Hjalmar Fredrik Elgérus Bergman was born September 19, 1883, in the commercial city of Örebro, the son of a bank director. From his family he derived an economic security that persisted until 1910 when he was forced to rely on his writing for sustenance. A domineering father and a propensity toward obesity made Bergman painfully sensitive in his youth. It may indeed be said that when he grew up he spent most of his life traveling from one hotel to another, writing feverishly, in flight from his accumulated neuroses.
Bergman’s formal education was not extensive. On graduation from high school in 1900 in nearby Västerås, he traveled in Austria and Germany, reading in leisurely fashion Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Fyodor Dostoevski. One of the most influential books in Bergman’s youth was Lessing’s Hamburgische Dramaturgie (1767-1769; Hamburg Dramaturgy, 1889). A year at Uppsala University was largely a private discipline in philosophy and aesthetics under the tutelage of Hans Larsson. Once more Bergman’s restlessness took him abroad, this time to Italy, where he was charmed and engrossed by the folkways but, most ironically, beset by an eye ailment that threatened blindness and kept him from enjoying fully the travel that his spirit required. At this time there was a passing encounter with the young E. M. Forster about which not much is known.
Bergman was early in his life attracted to drama. He never missed the engagements of traveling theater companies in Örebro. In 1903 he became acquainted with the great theater family Lindberg, of whom the father, August, was one of the eminent actors of his time (he led a company to Chicago) and the son, Per, an internationally known stage and screen director, and author of Bakom Masker (1949; behind masks), one of the most important critical memoirs of Bergman. Bergman’s talent was thus whetted, and he wrote his first play in 1904, a lyric closet drama, a kind of folk passion play, Mary, Mother of Jesus, published by his father but never staged. Bergman further cemented his relations with the theater by becoming married...
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