Lars, the narrator, a Swedish writer. He has a wife and children, as well as an alter ego named Sigismund III, the king of Poland. Lars apparently writes the novel titled Sigismund under direction from the Polish king. In fact, the entire book is made up of the narrator’s attempts to describe his writing process and the rationale for the text he produces. The novel encompasses various styles and genres, including science fiction, fantasy, pornography, and realism.
Sigismund III, the king of Poland from 1587 to 1632, the narrator’s alter ego, who calls Lars his “stand-in.” the narrator supposedly writes for this king, who, at the end of the novel, shows up at the narrator’s door complaining about the book’s composition.
Laura G., a friend of the narrator and of his wife. This artist becomes the subject of some of Lars’s fanciful writing. Drawing his inspiration from her comment that she would sell her soul to the devil for perfection in her paintings and wealth, Lars creates a narrative in which Laura descends into hell to determine whether she would care to spend eternity there. In Lars’s fiction, she requests of hell the opportunity to become another person for one day. The boundary between fantasy and reality breaks down when Lars sees Laura as a young man on a street in Berlin. Apparently, she has signed a contract with the devil.
Uncle Stig, the narrator’s uncle, a Marxist and a member of the Sophia Bicycle Club. He is an inventor, and one of his inventions is a bicycle that can go as fast as sixty miles an hour and possibly faster. He believes that he is always “swindled out of” the patents on his inventions. After an accident on his newly crafted bicycle, he gives up inventing altogether.
Aunt Clara, the narrator’s mother’s sister. She is beautiful and charming; her voice is particularly melodic. As a telephone operator for a government office, she falls in love with a government official. When jilted by him, she is momentarily crushed but then falls madly in love with the neighborhood’s blind beggar. The two of them wander off together and become a romantic legend in the area. Aunt Clara dies of lung disease shortly thereafter.
Gottwold, a blind beggar who makes small cloth dolls to sell. Children either love him or hate him. Aunt Clara falls in love with him, and the two of them run off together. He has also written two novels, which he has wrapped in waterproof cloth and carries in a wagon filled with various pieces of junk. One of these novels imitates Homer’s the Iliad; the other mirrors the Odyssey and is an expression of Gottwold’s love for Clara.
Baal B. Zvuvium
Baal B. Zvuvium, one of the emissaries from hell who seek to convince Laura G. to sell her soul to the devil. He is charming and handsome, but Laura realizes that although he is very skilled in rhetoric, he is not truly interested in her well-being. Originally bemused by the painter’s request to become another person for one day, he later comes to understand her reasoning. Consequently, these two individuals develop a mutual empathy.
The similarities between the author and the narrator are deliberately emphasized in this fictionalized autobiography. Like the author, the narrator was reared in Sweden, attended the University of Uppsala, was a visiting professor in Germany, and is a writer named Lars. The novel is dedicated to Zwatt, one of the minor characters, and the narrator frequently comments on the progress or difficulties he encounters in writing Sigismund. Yet because Lars Gustafsson, and his protagonist, reject facile distinctions between reality and fiction, a complete identification of author and narrator is meaningless. In the same way that everyone fictionalizes his life, Gustafsson gives us a fragmented and fictionalized version of his. He is concerned with his inner, spiritual life, precisely what cannot be documented with factual accuracy.
His need to discover a meaning for...
(The entire section is 1,203 words.)