Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Lars Gustafsson, philosopher, novelist, dramatist, and critic, is a highly respected Swedish writer. He is best known for his poetry and his cycle of five novels which he wrote from 1971 through 1978. The novels have many elements of a Kunstlerroman, a type of novel in which the writer/protagonist struggles toward an understanding of his purpose as a creative artist. James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) is the most famous example. Gustafsson’s novels of piercing self-examination have influenced other Swedish writers to develop more liberated expressions of values and morals.

The Tennis Players, begun in 1974 when Gustafsson was Thord Gray Professor at the University of Texas, and completed in 1977, interrupts the more somber novel cycle. In this case, Gustafsson is not looking inward as much as he is looking outward at American and especially Texan mores. The result is both amusing and thought-provoking. The delightful translation by Yvonne L. Sandstroem preserves the spirit of the original. One suspects that Gustafsson would dismiss The Tennis Players as simply a potboiler. Henry James said the same thing about The Turn of the Screw (1898), the novel which has perhaps received more critical attention than any other of his works. Unfortunately, Gustafsson’s novel has received very little critical attention by writers in English.