THE FLAXFIELD by Stijn Streuvels


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First English translation of a Flemish novel that was first published in 1907; Streuvels, under the pen name of Frank Lateur (1871-1969), wrote over 40 books. This one--a slow-paced narrative about a family struggle on a turn-of-the-century Flanders farm--climaxes when paternal violence turns natural order on its head. Divided into four sections (""Sowing,"" ""Weeding,"" ""Bloom,"" and ""Harvest""), the story begins as old Vermeulen delays planting his flax, having secretly ordered a new flaxseed from Lithuania. He thinks himself clever, but his servants, neighbors, and family suspect decline: ""a man does not become more reasonable with age, he develops whims and quirks worse than a widowed hag."" Meanwhile, Vermeulen's young son Louis, strong and impatient, ""sowed without care or design, in sheer delight."" Numerous scenes celebrate the life of the soil and the obedience it commands, willingly or unwillingly, from the peasants. In ""Weeding,"" the old farmer's late sowing appears to be a fiasco; set pieces detail a church procession, girls weeding (Louis is smitten with one of them), and the spell of the land. In ""Bloom,"" Vermeulen tries to thwart the universal laws by setting up his son on a neighboring farm (which is for sale) so that he can remain master of his land. ""Harvest"" finds Louis drawn toward peasant harvest songs and dances, still torn between youthful assertion and paternal obedience, while old Vermeulen, too pigheaded to sell his flax for less than he expects, waits too long and, full of inarticulate rage, strikes down his son with a heavy walking stick, tie realizes too late (Louis is now in a fatal coma) that his attempt to subvert the natural order resulted only in disaster. The naturalism here is heavy-handed by modern standards; but the book faithfully renders the lyricism and cruelty of peasant life.

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 1989
Publisher: Sun & Moon