Harmer John; An Unworldly Story

Hugh Walpole (1884 – 1941)

Hjalmar Johanson (novel, 1926) is a boyish unworldly Swedish body builder come to Walpole’s fictional cathedral town of Polchester. His name is “simplified” by the townsfolk to Harmer John. He is attracted to Polchester by the cathedral. He has a vision of transforming the town and its populace to a healthier and more beautiful state. He establishes a business, essentially a gymnasium, to help people become healthier. He envisions tearing down the slums along the river and rebuilding the area with more attractive and publicly healthier buildings. But not everyone shares his vision, especially the slumlords who make their money by renting the slum to those who are poor and vulnerable, those unable to afford anything better. Harmer John encounters xenophobia, jealousy, and malice. In an earlier story Walpole novelized the Francis Thompson poem The Hound Of Heaven about a fearful soul pursued by an insistently loving God. Some observers see in Harmer John a parallel to Francis of Assisi, that is, a naïve holy man opposed by the selfish worldliness around him.

Genre(s): Literary Fiction, Published 1900 onward

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