Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Doctor Glas

Knocked out by a bad cold! I'm still woozy so if anything I say about Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg doesn't make sense, it's the cold and/or one of the many varieties of cold medicine I'm taking. Dr. Glas is a middle-aged, well-respected doctor in Stockholm. He has no wife or children, the only woman he ever loved and who loved him back died suddenly and unexpectedly after they had one lovely day together. Glas's female clients like him and bring their troubles to him, asking for an abortion, which he refuses, not because he thinks it wrong but because it is against the law and he doesn't want to get into trouble. And now Mrs. Gregorious, the beautiful young wife of the Vicar no one seems to like, comes to him asking for help. She is repulsed by her husband and in love with another man. Is there anything Dr. Glas might do to keep her husband from exercising his "rights"? Dr. Glas falls head-over-heels for Mrs. Gregorious; he only ever falls in love with women who are already in love with someone else. He speaks to Mr. Gregorious, telling him that his wife has a condition that requires her to abstain from sex. This works for a couple weeks until Mr. Gregorious can't stand it any longer and forces himself on his wife. The next ploy is to convince Mr. Gregorious that his heart is bad and he needs to go take in the waters. This works for about two months. What else can Dr. Glas do to help? He has a secret drawer in his desk in which he has hidden a few cyanide pills against the day he might decide to take his own life. Could he convince Mr. Gregorious to take one? Dr. Glas is no Raskolnikov, he is neither mad nor does he have high philosophical theories. He views respect for life as a hypocrisy:
What else can it ever be on the lips of anyone who has ever whiled away an idle hour in thought? Human life, it swarms around us on every hand. And as for the lives of faraway, unseen people, no one has ever cared a fig for them. Everyone shows this by his actions, except perhaps a few more than usually idiotic philanthropists. All governments and parliaments on earth proclaim it.
Yet Dr. Glas is not a bad man nor is he unlikeable. He is very lonely and, as his friend Markel says, lacks a talent for happiness. The story is told in the form of a diary but as Glas says, it isn't a confession
To whom should I confess? Nor do I tell the whole truth about myself, only what pleases me to relate, but nothing that isn't true. Anyway, I can't exorcise my soul's wretchedness -- if it is wretched -- by telling lies
Later he tells us he does not write all his thoughts in his diary, only thoughts that recur to him more than once. He is reliable in what he tells us, but what, if anything, is he not telling us? Glas has such a trustworthy voice and I really felt sorry for him and for Mrs. Gregorious, but I can't help but wonder if there were thoughts that got left out and what they might be? Doctor Glas is a most excellent and compact read. It was first published in Swedon in 1905 and caused a bit of a scandal because people saw it as promoting abortion and euthanasia. It doesn't, not really, but there is much in it to think about and I am sure I will read it again one day when my head is not full of congestion and cold medicine. Cross posted as So Many Books

1 comment:

Rohan Maitzen said...

Sorry about your cold! But I like your post, especially the emphasis on Dr. Glas's loneliness. That was very vividly communicated, wasn't it? Yet I still feel uncomfortable about feeling sorry for him. What an interestingly tricky little book.