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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1041

Arvid Falk, a young government worker who wanted to be a poet, told Struve, a journalist, some facts concerning the waste and inadequacy of a government department where he, Arvid, had worked. Struve worked this material into an expose for a newspaper that was looking for sensational stories. Arvid was...

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Arvid Falk, a young government worker who wanted to be a poet, told Struve, a journalist, some facts concerning the waste and inadequacy of a government department where he, Arvid, had worked. Struve worked this material into an expose for a newspaper that was looking for sensational stories. Arvid was discharged for giving out the information.

Arvid’s brother, Charles Nicholas, was a flax merchant. He liked to feel that he was supporting Arvid by lending him money, offering him cigars, and inviting him to dinner. He could not believe that Arvid, despite certain unconventional opinions, would give out such information for publication. Charles Nicholas was a rising merchant, but his favorite cronies were a beaten clerk named Levin and an apathetic schoolmaster named Nystrom. Levin and Nystrom would flatter Charles Nicholas and write him fulsome verses of appreciation for the small sums of money he lent them. Charles Nicholas had a young wife who slept until noon every day and aspired to become a social and civic leader.

Arvid visited his friends: Sellen and Lundell, who were painters; Rehnhjelm, who ardently desired to be an actor; and Olle Montanus and Ygberg, who spent all day arguing the fine points of philosophy. All were serious about their art or their arguments, and all were poor. Although the practical Lundell made a living by doing magazine illustrations, the group had little money; frequently they were forced to combine their credit or pawn some of their clothes in order to scrape together enough money for dinner.

Out of a job, Arvid brought some of his verses to Smith, a successful publisher who offered Arvid the job of writing about Ulrica Eleonora, a Swedish historical personage, and doing hack work on other trite and uninteresting subjects. Arvid tried to do the work, in which he had no interest at all, but he was unable to complete his dull assignments. He joined his friends in the Red Room, a cafe where they gathered, argued, and spent as little money as possible.

Arvid finally got a job on a newspaper. As a reporter on the affairs of Parliament, he did his work successfully, although he was privately outraged at the time wasted in interminable and senseless discussions. Most of the Swedes, however, were proud of their new, more democratic Parliament.

About this time Sellen had succeeded in getting a picture hung in the Academy show. At first it was pointed out as an example of the new decadent, Bohemian art, and as such he was criticized by one of the papers. For reasons having nothing to do with art, another paper defended Sellen’s painting, and he became a hotly debated and highly successful young man. For the moment all the members of this Bohemian group were working; they were able to pay for their drinks at the Red Room and recover the overcoats they had pawned.

When a group of unscrupulous men organized a marine insurance company called Triton, Charles Nicholas Falk was pleased and flattered to be a member of their board. At the same time his wife was pleased to be on a committee organized to erect a large creche for a church. Charles Nicholas helped to forward his wife’s social ambitions by making a large donation for the creche, but he made the donation with shares of the marine insurance company. When Mrs. Falk was accepted by society, she made visits to the homes of poor people and tried to convert them to believing in her church. She had little success and assumed that the poor people were simply ignorant and uncouth. Later, when the marine insurance company was proved to be a hoax and collapsed, the project for the creche, along with Mrs. Falk’s social aspirations, had to be abandoned.

In the meantime, Rehnhjelm had gone to the town of X-koping and joined a theatrical company. He played only minor parts and the theater manager took advantage of him, but he felt that he was learning the profession. He was impressed by Falander, a suave older actor, and he fell in love with Agnes, a sixteen-year-old ingenue. His love for Agnes was pure and idealistic; and he did not know that she had long been Falander’s mistress. When he finally and belatedly discovered this fact, he thought he would commit suicide in his despair at the wickedness in the world. Instead, he returned to Stockholm and the security offered by his wealthy family.

Arvid became a successful journalist, and his poems were published at last. He occasionally moved from paper to paper in the hope that each would offer him the opportunity to report the news as honestly as he saw it, but the papers were interested only in versions of news or scandal that would fit their particular needs. Frustrated in his efforts, Arvid became friendly with Borg, a cynical and iconoclastic doctor, and he fell in love with Beda Petterson, a young girl who worked in a Stockholm cafe. The vogue for Sellen’s work had ended, and he was again poor. In the meantime Lundell had become a society portrait painter. One night Borg found Arvid in a low dive with two representatives of a paper even lower than the conventional papers Arvid had found so unprincipled. Arvid had gone raving mad. Borg took him on a ship voyage under treatment for his nervous breakdown.

When Arvid recovered and returned to Stockholm, he found that the old group at the Red Room had broken up. Olle Montanus, unable to work except as a stonemason, had finally committed suicide. Sellen’s painting had again become fashionable. Charles Nicholas had, strangely enough, emerged unscathed from the Triton disaster and was about to establish a bank. Arvid discovered that Beda Petterson and Rehnhjelm’s Agnes were really the same woman, a kind of symbol for the faithless woman whose only allegiance is a physical connection to some man. None of his living friends or associates retained any semblance of the idealism and honesty that had once motivated all of their actions and conversations. Arvid himself became a conventional schoolmaster, married a schoolmistress, and studied numismatics in his spare time. Only Borg, the skeptic who expected nothing, remained unchanged.

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