Books by Hans Scherfig

IDEALISTS by Hans Scherfig
Released: April 15, 1991

Though framed by one of Scherfig's trademark detective stories, this first U.S. publication of his 1942 novel is basically another grimly lightsome satire on prewar Danish society—a self-serving little crew of narcissists that could have been dreamed up last week. After posing the problem of who strangled old, tightfisted Squire Skjern-Svendsen one autumn night in 1938—and then reporting the ensuing fantastic euphemisms printed in his obituary notice about his ``fairy tale'' romance to his wife Julie, who's lived in her own wing of the castle for years—the story jumps back six months to set the stage for the murder in the sudden and brief appearance of the mysterious philanthropist Danielsen and the simultaneous (and related?) arrivals nearby of the scientist Kados, who's trying to get funding to create a homunculus, and the sexologist Dr. Riege—already familiar, like oily Pastor Nrregaard-Olsen and spiritualist-poet Sylvia Drusse, from Scherfig's The Missing Bureaucrat. All these self- promoting hypocrites, like the Squire, fancy themselves idealists, since, after all, they're all really devoted to something; the real idealist, saintly Damascus the printer, is almost buried under the weight of his felonious assistant Olsen. Scherfig's contempt for this nest of knaves is so consuming that he ends up making little attempt to develop their relationships—in between scenes they seem to vanish, like cartoon characters stranded offscreen (and many of them are pictured in the author's copious woodcuts)—or to press seriously the question of which of them killed the Squire. Broadly amusing until about halfway through, when Scherfig's outrage gradually gets the better of his humor. It's no mystery why the Nazis banned this book in Denmark, though its proto-fascist mediocrities have dated, alas, not a bit. Read full book review >