Professor Martensʼ Departure Summary

  • Last updated on July 22, 2023
Title: Professor Martensʼ Departure

Author: Jaan Kross

Publication Date: 1994

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page Length: N/A


"Professor Martensʼ Departure" is a thought-provoking historical novel written by Estonian author Jaan Kross, published in 1994. Set in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the narrative explores the life and struggles of Professor Martens, a respected intellectual, during a turbulent time in Estonia's history. Through intricate storytelling and vivid characterization, the book provides valuable insights into both personal and societal transformations, shedding light on themes of power, identity, and resilience.

Chapter 1: Martens Resumes Teaching - In the opening chapter, readers are introduced to Professor Martens, who after years of political exile, has finally returned to his homeland. The year is 1938, and Martens, an influential historian and linguist, is eager to resume teaching at the University of Tartu. The author meticulously describes Martens' passion for knowledge and his commitment to fostering critical thinking among his students.

Chapter 2: German Occupying Forces Arrive - As German forces begin to occupy Estonia, Martens is confronted with a difficult decision. His personal ideologies clash with the harsh political reality imposed by the Nazis. Martens is torn between maintaining his intellectual integrity and appeasing the oppressive regime, leading to inner turmoil and ethical dilemmas.

Chapter 3: Martens' Friendship with Uexküll - Martens develops a deeply intellectual friendship with Jakob von Uexküll, a well-known biologist and philosopher. Their conversations delve into topics such as the nature of existence and identity, providing profound reflections on the human condition. Together, they navigate the challenges of living under authoritarian rule, sharing their dissenting views discreetly.

Chapter 4: Martens' Wife, Mari, Takes a Stand - Mari Martens, a woman of conviction, becomes increasingly involved in political resistance against the German occupation. She joins the underground resistance movement, risking her safety and the well-being of her family. This development places additional strain on Professor Martens, who is torn between his love for his wife and his need to protect his reputation and scholarship.

Chapter 5: Academic Suppression - The Nazi regime imposes restrictions on academic freedom, affecting Professor Martens' ability to teach and publish his work. The university environment becomes filled with fear and betrayal, as informants infiltrate the academic community. Martens and his colleagues face constant surveillance, heightening the tension and endangering their intellectual pursuits.

Chapter 6: Martens' Arrest and Imprisonment - Martens is ultimately arrested for his association with Uexküll and suspected involvement in the resistance movement. The chapter depicts Martens' unjust treatment, the harshness of imprisonment, and the psychological toll it takes on him. Even in the face of adversity, Martens refuses to renounce his principles, remaining steadfast in his resolve.

Chapter 7: Release from Prison - Following a period of incarceration, Martens is unexpectedly released due to political complications. The conditions of his release, however, require him to sever all ties with his former colleagues and cease any political involvement. Martens reluctantly complies, but the separation from his intellectual community and the loss of his academic pursuits deeply affect him.

Chapter 8: Life Under Soviet Occupation - Estonia undergoes yet another transformation as Soviet forces replace German occupation. Martens finds himself subjected to a renewed sense of surveillance, ideological censorship, and a different breed of political pressure. The author highlights the continued sacrifices and resilience of Martens, who adapts to the new regime while continuing to harbor his individualistic spirit.

Chapter 9: Martens' Final Departure - As the novel concludes, we witness Professor Martens' departure from Estonia, leaving behind a country that no longer embraces his ideals and intellectual pursuits. His decision to abandon his homeland represents the struggle of individuals striving for intellectual freedom amidst oppressive regimes. The narrative thus serves as a poignant reminder of the profound impact political upheaval can have on individuals dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Themes and Significance:

"Professor Martensʼ Departure" explores various themes that make it an important piece of literature. The novel delves into the complexities of power and the coercive forces of authoritarian rule, highlighting the struggles individuals face when their personal beliefs clash with oppressive regimes.

Identity and personal integrity also play a central role, as readers witness the internal conflicts experienced by Professor Martens as he navigates the changing political landscape. The novel delves into the importance of maintaining one's intellectual individuality and the sacrifices individuals may need to make to safeguard their principles.

Moreover, Jaan Kross' work serves as a stark reminder of the resilience of human spirit. Through the portrayal of characters like Professor Martens, the novel underscores the perseverance of those determined to uphold their values, even in the face of adversity.

"Professor Martensʼ Departure" serves as a cautionary tale about the fragility of intellectual freedom and the consequences when political ideologies infringe on the pursuit of knowledge. By shedding light on this historical period, the novel encourages readers to reflect on the value of intellectual curiosity, integrity, and the importance of safeguarding the principles that shape our society.

Categories: Books