In the late 19th century, Peter Sidenius is an ambitious young man from a devout Christian family in Western Denmark, who travels to the Danish capital of Copenhagen to study engineering, rebelling against his clergyman father. He comes into contact with the intellectual circles of a wealthy, Jewish family and seduces the elder daughter, Jakobe. Per, as he now calls himself, conceives a large-scale engineering project including the construction of a series of canals in his native Jutland, and lobbies for its construction. But just as Per seems to be about to make his dreams come true, his pride stands in the way.
- Lykke-Per is a novel by Danish Nobel Prize-winning author Henrik Pontoppidan published in eight volumes between 1898 and 1904. It is considered one of the major Danish novels, and in 2004 it was made part of the Danish Culture Canon.
The novel tells the story of Per Sidenius a self-confident bright young man who breaks with his religious family in order to become an engineer to construct energy saving wind turbines. However, at the height of his success, his family background catch up with him and he gives up his career and his love for a wealthy and intelligent Jewess. For the character of Per Sidenius, Pontoppidan drew on his own biography as a Jutlandic vicar's son who traveled to Copenhagen to train as an engineer before becoming an author.
The novel was well received by German literati such as Thomas Mann, Georg Lukács, and Ernst Bloch, who considered it "a cosmopolitan masterpiece of epochal sweep and a profound social, psychological, and metaphysical anatomy of the modernist transition" . While it had been translated into 11 languages before the end of the 20th century, the first English translation was published in 2010 by Naomi Lebowitz .
A major theme of the story is the relation of "luck" to "happiness", the Danish word lykke means both. While Per initially considers happiness to be the result of success and the achievement of projects and goals in the mundane world, he eventually realizes that happiness can be achieved independently of the luck that leads to success. For Pontoppidan, Per's withdrawal from the bustling scene of Copenhagen is therefore not to be understood as defeat, but as a victory over the very circumstances that defines success. .
Plot Per Sidenius is a young aspiring engineer from a devout Christian family in Western Denmark, he renounces his faith and travels to Copenhagen to study at the Polytechnical University, and to achieve his personal objective of becoming "a conqueror".
In Copenhagen he comes into contact with the Modern as a revolutionary force in the form of the natural sciences and technology, but also the cosmopolitan and intellectual circles of the wealthy Jewish milieu in Copenhagen. He becomes a friend of the banker Philip Salomon and has a brief and tense relationship with his daughter Jakobe. Per conceives a large scale engineering project and plans the construction of a series of canals and harbor systems in his native Jutland, and starts lobbying for its construction with the political and academic establishment. When academia dismisses the idea as unfeasible, he nonetheless manages to gain support through his contacts to the bank world who turn out to be more progressive. Nonetheless the project eventually fails and he returns to Jutland where he again embraces his Christian roots and lives the last years of his life in ascetic contemplation while carrying out the dreary work of a civil servant.
"When, in spite of all the good fortune that had come his way, he wasn't happy, it was because he had not wanted to be happy in the general sense of the word."