"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A More Reflective Reflection On Gosta Berling's Saga.

The preface to Gosta Berling's Saga, which I did not read until completing the book, hits one of the things I found at fault in the story. Only, the preface writer does not think it a fault that the story teaches,
“that people do not act according to opinions or principles, but are driven by inner irrational forces. Thus, in all our confrontations in life, our actions are always unpredictable” (Preface V).
Yet I wonder if this analysis is not also simplistic. Lagerlof perhaps knows that these are not “irrational forces” when she presents a character like Sintram, the devil incarnate.

Overall I had a bad feeling about this story that went beyond the stereotypically inferior 19th century writing style. But there are so many characters and situations that I am having trouble putting my finger on specifics. Could it be that Gosta makes one irresponsible selfish decision after another? Maybe, but there is goodness also; goodness and innocence in the Countess Elizabeth, flings of nobility and selflessness in Gosta and sometimes a clear path of honesty stretching through the pages. Countess Elizabeth's soliloquy says much of this unpredictable conflict typical of the entire book. She thinks of Gosta as a man,
“able to do all, as mighty in good as in evil, a man of great achievements.... A hero, a hero! Created different, of different clay from other men! The slave of caprice, of the desire of a moment, wild and fearful, but the possessor of a furious strength, fearing nothing” (139).
Now I submit it to you: is that the description of a hero or a villain? Or is it perhaps the description of all humanity, poised by our choices (not “caprice” or “irrational inner forces”) to either rise above our lower nature or sink further into it.

Lagerlof, Selma, Trans. Tucker, Lillie. Gosta Berling's Saga. Penfield Press, Iowa City, 1997.

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