Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


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

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.

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....

(The entire section is 549 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

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 his own life as well as human history leads to an unresolvable dialectic between freedom and security, belief and skepticism. He divorces himself from the mundane details of his outer life, because he sees no way to change the destructive forces of civilization. (Indeed, he seems to have little effect on his own children.) At the same time, his mind fixates on the most grotesque reminders of the sickness in Western culture. At breakfast, he engages in a carefully structured debate with his wife over an abstract political idea while mentally focusing on the image of a man who has burned himself alive. He curses the cleverness through which he has secured his position in society, yet his respectability suppresses his two...

(The entire section is 654 words.)