Places: The Promised Land

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Det forjættede land, 1891-1895 (English translation, 1896)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social criticism

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedSkibberup

Skibberup. Promised Land, TheOne of two rival villages in rural Denmark that make up Emanuel’s parish, the other being Veilby. Skibberup is the poorer of the two villages because the three hills on which it stands are almost an island, surrounded by bog land. It has a red-tiled meeting house, two church towers, and three windmills. The fields of the parish have been enlivened by a new system of fertilization, which involves spreading manure immediately rather than letting it fester in the dunghills that are dismissed by the novelist as symbolic relics of serfdom.

The land ripens brightly in summer, when Emanuel looks out upon it from the shade of a mountain ash tree at a high point on the road connecting Skibberup and Veilby. He sees, ominously, that his own harvest will be meager by comparison with those of his neighbors, partly because of his lack of native skill and partly because of the demoralizing aftereffects of Laddie’s death.

Veilby parsonage

Veilby parsonage. Once-palatial building situated on high ground between Veilby and Skibberup whose red roof and high poplar avenues rise above the slate roofs of the peasant farmhouses. It has an arched gateway and big courtyard, but the latter is now full of agricultural equipment and stores, with chickens foraging among the litter. The parsonage’s rooms have been stripped of all the finery with which they were decorated by the former tenant, Archdeacon Tönnesen. The former “salon” is now empty of furniture, save for benches running around its walls, and is lit by a single petroleum lamp; the other rooms are unused, except for the former day room, which is now the family bedroom. The bookshelves in the archdeacon’s former study are dusty and neglected. The whole house is dirty, until it is cleaned for Laddie’s funeral.

The parsonage is surrounded by a small park, which the archdeacon once equipped with a wooden bridge in the Chinese style, but the bridge has been lost to sight as the park, overgrown by blackthorn bushes, has reverted to primeval forest.


Kyndlöse. Skibberup’s prosperous neighboring village, where Dr. Hassing lives in a luxurious “villa.” Strongly contrasted with Veilby Parsonage, the doctor’s house has carpeted floors, carved furniture, velvet armchairs, large mirrors, and numerous paintings and statues of male and female nudes. Its dining room is decorated in a hybrid style, half “Pompeian” and half modern. Its drawing room has a piano and French windows leading to a glass-covered veranda.

The lawn beyond the veranda has beds of rose bushes, a honeysuckle arbor, and a vast stone vase. At first Emanuel is profoundly uncomfortable there, but he is seduced by Ragnhild’s playing of Frédéric Chopin’s funeral march. When he sees the house again from a distance, it is juxtaposed, in his contemplation, with Fen cottages, a cluster of miserable earthen hovels with rags instead of window panes, inhabited by drunkards, whose wretchedness has remained obdurate in the face of all his reformist endeavors.


*Copenhagen. Capital of Denmark from which Emanuel originally comes and to which Ragnhild Tönnesen goes when Veilby Parsonage changes hands. After his dream dies, Emanuel returns there with his children, even though his wife, Hansine, tells him that she cannot go with him. He looks forward to moving back into his old rooms, overlooking the canal and the Kristiansburg Palace, but Hansine feels that her own destiny lies in the remote fishing community into which her sister has married.


Sandinge. Town nearest to Skibberup, where Hansine was educated and where she and Emanuel met. Its high school is a significant motif within the story; a framed photograph of it hangs in the room behind the parsonage’s stable where the servant Niels lives. Emanuel visits Sandinge to attend the funeral of the school’s old director; there he sees the unnamed “great Norwegian writer” (Henrik Ibsen), whose influence, along with Leo Tolstoy’s, helped inspire his dream; after the writer’s departure, Hansen the weaver makes the speech that convinces Emanuel of his failure to make the dream come true.

BibliographyGray, Charlotte Schiander. “From Opposition to Identification: The Social and Psychological Structure Behind Henrik Pontoppidan’s Literary Development.” Scandinavian Studies 51 (Summer, 1979): 273-284. Explicitly influenced by Freudian psychological theory. Sees Emmanuel Hansted as a kind of negative parallel to the author. Pontoppidan swerves away from Hansted’s excessive idealism in his own authorial perspective.Jones, W. Glyn. “Henrik Pontoppidan (1857-1943).” Modern Language Review 52, no. 3 (July, 1957): 576-583. Emphasizes Pontoppidan’s interest in Danish history and politics, especially his relationship to the Estrup regime. Sees the novel as the author’s moral judgment upon the Danish nation.Madsen, Borge. “The Promised Land.” In Scandinavian Studies, edited by Carl F. Bayerschmidt and Erik J. Friis. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1965. Emphasizes the inner psychology of Emmanuel Hansted, exploring the motivations behind his impracticality and the novel’s ambivalent perspective toward the fantastic.Mitchell, P. M. Henrik Pontoppidan. Boston: Twayne, 1979. The only book-length study of Pontoppidan in English. Emphasizes the novel’s skepticism toward traditional Danish state and church structures. Discusses the novel within the wider context of Pontopiddan’s career in which it was not the final word. An excellent beginning for further study.Robertson, John George. “Henrik Pontopiddan.” In Essays and Addresses on Literature, 1935. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1968. Explores the novel as a manual for the disillusioned. Sees Pontopiddan’s work as heavily influenced by Henrik Ibsen.
Categories: Places