw me in. It also made me think which I consider high praise for a book. Charlotte has already said a lot about what the book has to say about education. I don’t want to recover all that ground. It also has a lot to say about faith and what true Christianity is. Here are my two favorite quotes form the book:

In this first one, Jorn is walking with an older man not known for talking much. Jorn has done a heroic deed, rescuing some children, and the old man is discussing it with him:

“[Jorn says:] ‘Oh, yes . . . but it seems to me all one whether I do it with or without God.’

‘Not by a long way, Jorn . . . . For see here now: If ye do it on your own responsibility ye’ll be proud, and fancy yourself, and become cocked up and perhaps a bit of a fool. Neither will ye always do what ‘s good nor just hit on what’s right, neither. And ye won’t have any real joy o’ what ye’ve done, because ye haven’t done it for His sake, but for your own and other folk’s. But if ye put yourself on God’s side and do everything for His sake, then ye’ll laugh and rejoice and know for certain when ye’re doing what’s right, and ye’ll have understanding for everything, and will be able to defy and to rejoice at the whole world. Our hearts on God’s side, and our hands against the dogs, and against everything bad i’ the world; — that’s Chreestianity.'”

In the second quote, Jorn Uhl is older (this is nearly at the end of the book) and is contemplating all the things that have happened to him in his life:

“Jorn Uhl stood near the other window and answered: ‘In times gone by, when I was still very young, I thought there were only two kinds of things that could confront a man — things that can be bent, and those that can be broken. But afterwards, in the sad years, I found out that there is a third kind — things that come and stand for a moment, or maybe for whole years, before one, like some great, wild, black monster raising its cruel paws with claws dead and white. What is one to do against it? Turn aside? Flatter? Lie? There’s no sense in that. There it stands, right in front of you, and it is mad, Theiss, mad. It has no understanding. It’s a cruel, wild being. It’s no good attacking it, for it’s much the stronger. Well, face to face with such a monster, with such an overpowering fate, what alternative is there? Only one. We must say to it, “Whether you kill me or let me live, whether you devour me and those I love or not, whether you unsettle my understanding with your everlasting threats and the sight of your claws or not, be that as you choose; but one thing I tell you, it all happens in the name of God in Whom I put my trust, and firmly belive that His cause — which is the good — will triumph, in me and everywhere. . . . “

Now I’ve given you the best parts of the book 🙂 But I still recommend you read it.



3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Samantha Clear on July 26, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    I actually have this hardcover book that is a 1906 copy. I haven’t read it yet because its in German.


  2. Posted by Elsa Brown on August 26, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Gustav Frenssen was a close friend of my grandfather, Wilhelm Rohlfs and “Jorn Uhl ” was loosely based on the Rohlfs family. I met some of the Frenssen family on my first trip to Germany in 1952 but did not stay in touch as they didn’t seem too interested.


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