Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Pastor of Vejlbye - Steen Steensen Blicher

Illustration by Povl Christensen (1909 - 1977)
I wanted to read this short-story as part of my mission to read more early mystery literature. The Pastor of Vejlbye was published in 1829 and subtitled 'A Crime Story'. It is often referred to as one of the first mystery novels. 

I enjoyed the story and found myself wanting to intervene to help certain characters. It was a good quick read and worth the trouble to find the book. I did not find it easy to get hold of an English translation of this short-story; I got it as part of a collection of short-stories in the end. If you don't want to struggle to get a physical copy of the book you can find a pdf version here.

The author, Steen Steensen Blicher, was one of Denmark's great Golden Age poets and short-story writers; he was much influenced by Scottish and English literature but never visited these countries.

The story is written in the form of a diary in two parts. The first part of the story is provided by Erik Sørensen, district sheriff, and the second part provided by the pastor of AAlsøe.

It is based upon (although does not follow exactly) a real event in 1626 when pastor Søren Qvist of Vejlbye (near Grenå) was sentenced to death, for the murder of his coachman in 1607, based on circumstantial evidence.

Searching for a body in the pastor's garden (Christensen)
Following the pastor's execution one of his sons investigates further into the events leading to his conviction. This leads to a new trial in 1634 when it is discovered that a number of the witnesses had committed perjury; both were then sentenced to death.

Blicher's short-story deviates from the authentic account of the case. He changes characters and adds a number of twists, including an interesting psychological aspect in respect to Søren Qvist's personality and beliefs. I won't give away the twists or the ending in order to preserve the suspense. :)

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