Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Transcendental Symbolic Christ Figure in Gabriel Scott's Kilden

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

The Transcendental Symbolic Christ Figure in Gabriel Scott's Kilden

Article excerpt

THE RECRUDESCENCE of interest in Gabriel Scott (1874-1958) ring the 1990s yielded inter alia the formation of the Gabriel Scott Society in 1997 and the publication of Truls Erik Dahl's long awaited though error-ridden biography the following year. Still to be undertaken, however, is a sorely needed scholarly re-assessment of the works of this exceptionally prolific and versatile Norwegian novelist, poet, dramatist, and creator of children's books. In the present article, I shall address a central element in Scott's endlessly lauded and frequently republished Kilden (most recently by Aschehoug in 2002), which since its appearance in 1918 has remained one of the most cherished works in modern Norwegian fiction. Indeed, as recently as 2000 the eminent Norwegian scholar Professor Jacob Jervell praised it without reservation as "Norges stilleste og vakreste bok" [Norway's quietest and most beautiful book] (1) at an international conference. Yet Kilden is not merely an aesthetically sublime work, bur one in which Scott proclaimed through a fisherman's relationship to his environment a personal faith that incorporated elements of mysticism, divine immanentism, a commitment to the unity of all creation, and the primacy of selfless love. This natural religion differed markedly from the orthodoxy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which had dominated national spiritual life since the 1530s and in 1814 was constitutionally the official religion of the state. Nevertheless, in Kilden the Lutheran pastor's son Scott employed Christian symbolism to convey his natural gospel, which, had it been proclaimed in New England some seven decades earlier, would have placed Scott alongside Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson in the ranks of the Transcendentalists.

It can hardly be overemphasized that before writing Kilden during the First World War Scott had parted company with the orthodox Lutheranism of his childhood, eschewed formal religious affiliation, and come under the influence of diverse spiritual and moral currents, perhaps most notably liberal Christian theology with its emphasis on the so-called "Social Gospel'--though without becoming politically liberal. He had also been exposed to mysticism, Roman Catholicism, and the ethical emphases of such religious figures as Francis of Assisi and Leo Tolstoy. To varying degrees, these elements would continue to shape his writing for the rest of his life. Furthermore, undoubtedly influenced by Arne Garborg's Fred, Scott had excoriated both itinerant lay preachers and the alleged hypocrisy of southern Norwegian pietists in his comedy of 1905, Himmeluret.

At one level this stylistically unadorned and seemingly straightforward novella is a sublime prose-poem in which Scott lauds the unpretentious life of fishermen in the archipelago of Aust-Agder province, especially the gratification of living contentedly in touch with the seasonal rhythms of nature and in harmony with the tune of the created order. It is a hymn to the acceptance of the bounty of nature while remaining aloof from the ungainly ambitions that disrupt interpersonal relations. Indeed, since its publication Kilden has invariably been interpreted along those lines in the meagre scholarly analysis that has been published about it. Thus, while the intensely spiritual character of Kilden has long been recognized, the specific contours of this spirituality remain largely unexplored. Dahl did not go beyond preceding interpretations in his brief consideration of Kilden. (2) A more rigorous reading of the text, however, particularly against the backdrop of Scott's religious background and the theoretical literature of postfigurative narrative techniques, suggests that the unassuming protagonist, the humble fisherman Markus, is a symbolic Christ figure who reveals Scott's convictions regarding natural religion that bears a strong resemblance to transcendentalism. In the present article, I shall examine how Scott develops this character as one whose twentieth-century life and mission reflect to a significant extent those of Jesus of Nazareth bur who silently proclaims a religion much different from and in certain respects in conflict with traditional Christianity, especially as practiced in his pietistic Lutheran surroundings. …

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