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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Doctor Glas

Hjalmar Söderberg

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To purchase Doctor Glas

Title: Doctor Glas
Author: Hjalmar Söderberg
Genre: Novel
Written: 1905 (Eng. 1963)
Length: 150 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Doctor Glas - US
Doctor Glas - UK
in: Die Spieler - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Doktor Glas
  • Translated by Paul Britten Austin
  • The current (2002) edition comes an Introduction by Margaret Atwood
  • The first English edition (1963, same translation) came with an Introduction by William Sansom

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Our Assessment:

A- : dark, intense novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
London Rev. of Books A 28/11/2002 Michael Hofmann
The LA Times . 18/8/2002 S.S.Reynolds
The NY Times Book Rev. A+ 24/5/1964 Adrian Mitchell
Time . 29/5/1964 .
TLS . 25/10/1963 .
TLS . 6/12/2002 Paddy Bullard

  From the Reviews:
  • "Doctor Glas is beautifully balanced, rich, coherent, and free." - Michael Hofmann, London Review of Books

  • "Written in a world before the two world wars, the novel has an icy wind in it, a sense of weeding the world so that only the strongest and loveliest can live. Soderberg offers both a moral and a roadmap. These days, that's a fairly distasteful combination." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "A brief, strange book, it not only sketches the light and shadow of its time, but maps territory still being explored by the writers of today. It is a volcano, shaking, about to erupt." - Adrian Mitchell, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Even the Swedes were dismayed by Soderberg's grim-grey novel when it was published in 1910, but today it is recognized as a Scandinavian masterpiece." - Time

  • "This is a moving little book. (...) It is in the form of a journal, written by the doctor, and conveys with powerful economy the close, confined environment, and the articulate despair of a man who has missed love, let alone marriage." - Times Literary Supplement

  • "Glas himself is a caricature of Scando-Nietzschean bluster. (...) When one reads the novel from the perspective of a new century, what is particularly striking is the way Glas's conscience seems haunted, proleptically, by Sweden's troubles of the past hundred years. " - Paddy Bullard, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Doktor Glas is written in the form of a journal, kept by Tyko Gabriel Glas. It covers a bit more than a summer, from 12 June to 7 October.
       Doctor Glas is modestly successful, with a good practice and some close friends. But, as he writes in closing the penultimate entry of his diary, he feels: "Life has passed me by." It seems already to have passed him by before he began this journal.
       He has clear ideas about life and needs and desires:

We want to be loved; failing that, admired; failing that, feared, failing that, hated and despised. At all costs we want to stir up some sort of feeling in others. Our soul abhors a vacuum. At all costs it longs for contact.
       Love passed Dr. Glas by. His one brush with it ended in tragedy. His professional success hardly makes up for this: he does not find the contact he needs. His frustration is compounded by a society he sees as rotten to the core -- and his limited ability to affect any sort of change, to act.
       Dr. Glas is often approached by women asking for abortions, a situation that always angers him -- even more so when he is then confronted by the consequences. The focus of the novel, however, is on a different if related problem: the reverend Gregorius' wife comes to the doctor, hoping to be medically excused from sleeping with her husband. But it would only be an excuse, a lie. She can no longer bear the act -- but just with him. Mrs. Helga Gregorius is, as she admits to Glas, in fact having an affair.
       Dr. Glas is easily swayed in support of the wife who doesn't want to fulfil her marital obligations, but his efforts at intervening -- at least at first -- meet with only modest success. The lustful reverend likes to get his way.
       Glas also ruminates on life and love in his journal, and mentions other events and conversations. Much of this is -- as much of Söderberg's writing generally is -- stunningly modern. Not only does the abortion debate get covered, but Glas also has some firm opinions about euthanasia:
The day will come, must come, when the right to die is recognised as far more important and inalienable a human right than the right to drop a voting ticket into a ballot box. And when that time is ripe, every incurably sick person -- and every 'criminal' also -- shall have the right to the doctor's help, if he wishes to be set free.
       There's a rallying cry for euthanasiasts everywhere ! Of course, Glas -- who carries around cyanide-pills he concocted, just in case ... -- turns out to be a very questionable spokesman.
       Doktor Glas is fraught with morality. The characters aren't simple, good people -- they are real people, and as such they are fairly ugly and they do ugly things. Rev. Gregorius, his wife, her lover, Glas, and others are less than exemplary in their moral conduct. And yet that is where the example comes in: they don't show ridiculous ideals to be lived up to (but that can't be), but rather real human conduct (which means a great deal of human weakness).
       Glas has strong opinions about morality:
Morality's place is among household chattels, not among the gods. It is for our use, not our ruler. And it is to be used with discrimination, 'with a little pinch of salt'.
       Glas convinces himself to act -- "I want to act. Life is action." -- and does so, saving, in a manner of speaking, Helga. But Glas has never been a man of action, and his first grand foray does not work out as he hopes -- teaching him a lesson about taking morality into his own hands. It's a more difficult question than he was first willing to acknowledge, it turns out, and he (and the others affected) wind up quite as miserable as before.
       Glas is an odd soul: "I am not happy", he acknowledges, yet in the very next sentence also insists that "I know no one with whom I would change places". He is oddly satisfied with being dissatisfied with his lot. He believes action is the answer -- but he is a man of inaction, and action does not bring the hoped for rewards.
       Söderberg presents the novel and its powerful ideas very well. The introspective musings -- and most of the action -- are all charged. This is soul-wringing at its best, clearly, quickly, and very forcefully presented. An impressive work, certainly recommended.

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Doctor Glas: Reviews: Hjalmar Söderberg: Other books by Hjalmar Söderberg under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Hjalmar Söderberg lived 1869 to 1941.

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