The Story of Gösta Berling, Selma Lagerlöf’s first published novel, has been the subject of more scholarly articles than any of her other works. Despite its defects, such as the looseness and the episodic nature of the plot, this book continues to be much admired by critics, many of whom consider it Lagerlöf’s masterpiece.
The novel is set in a fictional area resembling Värmland. The time is the 1820’s, in a country manor house where life is at its most luxurious. So wealthy are the upper classes that someone like the Mistress of Ekeby, who in addition to her estate owns seven foundries, can support a dozen hedonistic, penniless cavaliers. These men acquire a leader when their patroness takes in the title character, a drunken and now defrocked priest, who himself is easily charmed by the rich ironmaster Sintram. This malevolent figure appears sometimes to be either a devil or a human being who has sold his soul to the devil and at other times a madman who is acting out his satanic fantasies.
In any case, the cavaliers make a pact with Sintram. He will enable them to take over the Mistress of Ekeby’s property if during their year in power they manage to do nothing worthwhile. The results are catastrophic not only for the Mistress of Ekeby, who is driven from her property, but for all of those in any way associated with the cavaliers and for the entire area, which succumbs to moral and economic collapse. At the end of the...
(The entire section is 443 words.)