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30

(1921) Author: Sigrid Undset
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the worst. And then one day we understood that we could
manage to get something good out of it ourselves. Something
happens, perhaps, that makes you think: if you can stand this,
you can stand anything. Once you have got self-reliance in
that way, there are no illusions that any one or anything can
rob you of.”

“But circumstances and opportunities may be such that
one’s self-reliance is not much use when they are stronger than
oneself.”

“True,” she said. “When a ship sets sail, circumstances
may cause it to be wrecked — a collision or a mistake in the
construction of a wheel — but it does not start with that
presumption. Besides, one must try and conquer circumstances;
there is nearly always a way out of them.”

“You are very optimistic, Miss Winge.”

“I am,” she said, and after a while: “I have become an
optimist since I have seen how much people really can stand
without losing courage to struggle on, and without being
degraded.”

“That is exactly what I think they are — reduced in value,
anyway.”

“Not all. And even to find one who does not allow life
to abase or reduce him is enough to make you optimistic. We
are going in here.”

“This looks more like a Montmartre café, don’t you think?”
said Helge, looking around.

Along the walls of the small room were plush-covered forms;
small iron tables with marble tops stood in front of them, and
the steam rose from two nickel boilers on the counter.

“These places are the same everywhere. Do you know
Paris?”

“No, but I thought. ...” He felt suddenly irritated with
this young girl artist who went about the world as she pleased

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