Everything in the stories is subject to the discipline of the overall aesthetic pattern, but in some places one senses Lagerkvist's difficulty in restraining strong emotions. By 1916 those emotions were given freer rein as he struggled to come to terms with a seemingly purposeless world of mindless destruction. In this expressionistic phase Lagerkvist published a work entitled (Chaos) comprising a one-act play, a cycle of poems, and a prose passage called "Den fordringsfulle gästen." Told in the first person, the latter is a parable on modern life. A traveler is on a short visit; he has a great deal to make sense of, but "everything here is in such damned disorder." The hotel symbolizes the chaotic world as Lagerkvist experienced it, while the other characters are all absorbed in their own affairs, presenting a confusing world without a focal point. The narrator in his anguish is assertive, demanding in strident language his rights, but he is humiliated and finally sees that he has no rights at all. The feeling of alienation is complete when he realizes his insignificance in a vast universe. He leaves the chaotic scene and goes off into the darkness, arousing not the slightest interest among the other characters.
Poisonings, love affairs, and DaVinci’s Last Supper: the moral duality of the Italian Renaissance from the perspective of the court dwarf. Pars Lagerkvist’s Nobel Prize winning novel is a provoking examination of human nature and evil.
Lagerkvist had great sympathy with simple, unassuming people, a point borne out in "Bröllopsfesten" ("The Wedding Feast"), the first of four long short stories with the general title (Struggling Soul). Frida, a rather elderly, plain spinster who owns a little shop, is to marry Jonas, a slightly retarded porter. They no doubt make a ludicrous couple, and Lagerkvist includes amusing details, such as Frida insisting on a fine bridal crown. Making love after the wedding, Frida accidentally bites Jonas with her false teeth: "She was rather surprised herself immediately afterwards. But it was love talking." Lagerkvist records the affair with warmth and affection, however, and shows that two lonely, love-hungry souls finding each other is an occasion for happiness, not ridicule. In "Guds lille handelsresande" ("God's Little Travelling Salesman") the erring Emanual Olsson succumbs to alcohol and is saved by the Salvation Army. The search for a spiritual life is also the subject of "Själarnas maskerad," where the relationship between a businessman and a beautiful but lame woman constitutes love in its most idealistic form. It all takes place, however, in the "land of souls," a land of "perpetual feasting." This is how life and love could be if our souls could escape life's paralyzing trivialities. The philosophical questioning continues in "Uppbrottet" ("The Departure"), an inner monologue by a doctor who knows he is terminally ill. He discerns an afterlife but feels that the human conception of God gets in the way.
With the end of the war and a resolution of his marital problems in the early 1920s Lagerkvist moved from a denial to an acceptance of life. That goodness and human spirit can rise above adversity is partly reflected in (Evil Tales) where, admittedly, the dominant strain is misanthropic and shows little evidence of human dignity. "En hjältes död" ("Death of a Hero") ironically features a man pandering to the public's desire for sensationalism and record-breaking; Frälsar-Johan (John the Savior) in the story of that name is an idiot who believes he is the Savior and dies trying to rescue people from a burning old people's home—which is empty anyway. The autobiographical "Far och jag" ("Father and I") captures the moment when the young boy realizes he is alone in a frightening and chaotic universe; "Hissen som gick ner I helvete" ("The Lift that Went Down to Hell") deals with a philanderer so urbane that even being taken down to hell, described with nightmarish clarity, evokes a shallow reaction. "Källarvåningen" ("The Basement"), however, shows a positive attitude to life. The crippled Lindgren lives on charity in a poor basement but is content with his lot for he lives literally and metaphorically on the goodness of others.
He spent the war years in Denmark where he published Angest (Anguish, poems, 1916), which contained the first expressionist poems to appear in Sweden. He married a Danish woman. Several years, later, however, the couple separated, and Lagerkvist remarried in Sweden. But it was in Denmark that he began to study theatre. An admirer of Strindberg and critic of naturalism, he wrote in his essay, Theatre (1918) that: “Our era is, through its lack of equilibrium and heterogeneity, baroque and fantastic – much more fantastic than realism can convey.” Lagerkvist’s success as a writer lies precisely in the combination of a symbolist agenda with an eye for realist detail. Between 1918 and 1928 he demonstrated a considerable diversity as a dramatic writer.
In the 1920s he spent long periods of time in Italy and France. He published Cruel Stories in 1924, and Guest of Reality, in 1925. The latter, often described as the most autobiographical of his works, dealt not only with the confusion engendered by his crisis of faith, but also with the metaphysical meditation which this inspired.
Par Lagerkvist was born in 1891 in Vaxjo, a small episcopal town in Sweden where his father was a railway worker. He was raised within a bourgeois, religious milieu, where his family read from the Bible at night, accompanied by the sound of trains whistling past. His childhood and adolescence were calm, but he was troubled, probably as a result of his religious education, by a sense, which was passed over in silence at the period, of the overwhelming mystery of existence.
At secondary school he lost his faith. He expressed his radicalism in numerous ways; he frequented the Red Club, a group with progressive opinions. He explored socialism, Darwinism and scientism. Despite his radical tendencies, he retained an affection and a nostalgia for a pure faith for its own sake, although he disapproved of the forms in which it found expression.
When Lagerkvist became a student in 1910, he was convinced that his vocation was to write. In 1913 he decided to abandon his History of Art studies at the University of Uppsala to move to Paris. He had already published two collections of short stories. A Swedish critic remarked that the first collection contained 1200 words and 12000 suspension marks…
GRADE 10 * "To an Athlete Dying Young," A.E. Housman, and "Ex-Basketball Player," John Updike * "Father and I," Par F. Lagerkvist * "The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts," Maxine Hong Kingston (excerpt) * "The Horned Toad," Gerald Haslam (excerpt)
Always aware of political trends, Lagerkvist quickly reacted to the rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s. (At That Time) highlights its dangers in short stories showing Lagerkvist's sustained irony at its best. In "Det lilla fälttåget" ("The Tiny Tots' Campaign") the horrors of war and the pompous love of victory parades are heightened by the Swiftian device of allowing the "men" to be children going bravely into battle "armed to their milk teeth." A clever dual effect is achieved by following this with "Det märkvärdiga landet" ("The Strange Country"), depicting the only democracy left in the world. Tourists visit it and marvel at people who are not regimented and whose thoughts and actions are embarrassingly vague in discussions about culture. The tourists enjoy the novel experience—"but it was lovely to be home again all the same."
Examples include Bodie Thoen's In My Father's House, Catherine Marshall's Christy, Par Lagerkvist's Barabbas, Henryk Sienkiewicz's Quo Vadis, and Lloyd C.