Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlof, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset

By Alrik Gustafson | Go to book overview

SAGA AND LEGEND OF A PROVINCE SELMA LAGERLÖF

Once upon a time there was a saga which wished to be told and led out into the world. This was quite natural, for it knew within itself that it was as good as finished. Many had been instrumental in creating it through remarkable actions; others had added their bits to it by again and again recounting its episodes. What was necessary was that it be carefully composed so that it could travel comfortably about in the whole land. It was still only a strange medley of tales, a formless cloud of adventures, which drifted back and forth like a swarm of stray bees on a summer's day, and did not know where they might find someone who could gather them into a hive.

THE words are those of Selma Lagerlöf. She is writing about the origins and the composition of her most famous novel, Gösta Berling's Saga. Very revealing are the words, "Once upon a time there was a saga which wished to be told"; for Gösta Berling's Saga is not a novel which Selma Lagerlöf deliberately decided to write. The tales of which it is composed simply forced themselves upon her, with a steady, lovingly begging persistence, until she found that to compose these tales for the world was simply an inevitable work of love. Seldom in the history of literature has a novelist been so clearly constrained to tell a given story as was Selma Lagerlöf in the case of Gösta Berling's Saga.

How inevitable the composition of this novel was is perhaps best seen if we examine the numerous forces which for years stood in the way of the story ever being told, each of them to be ultimately pushed aside by the steadily persistent voice of that marvelous embryonic staga life which stirred Selma Lagerlöf's youthful imaginative sensibilities constantly and which finally insisted that it be "led out into the world."


I

Those forces which operated to postpone the arrival into the world of Gösta Berling's Saga have been outlined for us by the author herself in the fascinating autobiographical fragment, "A Saga about a Saga," from which we have quoted above. It

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Six Scandinavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlof, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents ix
  • By Way of Introduction 3
  • Impressionistic Realism Jonas Lie 25
  • Toward Decadence Jens Peter Jacobsen 73
  • Nationalism Reinterpreted Verner Von Heidenstam 123
  • Saga and Legend of a Province Selma LagerlÖf 177
  • Man and the Soil Knut Hamsun 226
  • Christian Ethics in a Pagan World 286
  • Index 363
  • Index 365
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