Söderberg, Hjalmar

(1869-1941)
   A Swedish short story writer, novelist, playwright, and polemicist, Söderberg is both a superb prose stylist and an example of the aesthetic concerns of fin-de-siecle Swedish literature. His literary debut came with the novel Forvillelser (1895; Getting Lost), which tells about an unreflective young man named Tomas Weber and his struggle with his biological urges, which bring him into confusing relationships with several women. The eponymous protagonist in Martin Bircks ungdom (1901; tr. Martin Birck's Youth, 1930) errs on the opposite end of the spectrum, as he is a hyperreflective dreamer who cannot find contentment in a world that refuses to live up to his ideals. His poetic ambitions founder on his idealism as that idealism impels him to seek a truth he realizes is not to be found.
   Soderberg's best book is the diary novel Doktor Glas (1905; tr. Doctor Glas, 1970). Its title character and diarist is a 30-year-old Stockholm physician who confesses to being completely unacquainted with women; a youthful love interest who could have become the love of his life died in a swimming accident shortly after he met her. Glas is approached by Helga Gregorius, the second and much younger wife of a local clergyman, who seeks his aid in deflecting the amorous advances of her 57-year-old husband. The relatively young and aesthetically sensitive Glas is struck by the ugliness of having an old man impose his love on a young wife who, as it turns out, has fallen in love with someone else, and Glas demonizes the pastor, whom he describes as extremely ugly in both body and spirit. He then uses his position as their family doctor to murder the clergyman, with the idea that Helga, with whom Glas is infatuated, will now be free to marry her lover. But the lover marries someone else for money, and in the end Helga and Glas are both lonelier than before, as well as forever separated by Glas's monstrous crime.
   Den allvarsamma leken (1912; The Serious Game), Soderberg's final novel, takes up themes from his earlier oeuvre, such as how the sex drive causes people to act in ways that are not in accord with their true interests. A couple, Lydia and Arvid, find themselves caught in a game that has rules they do not comprehend. Like Doktor Glas, Den allvarsamma leken brings back some of the characters from Soderberg's earlier novels, which heightens the verisimilitude of the author's total narrative fabric.
   Soderberg is also known for his short stories. Published in five collections from 1898 to 1929, they deal with themes similar to those treated in his novels. "Palsen" (The Fur Coat), in which the protagonist, Doctor Henck, loses both his social position and his wife, is a masterpiece of dramatic irony. "En herrelos hund" (A Dog without a Master) is a parable of humankind's existential situation in a world without God or a sense of meaning.
   As a dramatist, Soderberg is best known for his plays Gertrud (1906), Aftonstjarnan (1912; The Evening Star), and Odestimman (1922; The Fateful Hour). Gertrud is thematically related to Den allvarsamma leken, but the action is viewed from Gertrud's perspective, not that of the men in her life (and in the dramas), with whose work and other interests she finds herself competing for attention.
   Soderberg eventually quit writing fiction in favor of nonfiction prose. In a series of books, Hjartats oro (1909; The Unrest of the Heart), Jahves eld (1918; Jahve's Fire), Jesus Barabbas (1928), and Den förvandlade Messias (1932; The Transformed Messiah), he focuses on undermining Christian myths.
   See also Theater.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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