Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Story of Gösta Berling consists of thirty-six chapters, each of which can be regarded as one complete episode. Taken together, however, the various tales constitute a unified plot. This plot is centered on one year in the life of Gösta Berling, although information about his life prior to that year is also presented. Gösta’s life is portrayed as dynamic and even dramatic, with a large number of important events, and extends from the moment when he loses his position as a minister in the Swedish church to some time after his marriage to Elizabeth Dohna.

While a number of dramatic events in the life of Gösta Berling provide the backbone of the novel’s plot, it is, however, the life history of its female protagonist, Margareta Celsing, which provides the most engaging part of the story. She, and such other female characters as Anna Stjärnhök, Marianne Sinclaire, and Elisabeth Dohna, stand at the center of the author’s interest and the novel’s meaning. Lagerlöf’s concern is primarily ethical and philosophical, and it is the actions of Margareta Celsing, who is also known as the Major’s Wife, which are placed in the reader’s focus. Through her portrayal of Margareta and the other women in the novel, Lagerlöf created one of the earliest examples of high-quality women’s fiction in Swedish literature.

The role of love in human life is the novel’s most important motif, and it connects with the book’s central theme,...

(The entire section is 601 words.)