Lars Gustafsson (lahrz guhs-TAHF-shuhn), a visiting professor of Scandinavian literature at the University of Texas. Sharing, not coincidentally, both the author’s name and profession, the professor reveals that he is glad to have escaped his native Sweden so that he can divide his time between playing tennis in the hot Texas sun and delivering popular lectures at the university. Gustafsson’s indolent existence is threatened by the problems presented by two graduate students.
Doobie Smith, the professor’s favorite student, an expert on nineteenth century European philosophers. Blonde, blue-eyed, and sensuously plump, Doobie reminds the professor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s beloved Lou Salomé. Theoretically a committed Nietzschean, Doobie reverts to her fundamentalist Baptist roots when she discovers that her role as one of the Rhine Maidens in the student production of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold is jeopardized by her refusal to sleep with the conductor. Outraged, Doobie enlists Professor Gustafsson’s help in defending her honor.
Bill, a graduate student who has unearthed from the university library a book by Zygmunt I. Pietziewzskoczsky, an obscure Polish writer. Pietziewzskoczsky’s book, Memoires d’un chimiste, if authenticated, will force a reevaluation of August Strindberg’s Inferno. Tall, black, and intense, Bill disrupts the professor’s graduate seminar when he theorizes that Strindberg’s so-called Inferno Crisis is not a product of the author’s mad delusions, as Strindberg experts maintain, but stems from a real conspiracy of Polish exiles who were trying to find out the results of Strindberg’s...
(The entire section is 736 words.)