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Gosta Berling's Saga by Selma Lagerlof

Gosta Berling's Saga (original 1891; edition 1997)

by Selma Lagerlof

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7201513,063 (3.84)1 / 99
Title:Gosta Berling's Saga
Authors:Selma Lagerlof
Info:Penfield Pr (1997), Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Story of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf (1891)

  1. 00
    Körkarlen / Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! by Selma Lagerlöf (MikeMonkey)
    MikeMonkey: Samma magiska berättarglädje och ordkonst.

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English (10)  Dutch (2)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (15)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I don't know quite why, but I was expecting this to be a kind of generic late 19th century novel - agricultural realism, a family struggling to hang on to their estate in difficult times. And of course it turns out to be something quite different, much harder to pigeon-hole. There is an element of realism in the underlying description of ordinary people's lives, but there's also a picaresque arbitrariness about the sequence of events that seems almost 18th century; larger-than-life characters stomp about in seven-league boots in a rather ETA Hoffmannish way; there's a Faust-story that keeps popping up in the background when we least expect it; nature intervenes whenever it chooses; the whole thing is set seventy years back in the 1820s in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars, and narrated by someone who claims to have been around at the time (but Lagerlöf was only in her late 20s/early 30s when she wrote it); altogether it's difficult to work out when you are supposed to be.

While the story is full of parties, celebrations, escapades and practical jokes, there's a very hard moral line under it all. Frivolity is good and necessary, but as soon as it's taken too far (as it invariably is, here) we are brought down to earth with a painful bump and shown that events have consequences that are almost always both nasty and irreversible. Without order, work, and moral discipline the community falls apart into chaos (but we can't rely on established institutions to keep us in line: it's a matter of individual responsibility). Mostly, but not exclusively, it's the men who make a mess of everything and the women that suffer and try to patch it up again. But practically everyone in the novel is weak and fallible and makes at least one culpable mistake. But don't imagine that it's all dour moralising: apart from the occasional sentimental deathbed scene, the atmosphere is consistently light and ironic, and there are some very good jokes.

I haven't advanced far enough in Swedish to tackle something like this, so I was grateful for Paul Norlen's translation, which reads very naturally and mostly manages to avoid being either intrusively modern or archly Victorian. Penguin are clearly patting themselves on the back because this is the first new English translation in over a hundred years, but that does rather lay them open to the question why didn't they commission one earlier? Could it be that they were just waiting for Lagerlöf's copyright to expire...? ( )
  thorold | Jul 5, 2015 |
The Saga of Gosta Berling is a novel by Swedish author and Nobel prize winner, Selma Lagerlof. Combining two of my current obsessions, Scandinavian literature and women authors, I've been really looking forward to this one. This ended up not being an easy read for me, though I ended up finding it rewarding.

Gosta Berling starts out his adult life as a minister, but is quickly run out of town and defrocked for his excessive drinking and bad behavior. He falls in with a misfit group of cavaliers in the town of Ekeby. The rest of the book chronicles his various love affairs (which always end badly for the woman) and tell the stories of his fellow cavaliers. There is a strong element of folklore/mysticism running through the book and the stories are told in an episodic fashion. The episodic nature of the book kept me at arm's length, as I was never sure whether this was a character I would continue to run in to, or one I'd get to know for a few pages and never see again. It also made it a bit hard for me to get in to the flow of the book.

There is a lot of death in this book and a lot of infatuation (I can't call it love). What saved the book for me was that in the end there were a lot of loose ends tied up that I'd despaired of ever revisiting. Also, several of the women sort of come in to their own instead of killing themselves over Gosta Berling. Though I found the characterizations a bit weak or at least different than I'm used to, I will say that the writing is beautiful and I think the translation by Paul Norlen must be very good.

All in all, I'm glad I read this and I suspect it is a book that will improve for me as I think about it more and more. ( )
1 vote japaul22 | Apr 15, 2015 |
I liked Selma Lagerlof's "Gosta Berling's Saga" but I didn't exactly love it. The book has a very folk tale feel to it -- which I both liked and disliked.

The folk tales were fairly interesting and had good, solid stories to them, However, the characters felt sort of cardboard to me, so it made the book a slow read since I really didn't connect with anyone. ( )
  amerynth | May 14, 2014 |
This is a romantic novel in every sense of the word, and mythical too. Set along a lake in northern Sweden in the early part of the 19th century, it tells the tale of Gösta Berling interwoven with the stories of other residents of the area, along with a dash of the supernatural.

Who is Gösta Berling? In the prologue, the reader learns that he started out in life as a preacher but fell prey to drink, was defrocked and set out as a traveling beggar. But the majoress (wife of a major) of Ekeby, owner of seven mines and the most powerful and richest person (not just woman) around, takes him to her household as one of the twelve "cavaliers" who live there -- a group of men who have fallen on hard times and who live a life of entertainment that borders on dissolution, playing music, eating and drinking, wild parties, etc. Unlike many of the cavaliers, Gösta is young.

The novel takes place over the course of a year -- 12 months -- starting at a Christmas feast at which the cavaliers make a pact with the devil that gives them control of Ekeby for a year and sends the majoress out into the world to beg for her living. Gösta attracts women and vice versa. As the year progresses, several tragic romantic attachments occur, with flashbacks to others. At the same time, other events take place in the villages and farms surrounding the lake, and each of the cavaliers faces a challenge of some kind. The novel builds to its climax as the next Christmas rolls around and the pact with the devil expires.

Such is a broad outline of the novel, but it hardly gives the flavor of Lagerlöf's writing or the broad scope of the book. Local history, geography, the beauty and the threat of nature, fairy tales, and a strong thread of self-effacing religion all play a role. Lagerlöf, as novelist, frequently addresses the reader, often characterizing the time she is writing about (less than 100 years earlier) as olden times, a time of legend. Her characters are often more symbolic than real, and their actions sometimes not entirely believable but this is not a book meant to be taken literally. Her writing can be dramatic, and this worked best for me lyrical (but often haunted) passages about nature. In fact nature, as it affects people, is a character too. Some examples of Lagerlöf's writing:

"He knew every tree the way you know your siblings and playmates." p. 240

"But we were thinking, we, in the peculiar spirit of self-observation, which had already made its way inside us. We were thinking about him with the eyes of ice and the long, crooked fingers, he who sits in the soul's darkest corner and tears apart our being, the way old women pick apart scraps of silk and wool." p. 112

"Oh month of May, that lovely time when the birches blend their light greenery into the dark of the spruce forests, and when the south wind comes again far from the south saturate by heat!

I must seem more ungrateful than others who have enjoyed your gifts, you beautiful month. Not a word have I used to show your beauty. . . .

May others listen to talk of flowers and sunshine, but for myself I choose dark nights, full of visions and adventures, for me the hard fates, for me the sorrow-filled passions of wild hearts."
pp. 226-227

The grieving mouth is easily forced to smile, but someone who is happy cannot weep. The old ballads believe in tears and sighs, in sorrow alone and the signs of sorrow. Sorrow is real, is lasting, it is the firm bedrock under loose sand. In sorrow one can believe and in the signs of sorrow.

But happiness is only sorrow that is playacting. There is really nothing on the earth but sorrow."
p. 296

Depressed yet? There is some fun in this book too!

At times, the thread of piety and the virtues of serving others without thought of person vanity got to me, but there was also plenty of adventure and romance. This book grew on me.
4 vote rebeccanyc | Apr 4, 2014 |
In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Born in Värmland, Sweden in 1858, Lagerlöf published her first and most renowned novel, Gösta Berlings Saga in 1891. It was first translated into English in 1898. Paul Norlen's new translation for Penguin Classics is the first major translation in over a hundred years, and it is a splendid introduction to Selma Lagerlöf. More at Belletrista : http://www.belletrista.com/2010/issue8/reviews_15.php ( )
1 vote janeajones | Mar 8, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lagerlöf, Selmaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klaiber-Gottschau, PaulineTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Meyboom, MargarethaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norlen, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Schoolfield, George C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Äntligen stod prästen i predikstolen
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143105906, Paperback)

A Swedish Gone with the Wind by the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature—published here in the first new English translation in more than 100 years

One hundred years ago, Selma Lagerlöf became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. She assured her place in Swedish letters with this sweeping historical epic, her first and best-loved novel, and the basis for the 1924 silent film of the same name that launched Greta Garbo to stardom. Set in 1820s Sweden, it tells the story of a defrocked minister named Gösta Berling. After his appetite for alcohol and previous indiscretions end his career, Berling finds a home at Ekeby, an ironworks estate owned by Margareta Celsing, the “Majoress,” that also houses an assortment of eccentric veterans of the Napoleonic Wars. Berling’s defiant and poetic spirit proves magnetic to a string of women, who fall under his spell against the backdrop of political intrigue at Margareta’s estate and the magnificent wintry beauty of rural Sweden.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:23 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Story of a defrocked minister who finds a home at an ironworks estate that houses various eccentric veterans of the Napoleonic Wars.

(summary from another edition)

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