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Kristian Ostergaard's ``A Merchant's House'': A novel of Danish immigrant life in early Omaha, Nebraska

John Mark Nielsen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Kristian Ostergaard (1855-1931), an immigrant writer, teacher, and pastor from Denmark, is regarded by many immigrant historians as one of the most important Danish-American writers, publishing collections of poetry, several histories, and five novels. Because he wrote in Danish, however, little is known of this man's writing, apart from references found in works on Scandinavian immigration, despite the fact that he records experiences that parallel historical events and reveals assumptions and attitudes held by the Danish immigrant community. Four of Kristian Ostegaard's novels are set in Nebraska; the last three are interrelated in that they trace several members of one family from their arrival in Omaha in the early 1870's to their participation in settling central Nebraska and establishing Danish-American Communities there.^ A Merchant's House, the first novel of this loose trilogy, was published in 1909. It is the most intellectual of Ostergaard's novels since it reflects a critical debate in Danish society, one involving those influenced by N. F. S. Grundtvig, a seminal figure in Danish religious life and a romantic writer who believed folk culture provided a people's identity, and George Brandes, a proponent of naturalism and theological skepticism who saw cultural preservation and religion as standing in the way of an evolving modern world. In treating this debate, Ostergarrd also alludes to another important figure in Danish intellectual life, Soren Kierkegaard. At the same time he is forced to confront the American experience and what it means for the lives of his characters.^ My purpose is to provide an English translation of A Merchant's House. My concern in the critical introduction is how the novel reveals something of Kristian Ostergaard as a writer and the Danish immigrant community as it struggles to assimilate. Ultimately, the novel is an example of a body of literature, neither foreign nor American, but like the immigrant, caught between two worlds. ^

Subject Area

American Studies|History, United States|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Nielsen, John Mark, "Kristian Ostergaard's ``A Merchant's House'': A novel of Danish immigrant life in early Omaha, Nebraska" (1988). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9004698.