Pär Lagerkvist Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Pär Fabian Lagerkvist displayed his predisposition to independence in his very first appearance in print, a letter to the local newspaper in October, 1905, written when he was fourteen:Every schoolboy is surely aware of the hostility that exists, not only in Växiö but in other cities as well, between elementary-and secondary-school pupils. This hostility may appear to be insignificant, but it certainly is not; it is nothing other than the beginning of a pernicious class hatred in Sweden. For how easily does a boy from elementary school, who during his entire schooling grows accustomed to harboring the same hostility toward a secondary-school pupil that the socialists harbor toward the upper social classes, how easily does such a boy fall victim to pernicious socialism. Conversely, a secondary-school pupil can easily begin to hate not only the elementary-school students but also, when he is older and more mature, all members of the working class. Therefore, comrades, let’s begin to lay aside this bad habit and rather try, in harmony, to further the best interests of our country. [signed] A schoolboy.

In five to seven years’ time, Lagerkvist would become sufficiently amenable to socialism to lend his creative talents to the Social Democratic journals Fram, Stormklockan, and Norskensflamman.

Thirteen months after his debut in the local newspaper, he published a prose sketch entitled “Moderskärlek” and signed “Jagibus.” It is a sentimental piece with a trace of bitterness over the emigration to the United States of which Småland had seen much during the last half of the nineteenth century.

The burgeoning of Lagerkvist’s literary career coincides with the development of cubism from 1907 to 1914. In 1909 and 1910 he published thirteen poems under the pen name “Stig Stigson.” The first work published in his own name was the poem “Kväll” (“Evening”), written in February, 1911, in honor of the poet Gustaf Fröding, who had recently died. In 1912, he published seven new poems, a copy of two hitherto unpublished Strindberg letters that he had discovered, a prose fantasy entitled “Gudstanken” (“God’s Thought”), and his first novel, Människor (people). Many of Lagerkvist’s early works, particularly his poems, have a militant socialist focus that would give way by 1916 to his broader humanistic expressions of längtan (longing), ångest (anguish), and kärlek (love). Adumbrations of his plays and later novels are evident in “God’s Thought,” in which a Diana figure (to reappear in a 1960 novel), as a vestige of a dead religion, serves to turn a man toward the experience of his own being and, consequently, away from preoccupation with the supernatural, and in a 1912 poem, “Min Gud” (“My God”), which begins, “My god is a proud, defiant man/ — —my god is a child gone astray,” asserts midway, “My god is what life has given me/ to mold into worship and belief,” and concludes, “my god—my god—: he is I!—he is I!— — —.” Lagerkvist’s maternal grandparents had been farm people, severely uncompromising in their fundamentalist religion. In their presence, Lagerkvist learned the cold terror of a religion of judgment. His father, Anders Johan Lagerkvist, a foreman at a railroad yard, and his mother, née Johanna Blad, were devout Christians, but their persuasion was marked more by the solace of the Gospel than by the rigidity of the Law. Ultimately, Lagerkvist abandoned the faith of both his grandparents and his parents.

In 1913, Lagerkvist published three poems and two prose sketches in Stormklockan, to which he also contributed twelve reviews, including his review of Fyodor Dostoevski’s Unizhennye i oskorblyonnye (1861; The Insulted and Injured, 1887). His review article on Guillaume Apollinaire’s Les Peintres cubistes: Méditations esthétiques (1913; The Cubist Painters: Esthetic Meditations, 1944) appeared in Svenska dagbladet. He also published that year Två sagor om livet (two tales of life, a pair of short stories) and his very important essay Ordkonst och bildkonst (Literary Art and Pictorial Art, 1982), which established his championship of cubism and helped to change the literary climate in Sweden. He saw cubism as greatly superior to impressionism and naturalism and developed...

(The entire section is 1819 words.)