A Review of John F. Landrum's The Jonkheer's Wife

G. Stolyarov II
Issue CXXXVII - December 31, 2007
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The Jonkheer’s Wife by John F. Landrum is an excellent work of historical fiction that goes beyond simply telling an engaging World War II story; this work explores the philosophical issues surrounding the war and the mentalities held by those who lived through it. The Jonkheer’s Wife immerses readers in a rich, multifaceted world where intellectual discoveries are skillfully conveyed through the lives and actions of the characters.

            One of the book’s protagonists, Erwin Schell, a Nazi colonel occupying Holland from 1940 to 1945, strives to genuinely embody the collectivist warrior ethic propagated by Hitler’s regime. Schell is not an evil man; indeed, he is quite a sympathetic character who has a deep sense of genuine honor and personal integrity. Certain actions – such as murdering civilians without cause – are inconceivable to him, and he becomes appalled to learn that the German army commits them on a systematic basis. But Schell’s worldview at the beginning of the book is a fundamentally flawed one – a view that emphasizes the individual’s complete sacrifice for a greater cause, be it History, the Fatherland, or National Socialism. Much of the book focuses on the incidents and realizations which exacerbate the tensions between Schell’s personal integrity and his collectivist worldview – eventually forcing him to choose. 

            During the occupation of Holland, Schell occupies the house of Sophia Vaubin van Dordrecht, whose husband Willem had fled to England when the Germans invaded. Sophia is a strong, capable woman with a deep inner conflict between her hatred for the German occupation and her sympathy for Schell – who treats her and her two children with kindness and protects them from the suspicions and aggression of the genuinely vicious and evil SS. Sophia has a secret which she needs to keep from Schell and another secret in her past of which she is only dimly aware but which she struggles to escape; at the same time, she must deal with the resentment of former friends who falsely construe her as aiding the Nazi occupation.

            Sophia’s husband Willem is also extensively featured in the book. He longs to return to his home and family – and he must go through the Western front in order to do so. A doctor without much combat experience initially, Willem joins a platoon of American soldiers and follows them through training, the D-Day landings, and the Allied liberation of France. Willem’s motivations in fighting differ dramatically from Schell’s; Willem seeks to defend what is his. He fights to save himself and the people and things he loves – not to engage in self-sacrifice or to become a noble but dead hero. The Americans alongside whom he fights share this essential mindset; their foremost goal is not to die gloriously but to survive and to help their fellow soldiers do the same. Throughout the course of the war, Willem matures and becomes significantly wiser and more competent than he had been upon fleeing Holland. One of the most interesting events in the book is the eventual meeting between Willem and Schell – when the two characters finally exchange words at the culmination of each of their personal developments.

            The Jonkheer’s Wife is a fast, engaging read; each event in the book has an underlying intellectual significance as well as an indispensable relevance to the plot as a whole. Philosophical discoveries are skillfully integrated into the flow of events and dialogue, and Mr. Landrum succeeds at conveying the significance of principled individualism. At the same time, this work does not lose sight of the complexities of human interactions – especially during times of extreme crisis and conflict. Well-intentioned characters often find themselves at odds with one another; misunderstandings, misinformation, and uncertainty often lead to tragic or near-tragic outcomes. Even a principled individualist sometimes needs to recognize his own errors of perception, rethink his conduct, and even forgive offenses in order to break the cycle of retribution. None of these difficulties would occur in a world of perfect information, but World War II Europe was far from such a world – and Mr. Landrum clearly illustrates this.

            A few nice surprises can be found in The Jonkheer’s Wife as well. Ludwig von Mises and his Nationalökonomie (later, Human Action)  are mentioned once; there is also a creative reply to Franklin Roosevelt’s “four freedoms” speech. The book guides curious readers to explore these works and consider their implications. Overall, it provides an excellent grasp of the intellectual and emotional dimensions of World War II for both sides and of their relevance to our world – where the same basic issues continue to require our attention.  

G. Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist, independent philosophical essayist, poet, amateur mathematician, composer, contributor to Enter Stage Right, Le Quebecois Libre,  Rebirth of Reason, and the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Senior Writer for The Liberal Institute, weekly columnist for GrasstopsUSA.com, and Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator, a magazine championing the principles of reason, rights, and progress. Mr. Stolyarov also publishes his articles on Helium.com and Associated Content to assist the spread of rational ideas. His newest science fiction novel is Eden against the Colossus. His latest non-fiction treatise is A Rational Cosmology. His most recent play is Implied Consent. Mr. Stolyarov can be contacted at gennadystolyarovii@yahoo.com.

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Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new comprehensive treatise, A Rational Cosmology, explicating such terms as the universe, matter, space, time, sound, light, life, consciousness, and volition, here.

Read Mr. Stolyarov's new four-act play, Implied Consent, a futuristic intellectual drama on the sanctity of human life, here.