Peder Victorious Suffers Fractures

In Peder Victorious, O. E. Rolvaag looks at the second generation of Norwegian pioneers who broke the Dakota prairies to the plow.

Peder Victorious Holm and his siblings think of themselves as Americans. Their mother, Beret Holm, still regards herself as Norwegian. She wishes her children to speak, read, think in Norwegian; have only Norwegian friends; marry within the Norwegian community.

The outcome is never in doubt: the Norwegians will assimilate.

The Norwegians cannot get along among themselves.  Even Beret displays American independence in speaking out in church in defiance of tradition over the matter of the Lutheran congregation split.

Moreover, Norwegians are deeply divided over the question of whether the Dakotas should be admitted to the Union as one state or two.

Against this background, the adolescent Peder is trying to define his identity.

Rolvaag’s plot is pulled in as many directions as Peder is. Rolvaag will focus on Peder, then on Peder’s mother, zoom out to talk about the community, zoom in on a church deacon. The shifting point of view has an unsettling, centrifugal effect.

Eventually Beret’s late husband appears to her in a dream and tells her how to handle Peder.

Too bad he didn’t appear to Rolvagg. The author needed serious help with this fractured plot.

Peder Victorious
By O. E. Rolvaag
Trans. Nora O. Solum &
Harper & Brothers, 1929
350 pages
1929 bestseller #6
My Grade: C-
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Linda G. Aragoni

I make big ideas simple for learners. In eight sentences, 34 words, I taught teens and adults to write competently. Now I'm writing guides to turn willing volunteers into great nursing home visitors.

2 thoughts on “Peder Victorious Suffers Fractures”

  1. The book’s plot feels far less “fractured” if you’ve read the first book in the trilogy “Giants in the Earth”.


    1. Perhaps you are right, but I think a novel must stand or fall on its own merits.

      The shifting point of view in Peder Victorious made me think of a food processor set to pulse. To be honest, all I can remember of Giants in the Earth is that there was a lot of prairie land in it. Let’s say it didn’t make a strong impression on me.

      Even read together, the Rolvaag novels have more to recommend them from a historical standpoint than as entertainment for 21st century readers.


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