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This is a new translation of a Norwegian literary classic, Forraadt (Betrayed) by Amalie Skram. When Forraadt was first published in 1892, Skram was well-known in Scandinavia as the controversial author of novels that exposed marriage as an institution demeaning to women. She had broken social taboos with her frank discussions about sexuality and the double standard. In Constance Ring, Lucie and Fru Inés she had explored the demoralizing effect of a system which allowed men to pursue sexual pleasure freely while insisting women remain pure before marriage and then absolutely faithful to their husbands. In Betrayed she sharpens her focus and examines a marital relationship from its very beginning.

The novel opens on the night of Ory’s wedding. Family and friends are gathered in the home of Ory’s parents to celebrate the marriage; the party is breaking up and the groom, Captain Adolph Riber, is impatient to leave with his young bride and finally be alone with her. But Ory wants desperately to stay, not merely in her parents’ home, but in the nursery with her younger brothers and sisters—she has just been told she will be sleeping in the same room, even the same bed, as Captain Riber, and she is terrified.     

If you think you know where this story is headed, you may be surprised. You would expect Skram’s sympathy to be squarely with Ory, the child bride whose mother failed to prepare her for married life. The mother’s parting admonition to her daughter is to honour and obey her husband, strive to please him in every way. But the Captain, though gruff and short tempered, is not a demanding and unfeeling husband. He is troubled by his wife’s unhappiness, struggles to understand what is causing it, asks himself what he might have done or said to offend her. Riber is well-intentioned, but not very perceptive; and Ory is not always as sweet-tempered and innocent as she first appeared. The reader finds her sympathy shifting as the story unfolds.

Skram is a wonderfully descriptive writer and one of the pleasures of reading Betrayed is taking in the sights and sounds and smells of life in London and aboard a merchant ship in the 1860s. The day after their wedding the newlyweds sail from Bergen to London where Captain Riber’s ship is being loaded with cargo. There are vivid depictions of London’s street life, restaurants and dance halls, and the wharf on the Thames where the Orion is docked. The last half of the novel takes place at sea and the ship and its crew are portrayed in authentic detail—as a young woman Skram had herself sailed as a captain’s wife on Norwegian merchant ships. As the Orion passes through storms, then good weather, and is finally becalmed in the doldrums, the onboard tensions build to a horrifying conclusion.

By Katherine Hanson and Judith Messick, translators of Amalie Skram’s Betrayed.

Click here to purchase Betrayed from Waterstone’s.

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