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This review is taken from PN Review 113, Volume 23 Number 3, January - February 1997.

DARK AND DANISH STEEN STEENSEN BLICHER, The Diary of a Parish Clerk and other stories Introduction by Margaret Drabble. Translated by Paula Hostrup-Jessen (Athlone) £18

These stories offer the hallucinatory vision of a part of Denmark that existed in the last century but is now largely vanished. The people of Copenhagen today no doubt characterize as quaintly 'Blicheresque' these goings-on in a Jutland of the past, much as we say 'Dickensian'. They owe much of their doubtless to the author's feeling for Scotland, which he admired but never actually visited. The life of the countryside is presented as a struggle in which love and humour are hard put to survive, and a grim form of religion the only consolation. The author tells the truth as he sees it, while evoking a great deal of poetry from his land of bogs and brown moorland.

In her excellent introduction Margaret Drabble tells us that, despite his 'profound melancholy and deep sense of the futility of human endeavour', Blicher was at the time an energetic innovator. And she draws a poignant picture of him in later life, 'shabby, in debt and given to drink, wandering the countryside like a Wordsworthian beggar, like the ghost of himself'.

The special Blicheresque quality of the stories is well expressed by the broodingly dark illustrations of Povl Christensen and by Paula Hostrup-Jessen's skilful translation which carefully recreates the author's clear intentions.

 DAVID ARKELL
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