For the longest time when reading this book I was referring to it as the Saga of the lovelorn women. Gösta is in it, twiddling away in the background, but he’s not really that important.
Gösta Berling is a priest in the countryside and he is not happy, nor are anyone happy with him. So much so, that the Bishop has to come and see why Berling is doing such a poor job. When the Bishop is in church Berling is overtaken by a sensation and he feels his calling coming back to him. He again understands why he choose to be a priest, even when he has landed in such a small place. He swears to take a new lease on life. When the Bishop is going to leave, an old drinking buddy of Berling takes control over the horses. Part in fun and part as revenge for Berling wanting to change the man runs the cart on a wild chase. When Berling has heard what his friend has done he is convinced that the Bishop will accuse Berling for being the mastermind and angry that his new found conviction was such rewarded he leaves the parish and the priesthood. Shortly after Berling is found in the snow nearly dead and he is taken into the warmth of the mistress of Ekeby The Major’s Wife. He becomes one of the pensioners, one of the people living for free under the protection of The Major’s Wife.
The story is about what happens at Ekeby during a year after a certain incident happens. When I say that Berling is just there in the background I mean that while he is at Ekeby and has a prominent status there, it’s not just or very much about him. It depends a bit on how you view the story. Personally I think the love stories about the lovelorn women that fill up the runtime for the first half of the book and pop up during the last half is much more interesting aspect of the book. There is a discussion whether Selma Lagerlöf was queer. She never married, but she had two very close female friends. Now this in itself shouldn’t matter, since the term “bosom-buddy” (points if you get the reference) isn’t new regarding women. But when I read about how these two women acted towards one another, I started thinking there might be something to the rumour.
This did influence the way I read the book. I don’t think you can read “queer” in a book just because the author might have been queer. But there is something fascinating about the way women’s love life is described in the book. First and foremost how women are constantly punished for being in love, since this is often someone else than her parents want her to be in love with. It’s also often connected with sin
“Goodbye Gosta. My love will not tempt you to sin.” Chapter 4.
Now all of the love stories are heterosexual and quite a few of them do involve Gosta Berling. This shows one of the difficulties of trying to read “queer” into a story, especially one like this, because more than one group has struggled with the same issues. Women, both queer and heterosexual, have at times been refused to follow their hart. If they could, brilliant, but their hart was low on the priority ladder. Shame have, unfortunate, been used to keep women in check and making them do what the people in power wanted them to do. Using things like God and moral to force their through their will.
“It was shame to love him, shame to be loved by him, a shame worse than death.” Chapter 6.
Despite this, after hear about how the two women where fighting over her, and reading about how she writes about female love as something that is shamed and seen as wrong, though not actually being wrong, I’m on the “she was probably queer”-train.
Even taking out the maybe queer aspect, this is a very fascinating book. Showing how one action can have ripple affects in a small community. Norway is right next to Sweden so we get a lot of the same weather. I loved how she managed to describe how darkness and winter can mess with your head. The magical realism which you don’t know if is magical realism, or just nature messing with your head. Trust me, that happens when you are out and it’s pitch black, you’re up to your knee in snow, it starts to blow and snow, almost to a storm, suddenly the world around you is filled with creatures you have now idea about really is there or not.