Roman is a story of the life and pursuits of a Danish intellectual, a contemporary of Jacobsen, whom the author carries back a generation – about twenty years.
The book opens with a description of the characters of the hero’s parents: his mother is an enthusiastic romantic soul living in a world of poetic dreams, and the father who has seen the largest capitals of Europe is a person sufficiently educated to understand the importance of education and not take the height of poetic vigils very seriously.
Nils Lune is friends with the pastor’s son Fridtjof and temporarily given to the care of his father by the son of distant relatives Eric, who is named for the future of the sculptor. Teaches boys home teacher – “not graduated from the course” (ie, failed at the exams) the theologian and philosopher Bigum, who considers himself an unrecognized genius, “whose contemporaries have not yet been born.” Poor and unattractive, he is hopelessly in love with Luna’s relatives, a young aunt of Nils Edele, a brilliant socialite sent to the village for health correction. Beautiful and elegant, accustomed to salon communication, a young woman keeps even relatives in the distance and sharply, though not without inner sympathy, rejects Bigum’s love when he finally dares to explain himself. In fact, what did the teacher hope for? Undoubtedly, he knew her answer in advance and vainly inflamed his imagination. One should not strive for the impossible. But if he wants to suffer, let him suffer! Of course, she can not forbid suffering. Yes, and she does not care!
A year later, in the early spring of Edel, the subject of Nils’s first boyish love, he died of consumption. No one knew about her own love for the famous actor, for whom Edele was only one of thousands of female fans. Niels is passionately concerned about her death. At the moment of farewell, he asks God to leave Edele alive, but God does not hear him, and the boy rejects God, without ceasing, in essence, to believe in him, because he does not yet think about faith.
Soon the friends part. Eric is sent to a famous sculptor for training, and Nils and Frithiof’s pastoral son enter the University of Copenhagen; they are captivated by the intellectual and artistic life of the capital, they enthusiastically perceive new ideas and trends. Niels, among the few chosen, becomes a regular at the house of Fro Boyet, a brilliant thirty-year-old beauty, a widow who is known for her free views and easy, by the way, non-loose behavior. A clever and artistic coquette, Fru Boye enthralls Nils – she plays with him, enjoys adoration, admiration for her beauty. Niels is painfully in love with her.
A year passes. A young student is urgently called home to Lenborgarden, where his father is dangerously ill. Nils does not find him alive, Shaken by the death of his husband, his mother falls ill. She feels doomed, but gradually her condition becomes better so that they, along with Niels, go on a trip to Italy and Switzerland, which Bartolina dreamed of all her life. Surprisingly, the historical castles, squares and treasures of art of special ecstasy do not cause it. Their ideal literary image promised much more. Bartolina Lune slowly fades. But she is experiencing a closer, as never before, unity with her son and dies in his arms in Claren, after which Nils immediately returns to Copenhagen.
After the experience, Nils sees Fru Boye in a different light – the word “bohemia” asks him to mind. But the unforeseen happens: Fru Boye, who preached a free feeling before, is engaged, she marries: all her former behavior was a pose; yes, she is the most ordinary woman, and she wants to get back into the light, she needs support. Although Niels is not indifferent to her: she does not give Nyuls herself hardly when she does not know whether she is playing another “scene” or really wants love. But he does not want to destroy the cherished illusion of gentle platonic relations. Nils remains alone. And eagerly swallows books (“Recognize – as beautiful as living in the world!”), Deals with aesthetics and philosophy, writes poetry. He reaches such a degree of emancipation that he renounces faith in God, preaching faith in atheism, about which frankly tells the freethinker the conservative (there are such!) to Dr. Yerril. According to Luna, the streams of love coming from people to God, with universal atheism will return to earth. Then they will turn from man to man, the heavens will be emptied, and on the earth will come kindness, justice and wisdom.
Meanwhile, Eric comes back from Italy, who left there as a beginner sculptor, and returned as a successful painter. Together with Eric, they visit... the farmstead in Fjordby in the summer, where he lives with his husband, landowner and merchant, another Aunt Nielsa. Here, in the estate, both friends fall in love with Nils’s cousin-a young, well-educated and very natural Fenimore. The more energetic and energetic Eric conquers her love, his offer of the hand is accepted, and Nils returns to Copenhagen alone.
He again suffers from loneliness: he is constantly in public, he is watching them, but he is not with them. Nils feels: he still has not found himself, and all his scientific, philosophical and poetic pursuits are nothing more than preparation for a jump, to which he, perhaps, will not dare ever.
Two years later, a letter comes from Eric. He is in despair: he and Fenimore live in complete spiritual solitude. They rent a house on the shore of the fjord in the country wilderness. Intellectual communication here – no! Eric feels: he is exhausted, lost his talent and can not bring himself to take a brush in his hands.
Nils immediately goes on a journey – he needs a friend and must help him! But it’s impossible to help Eric – it’s Nils who understands at the first meeting. Inspiration appears and disappears inexplicably, and Eric, refusing creativity, spends all his time in drinking and drinking. From their former love with Fenimore there is no trace left. They are fed up with it. Niels feels sorry for Fenimore, he would like to revive her for a new life and rid himself of humiliation. However, his pity only causes Fenimora anger. Although little by little the ice of alienation between them melts. Until at last something happens that should have happened: Nils and Fenimore discover that they love each other. Nils offers Fenimore to flee, but she hesitates with the decision, can not imagine how her loving and very traditionally thinking parents will perceive the escape. Hidden love degenerates into a vicious passion.
Nils is already visible under the moon on the ice, and Fenimore runs barefoot across the snow in the snow. She brings down a curse on her lover. The death of Eric is a punishment for her sin, for betraying her husband! The recent past is seen by Fenimore in a completely different light.
Niels leaves her with a heavy heart – he beats himself: “If nothing worthwhile could not become, so certainly one must become a Judas.”
Almost two years after this, Niels Lüne has been abroad. In Italy, he is friends with the famous singer Madame Odero, they live at the same time near the hotel. Strangely enough, it was the communication with Niels that heals the singer-she suffered from sore throats-and, without waiting for Nils to return to the hotel (he accidentally left the place at the moment), trying a voice in the garden, Madame Oderau leaves, she can not wait to step back on the stage. And Nils Lune once again loses a soul close to him. But at least someone helped him too!
Niels returns home to Denmark to his native estate and is surprised to discover that he likes farming and farming. He takes a modest seventeen-year-old daughter of a landowner’s neighbor, they have a son, and the couple live happily for three years. The wife worships Niels and happily passes into his “faith”, which he painted with such ardor once Dr. Yerril. But the misfortune happens: Gerda gets sick and dies. Before her death, in order to facilitate her departure, Niels, at her request, sends for the priest, and he communes with the dying man. Thus, as it seems to Niels, Gerda at the threshold of death still betrays him.
But Nils Lune’s misfortunes do not stop there – after a few months his son – the baby is beating in cramps, the home doctor does not manage to arrive on time, and Nils, for the sake of the boy’s salvation, ready for everything, betrays himself – he again, as in childhood days, appeals to God, he is ready to believe in Him, if He will create a miracle. But the miracle does not happen, and Nils remains alone.
The same in 1863 Late autumn. There is a threat of war with Prussia. Nils Lune is enrolled in the army. On a gloomy March day, he was mortally wounded and placed in the infirmary. Niels is suffering for three days – a bullet hit the lung. Dr. Jerryl asks him whether to send for the pastor? Let him administer it before he dies. “The dying – according to the doctor – do not have views,” and maybe it will be easier for Nils from this?
But Niels is up to the end. Though it’s pointless. And before death, he raves in a dream about armor and that he will die standing up.