Places: The Story of Gösta Berling

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Gösta Berlings Saga, 1891 (English translation, 1898)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Picaresque

Time of work: Early nineteenth century

Places DiscussedEkeby

Ekeby Story of Gösta Berling, The (EH-keh-BIH). Swedish estate around which the novel is centered. Initially a prosperous estate, it declines nearly to the point of ruin because of neglect after Margareta Samzelius, its capable and resourceful owner, is expelled by her husband when she is exposed as an adulteress. The chaos in the human world finds its manifestation in nature, and an overpowering storm brings near destruction to the whole province. However, rather symbolically, it is the constructive work ethic and love of another woman, Elisabet Dohna, that save both Gösta Berling and Ekeby by restoring communal morality and natural order. The fate of Ekeby gives an unambiguous expression of Lagerlöf’s Christian ethics, which seek a balance between joy and work, romantic adventure and doing good.

Ekeby’s prototype is Rottneros, situated near the Swedish town of Sunne, at the heart of the province of Värmland. Critics and biographers see in Ekeby an idealized portrayal of Mårbacka, Lagerlöf’s place of birth in Värmland. Geographically and culturally, Lagerlöf perceived her native province as a border territory: between Norway and Sweden, man and nature, culture and wilderness, the visible and the invisible, the real and the imaginary.

The world Lagerhof created in The Story of Gösta Berling emphasizes the constantly shifting and often indistinguishable boundaries separating the past from the present. Although textual references identify the 1820’s as the time frame of the narrative, the novel’s temporal as well as spatial characteristics continually contract and expand to include a kaleidoscope of narrative worlds, including those of Icelandic sagas, myth and romance, local folk tales, legends, and superstitions. The result of this act of vivid imagination is a powerful recovery of a sense of place which defies both linear time and traditional notions of the animate and inanimate in nature.

Lake Löven

Lake Löven (lewh-ven). Lake around which most of the novel’s action concentrates. Modeled on Sweden’s Lake Frycken, Löven is introduced in the novel’s first chapter; the fairly detailed full-length portrait of the lake is painted by a striking combination of personification and realistic detail. The description of the adjoining landscape also proves significant as it underlines an organic merger between culture and wilderness: The cultivated fields on the lake’s shores and the deep forests assume in the distance the harsh, rocky features of mountainous semiwilderness. Human presence is a mere extension of the natural world without dominating it in any way. The lake and the surrounding flora and fauna thus possess a personality of their own and are capable of establishing and sustaining an intimate relationship with man.

BibliographyBerendsohn, Walter A. Selma Lagerlöf: Her Life and Work. Translated by George F. Timpson. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1968. First published in German in 1927, the volume by Berendsohn discusses the relationship between Lagerlöf’s life and her books. Emphasizes her connection with Värmland, where The Story of Gösta Berling takes place.Edström, Vivi. Selma Lagerlöf. Translated by Barbara Lide. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An accessible study by a recognized authority on Lagerlöf. Contains an overview of Lagerlöf’s biography and separate chapters on her most important works, including The Story of Gösta Berling. Edström discusses the form of the novel, its elements of historical reality and folklore, and its place in Swedish literary history.Gustafson, Alrik. A History of Swedish Literature. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1961. In this overview of the literature of Sweden from the beginning to the post-war era, Gustafson places Lagerlöf’s works in historical context and discusses the place of the novel within her own oeuvre.Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1940. A comprehensive overview of Lagerlöf’s work, including a discussion of The Story of Gösta Berling.Olson-Buckner, Elsa. The Epic Tradition in Gösta Berling’s Saga. New York: Theo Gaus, 1978. In an extended analysis, Olson-Buckner points out the many points of contact between The Story of Gösta Berling and the conventional epic. Also notes that there are structural similarities to the traditional heroic saga.Wivel, Henrik. Selma Lagerlöf: Her Works of Life. Minneapolis: The Center for Nordic Studies, University of Minnesota, 1991. Contains a brief discussion of the idea of love as it is presented throughout Lagerlöf’s works, including The Story of Gösta Berling.
Categories: Places