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Literature / The Stolen Spring

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The Stolen Spring (Det Forsømte Forår - In English: "The Neglected Spring") is a novel from 1940 by the Danish author Hans Scherfig. It has been translated to a number of languages and is considered one of the all-time classics in the field of school-time fiction.

The novel starts with a murder. The elderly Latin teacher Professor Blomme dies after eating a poisoned piece of barley sugar. The action then moves forward twenty-five years to the reunion of his last class of students, all now respected members of society, (except one, who has become a reclusive eccentric).

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Most of the book, however, is taken up by a description of the old students' schooldays, which turns out to be a far cry from "those sunlit, happy, good childhood days," they were waxing drunkenly about at the reunion. The pupils' lives are made a living hell by ambitious, snobbish parents and bitter, neurotic teachers, the worst of which is professor Blomme, who derives outright sadistic pleasure from mocking and humiliating his students. The spring of their youth disappears in mindless grinding, exam anxiety, and daily humiliations and beatings, until they are worn down to functional members of society, ready to conform to its norms without question - and in one case to commit murder.

The book is based on Scherfig's own schooldays at "Metropolitanskolen" in Central Copenhagen, one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in Denmark. In spite of its description of school as a soul-destroying hell, the book remains a perennial favorite for class reading among Danish teachers.

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A well-regarded film of the book was made in 1993.


The book contains examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: You will not feel sorry for Professor Blomme, after finding out what kind of teacher he was.
  • The Dog Bites Back: It is no surprise that Blomme is murdered by one of the students he has bullied, the only surprise is that it is his former favorite Ellerstrøm, after Blomme tells him in advance that he is going to flunk him at the exam, mainly because he can.
  • Downer Ending: All the former pupils at the anniversary are more or less broken and neurotic, as a result of their school days.
  • Foregone Conclusion: The book starts with Professor Blomme being murdered.
  • Framing Device: The reunion. Most of the book takes place 25 years in the past, while the protagonists were in school.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: It is heavily implied that Professor Blomme is a pedophile; he favors Ellerstrøm because he is such a "nice-looking boy", and starts bullying him with the others when he turns into a gawky, big-nosed adolescent.
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  • Irony: A hallmark of Scherfig. One example is the opening of the flash-back, where we follow a pupil having a really crappy morning, and then, when he finally gets to school, having to sing along with the popular Danish hymn: "The bright, blessed day with joy we see arising to meet us".
  • In Vino Veritas: As the old pupils gets more and more drunk at the reunion they start to reveal some unfortunate truths. Harald Horn admits that his nationalism is only a gimmick, the reverend admits that he does not really believe in God, and the murderer accidentally lets slip that he killed Professor Blomme (only one person notices, and he states that he would wish that he had done it himsef).
  • Pretentious Latin Motto: The words »Disciplina sollerti fingitur ingenium« are written over the school gates.note  The narrator translates it as: "Beatings are good for spiritual development".
  • Roman à Clef: Some of the characters are based on Scherfig's former schoolmates and teachers.
  • Sadist Teacher: Professor Blomme, and HOW! The other teachers, such as Oremark, the choleric French teacher, are by no means nice people either.
  • Sucky School
  • Take That!: The ridiculously nationalistic failed poet and literature critic Harald Horn is likely a caricature of Real Life conservative intellectual and critic Hakon Stangerup.note 
  • Third-Person Person: The adult Mogensen is prone to this:
    One does not know what is to be eaten. But one would like to point out that one is a vegetarian. One does not eat corpses.
  • Title Drop: The Danish title is dropped in connection with the description of another spring neglected in favor of exam reading.
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