Selma Lagerlöf: Jerusalem

The 2013 Buddy Read

This was a buddy read in the context of a private discussion group; I’ll therefore only include redacted / anonymized versions of comments other than mine. 


#1 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Setting the scene:

 . 

From Wikipedia:

“Dalarna, English exonym: Dalecarlia, is a historical province or landskap in central Sweden. […] The word “Dalarna” means “the dales” (valleys). The area is a popular vacation destination for Swedes from the south, who often travel there to relax during summer vacations, drawn by good fishing lakes, beautiful campgrounds, and deep forests. Many such Swedes own or rent a second residence in Dalarna, where they are likely to have a vegetable garden and apple trees. In mid-June, summerfest celebrations and dances are held in many of the small villages and, of course, in the larger cities. Dalarna is a region full of historical associations, possessing strong local characteristics in respect of its products, and especially of its people. In the western districts of Älvdalen and Lima some people in villages speak a traditional dialect, the Dalecarlian language. Historically, the people of Dalecarlia – called Dalecarlians, or Dalesmen (dalkarlar = “dale churls”, masar) and Daleswomen (kullor) – are famous for their love of independence. […]

Historically, Dalarna has enjoyed a rich and unique folk culture, with distinct music, paintings (often centered on Biblical themes) and handicrafts. The province preserved longer than any other the use of the Runic alphabet, a local dialect of which, the so called Dalecarlian runes or Dalrunes, survived into the 19th century.

A famous symbol of the province is the Dalecarlian horse, in Swedish Dalahäst, a painted and decorated wooden horse. Sulky racing is popular in the region. The high level of calcium in the soil favours horse breeding.

Vasaloppet, a cross-country skiing race (the world’s longest) of 90 km, takes place annually, on the first Sunday of March, between Sälen and Mora. It commemorates the ski-borne escape of Gustav Ericson, who would later become King Gustav I of Sweden, from Danish troops in 1520.

UNESCO has named the mining area of the Stora Kopparberg (“Great Copper Mountain”) in Falun a World Heritage Site.”

Left: a daleswoman from Leksand in traditional folk dress, 1911; right: giant Dala horse in Avesta.

Lake Runn (Runnsjön) close to Torsång (Borlänge).

Dalarna lake country.

Dalarna farm buildings.

 

Vasaloppet.

 


#2 – W.

Terrific!

 


#3 – W.

I love the clean and simple writing. Everything is exactly as it should be and I feel there are no hidden meanings or ” something else I am supposed to understand”.

Ingmar could talk himself right out of existence if he put his mind to it. His inner turmoil over what he know is the right thing to do is so human.

 


#4 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

What do you make of the repeated allusions of him having “forced himself” on Brita, and the fact that she had a — his — baby out of wedlock (which she hated enough to strangle it)?

 


#5 – W.

In the times of the writing of this story, wouldn’t a couple be considered well on their way to marriage after the third reading of the banns? If this has occurred (which we do not really know from the story, only that Brita has already left her father’s home and gone to live with Ingmar and his people), Ingmar may have already considered her wife with respect to sexual relations; however, he still did not love her in his heart. He used her!

She saw the baby as something not wanted and not honorable. She thought that because the christening would occur before the marriage that perhaps the villagers would believe her an unmoral woman. She is a bit off in the head too (in my opinion). To strangle a baby is just unthinkable to me (even if I do not apply my 21st century thinking to the matter). I am sure hers and Ingmar’s was not the only child born on the wrong side of the sheets.

And, as for forcing himself, couldn’t she have told her mother-in-law? Her own parents? The police? It takes two and in most cases it certainly takes more than one try to make a baby. I am not sure I understand Ms. Lagerlof’s purpose in this dilemma.

 


#6 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

I’m not sure, either! I feel like I ought to know much more about the prevailing moral and legal standards in that part of Swedish society at the beginning of the 20th century. In Germany, especially rural Germany, at that time it would have been an enormous social and moral transgression for a man to even persuade a woman to have sex with him in the (mistaken or premature) expectation of a wedding (let alone using force, or going against her will) — in fact, the makers of the German Civil Code, which entered into force in 1900 (a year before Jerusalem was published; some 15 years before its translation into English), inserted a special damages provision for these cases, which was coloquially known as “wreath money” (from “bridal wreath”) and was based on notions that were well-established in Germany at the time. I suspect there may have been something similar, at least on a customary basis, in Sweden as well; that would explain, in any event, the allegation to Ingmar having to “do his bit” financially later on, in connection with the idea of shipping Brita off to America once she was out of prison.

Also, I wonder what constituted a legal marriage in Sweden at that time in the first place? Sweden is substantially a Protestant country — did (or does) Protestant theology impact the notion of when and how you are married? It sounds, at any rate, as if a wedding performed in church would have constituted a legal wedding and there did not have to also be a secular ceremony. (By comparison, German law does not recognize any church traditions — neither Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist nor any other religion’s — such as the reading of the banns as a mandatory, binding or otherwise relevant part of marriage; nor is a wedding performed solely in church a legal “wedding” pursuant to German law: Weddings HAVE to be performed in the (civil) registrar’s office to be recognized as legal. Many people choose to get married in church in addition, of course, but that then only makes for two wedding ceremonies, and legally, it’s still only the one in city hall that matters.)

Clearly the match between Ingmar and Brita is far from an ideal one, and clearly we’re to see Ingmar as one of the story’s “good guys.” Killing a baby — or indeed killing as such, but a baby in particular — is completely unthinkable to me as well of course, and yes, Brita is definitely psychologically/emotionally “troubled.” But she seems to have been a vivacious young woman before she was taken to Ingmar farm, and I can empathize with her unhappiness about being made to spend the rest of her life with a family that is so different in character from herself and her own family (especially since she doesn’t seem to have had much of a say in the matter). Also, I don’t quite buy into the sudden “love conversion” happening after Ingmar has taken Brita home from prison and has had second thoughts about her yet again (did you get this far in the novel yet?) — it’s happening a bit too much out of the blue for me.

But, like you, I love Ingmar’s interior monologue, especially the long one at the very beginning of the book … and also the image of all those Ingmars of prior generations sitting together in a room up there in Heaven, watching what’s going on down below, commenting on it, and waiting for yet another Ingmar to come and join them! (I’m picturing a low wooden house, with one major room, a fire place — never mind whether they’d need that in Heaven! — and simple but comfortable wood and leather furniture … 🙂 ) I also very much like the serenity of the scenery, though I have a feeling this is being emphasized so much because it’s to act as a contrast to the goings-on between the novel’s characters later on. Well — we’ll see what’s going to happen next …

 


#7 – W.

That is how I pictured it – all those Ingmarssons sitting in a comfortable room with a roaring fire and comestibles. They all look down from Heaven and observe and perhaps guide the other Ingmarssons. Funny we should picture it the same.

I do feel empathy for Brita being taken away from all she knows and loves and going to a family where she does not love Ingmar (nor does she think him handsome either). Her parents pushed her into this I believe because of their feelings for the Ingmarssons. Poor Brita not being able to follow her own heart.

We are probably at the same place, TA. I am at IN ZION now. Should I wait for you or are you further along?

 


#8 – W.

TA, I so much appreciate the info re banns and marriage. In one of the parishes I belonged to in PA, banns were read by the priest. Here in GA, they are not. And it is funny to think that here in the States where there is the division of state and church, both civil and religious ceremonies are legal.

 


#9 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “I am at IN ZION now. Should I wait for you or are you further along?”

I actually managed to sneak home comparatively early last night and got a good bit of reading in; also I had to take the train to get to work this morning and of course read there — so at the moment I am actually further along, but by and large I think we’re managing an about even pace again!

One thing that strikes me as I am slowly progressing through the novel is its “episodic” nature: Whereas in other books the events of one chapter follow straight on the heels of the preceding one (or even blend into each other), here it’s as if each chapter is dedicated to a specific episode, which needs to be told in its entirety before we can move on to another chapter, and another episode. At the beginning, it almost seemed more like a volume of interconnected short stories — all set in the same village and roughly dealing with the same families — than a novel! Only as I advanced through the book, I began to see how all of these episodes connect.

And isn’t young Ingmar shaping up to become just like his dad? (I wonder how he was received in that comfy, rustic room up in Heaven, btw! 🙂 )

As a side note, I think this is the first time I’m seeing my mother’s first name — Gunhild — as the name of a character in a novel, btw. (Not counting the ancient Scandinavian sagas, that is.)

 


#10 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “And it is funny to think that here in the States where there is the division of state and church, both civil and religious ceremonies are legal.”

On the face of it, requiring weddings to take place at city hall seems a bit incongruous for Germany as well, insofar as we don’t have a complete separation of church and state in other areas; e.g., the state collects taxes on behalf of the major Christian churches, and certain Christian holidays are also state holidays (e.g. Good Friday, Easter Monday, Boxing Day, Pentecost Monday and in states that have a predominantly Catholic population, also All Saints’ Day and, in Bavaria, even Twelfth Night and Assumption). Then again, it IS in synch with the continental European approach to the separation of church and state: You’re free to subscribe to whatever religion you like and follow that religion’s rules and customs, but that doesn’t mean that certain, particularly important issues — marriage included — are within the purview of the state first and foremost.

Then again, religious associations are constitutionally guaranteed freedom of association, and that includes their freedom to set rules and standards that are different than those existing under state law (often: stricter; frequently also: openly discriminatory). Catholic schools, for example, won’t hire (and can’t be compelled to hire) divorced teachers — a rule that would never be accepted in the secular private sector, nor in state schools, where all teachers are automatically public servants.

 


#11 – W.

One thing that strikes me as I am slowly progressing through the novel is its “episodic” nature: Whereas in other books the events of one chapter follow straight on the heels of the preceding one (or even blend into each other), here it’s as if each chapter is dedicated to a specific episode, which needs to be told in its entirety before we can move on to another chapter, and another episode. At the beginning, it almost seemed more like a volume of interconnected short stories — all set in the same village and roughly dealing with the same families — than a novel! Only as I advanced through the book, I began to see how all of these episodes connect.

TA, this is what I was thinking about this morning. How, these stories are all interconnected; yet, distinct and how the narrator wants us to know and finish each story before we are able to progress on to the next one. In reading this novel, I get the feeling I am sitting down with a dear elderly woman from the village who is delighting in telling me stories from her youth and from the village history. Personally, I love to sit with the elderly and hear their many fascinating stories; so, this is a comfortable read for me.

I do like how Ingmar turned out to be like his father and I can just see him sitting contentedly with his father and ancestors in that huge room in Heaven looking down at his family. He certainly guided his daughter Karin to make the right decision.

P.S. I apologize but I do not know how to italicize the text at the beginning of this post (your comments).

 


#12 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “In reading this novel, I get the feeling I am sitting down with a dear elderly woman from the village who is delighting in telling me stories from her youth and from the village history.”

That’s how I feel about the narrative tone as well — and to me it’s a somewhat surprising effect, given that Lagerlöf was “only” in her mid-50s when she wrote Jerusalem. It’s as if the novel’s characters were to her much like the school children she herself used to teach before turning full-time to being a novelist … she has a lot of sympathy for them, however ill-advisedly they may be acting, but nevertheless her tone is that of a wise elderly lady looking back at the follies and adventures of people she used to know, and telling their stories with both a tiny amused smile and a regretful and gently chiding shake of her head. In that, her attitude actually doesn’t seem to be much different from that of school master Storm at the beginning of In Zion! — Then again, it’s also the narrative tone you frequently find in fairy tales; collections of which she published as well.

NB: To italicize something, either just use the “reply” button and copy/insert the intended text in between the quotation marks, or just surround the intended text with “< i >” and “< / i >” — the way it’s also done automatically when you use the reply button: “< i > text to be italicized < / i >”. (No spaces, though: I just used those to make the required HTML tags visible.) You’ll see a list of the HTML tags you can use in your posts if you click on “some html is ok” above the comments box.

 


#13 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

From the Wikipedia article on Lagerlöf’s native Värmland (the neighboring province of Dalarna):

“The province has powerful literary and musical traditions and has spawned some of the most well-known and loved authors of Sweden. In the 19th century several leading authors had their origin here, and retained links to Värmland, among them Erik Gustaf Geijer, Esaias Tegnér, Gustaf Fröding and Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf. Lagerlöf’s novel, Gösta Berlings Saga, is a neo-romantic saga that takes place in Värmland in the 1820s and 1830s. It was also made into a film starring Greta Garbo.

Education, theatre and a somewhat glamorous lifestyle were buoyed by the landed gentry and the wealth being generated through a lively local iron trade, and also by the position of the landscape on the edge between civilization and wilderness, which inspired art, literature and folklore. During the second half of the 19th century, the iron processing industry was largely put out of business by the revolution in the steel industry which made Central Europe and the United States vastly superior in this field, and the overall economic crisis throughout Europe of the 1870s and 1880s, and the subsequent emigration to North America, shook the landscape. The consequence, however, was to make authors like Lagerlöf and Fröding more aware of the heritage of their province, and they both drew on what they felt to be an oral tradition of story-telling and local legends.”

 


#14 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Selma Lagerlöf’s library at her Mårbacka home (from https://marbacka.com/en/hemmet/).

 

Mårbacka: drawing room and kitchen.

Mårbacka: outside; and Selma Lagerlöf in 1909, a few years after Jerusalem was published.

 


#15 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Värmland:

 

(Mårbacka is in Sunne, almost exactly at the center of the province.)

 

 

Sysslebäck (in the north), the view from Granberget (Värmland’s highest elevation, near Torsby), a company of loggers (1918), Kläralven river, Skramlestenen rune stone (5th-6th century, outside Gunnarskog/north of Arvika), and a Värmland sheep.

 


#16 – W.

I absolutely WANT the library.

 


#17 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Isn’t it magnificent?

 


#18 – W.

All the pictures are wonderful. I especially love the serene look on the sheep’s face – he seems to have a secret which he will not share.

And, what a neat rune stone.

 


#19 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “All the pictures are wonderful. I especially love the serene look on the sheep’s face – he seems to have a secret which he will not share.”

Yes! He looks very content, and almost as if he were smiling at something.

That’s the thing about reading … it makes you not only visit the world of the books you’re reading in your mind, it also makes you want to travel and go visit the places where they are set — AND the homes of their writers!

 


#20 – W.

Yes – I have always wanted to visit the homes of Tolkien and of Twain. Both of these men loved their children crazily and I would so enjoy seeing their homes and just knowing how much love filled the house and to “hear” the laughter of the children.

 


#21 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Also, visiting a writer’s home can tell you so much about their personality and life — all the things that, in big or small ways, impacted their writing! I started making visits to the homes of whatever famous writers once used to live in the area a regular feature of my vacations a few years ago … the side effect being, of course, that my TBR list started to balloon disproportionally as well, as every visit yielded another long laundry list of “oh God, I MUST read this one day” books, as well as another few books’ worth of extra pounds in my suitcase.

Twain and Tolkien are on my “would very much like to see” list as well. Somehow I imagine their homes as both extremely comfortable and extremely “cultured”! The kind of places where you can’t help but really feel at home in no time at all.

I’ll be in London again over Easter; have made the friend accompanying me promise me we’ll find time for an excursion to Dickens’s home this time. (On past visits to England, I already dragged her to Stratford and to the Globe Theatre …)

 


#22 – W.

Oh, how wonderful TA. Travelling with a like-minded friend is great. I am sure she did not feel “dragged” in the least little bit to see the Globe Theatre or wander about Stratford. Dickens’ home would be outstanding. I will look forward to the pics.

 


#23 – W.

As I come to the end of this book, I cannot help but feel that these stories are meant not to be read as a book in its entirety; but, rather as short stories or parables. There is a lesson to be learned at the end of each section and read as a book, I am missing the lesson. If I read each section slowly and at a pace of one-per-day, I will take time to think about that which I have read and learn the lesson.

 


#24 – W.

In true book-pig fashion, TA, I finished this last evening. I became obsessed to know about Ingmar and Gertrude; to know if he would lose the farm or keep it; and, to know if the Hellgumists ventured to Jerusalem. I hope my obsessiveness did not spoil this buddy-read for you.

 


#25 – W.

Do you believe how it all came together?

 


#27 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “In true book-pig fashion, TA, I finished this last evening. I became obsessed to know about Ingmar and Gertrude; to know if he would lose the farm or keep it; and, to know if the Hellgumists ventured to Jerusalem. I hope my obsessiveness did not spoil this buddy-read for you.”

No, of course not — good for you for having gotten through the book so fast! I stopped some 20 pages (A4 printout; i.e., probably between 40 and 60 book format pages) short of the end last night, as I was ahead of you yesterday and I wasn’t sure how far you’d be getting, but I’ll doubtlessly finish the book tonight as well.

I’m just at the point where Lagerlöf introduces Ingmar’s last, and probably biggest, as-yet unresolved conflict, with him accepting that the magistrate buys back the farm for him in exchange for Ingmar’s agreement to marry his daughter instead of Gudrun — who doubtlessly will be as heartbroken as Ingmar himself, only about a million times more helpless in this kind of situation!

Two things that strike me in this last part of the novel are,

(1) the description of the shipwreck, which to me reads as if it were based on a real event (not least because, unlike for virtually every other part of the novel, Lagerlöf gives a specific date); however Google didn’t return any pertinent results for search terms such as “L’Univers” and “1880,” so I’m not sure. We are used to reading about these disasters in no small part because of the Titanic, of course, but Jerusalem was written before the Titanic was ever built; yet Lagerlöf’s depiction of the events on board — the passengers’ reaction, the spreading panic, the overcrowded life boats etc.; but also the actual progress of the ship’s breaking apart — could be taken almost verbatim from one of the accounts on the Titanic (or, for that matter, one of the screenplays dealing with its loss!). Of course Sweden is a seafaring country, there were probably ocean liners going to America from Swedish ports as well by the early 1900s, and she may well have come across newspaper reports on the sinking of such a vessel. Still, the more typical variety of such reports seems to have been something like this, which contains far less detail. I wonder how much is due to research and how much to sheer writerly imagination here!

(2) The depiction of the Hellgumists’ sectarian behavior, which neatly displays all the hallmarks of the typical attitude of those subscribing to fundamentalist sects, and which C.J. Sansom, in his author’s note at the end of Revelation, succinctly sums up like this:

“Many [Tudor-era religious radicals] believed then, exactly as Christian fundamentalists do today, that they lived in the ‘last days’ before Armageddon and, again just as now, saw signs all around in the world that they took as certain proof that the Apocalypse was imminent. Again like fundamentalists today, they looked on the prospect of the violent destruction of mankind without turning a hair. The remarkable similarity between the first Tudor Puritans and the fanatics among today’s Christian fundamentalists extends to their selective reading of the Bible, their emphasis on the Book of Revelation, their certainty of their rightness, even to their phraseology.”

There, too, Lagerlöf’s depiction is strikingly accurate and could just as well apply to any modern-day sect … yet another piece of evidence that we’re fools to believe that just because we ourselves are doing something/facing a given situation/coming up with an idea for the very first time in our own reckoning, it surely must be a completely newfangled thing that nobody in the several millennia of humanity’s history on earth has ever thought of before; nor, certainly, something that has been found to be stupid, dangerous, or just a total waste of time at least once every other past century or so!

How did you feel about Karin and Halvor at the end of the book, btw?

 


#28 – W.

TA, I, too,tried to find more information with regard to the shipwreck and came up empty-handed. As I read it, I pictured the Titanic going down. That Mrs. Gordon survived but lost her children was so sad. It was indeed providential that she should be rescued in a life boat containing only an old sailor, the dear half-naked little boy, and Mrs. Hoggs.

I must admit I was not impressed nor pleased with the behavior of the Hellgumists. I was offended that they had an attitude of “you are either with us or against us”. I did not appreciate the division of the village. To me, it made the story take on a sadder tone.

I remember words of advice my Mother gave – You may not always get along with everyone, but, you must learn to be tolerant of everyone. The Hellgumists would have done well to heed these words. And those words by Sansom are so true.

I did not care for Karin or Halvor, TA. I was angry with Karin for giving the farm away when her Father wanted it to belong to Ingmar. I thought more could have been done to help Ingmar.

Lagerlof is such a perceptive writer. She knows just how each character will respond.

 


#30 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

W. wrote: “Do you believe how it all came together?”

There’s a bit too much of a (literal!) “deus ex machina” element for me in Gertrude’s decision to join the Hellgumists and make it easy for Ingmar by just silently moving out of the way. But then, the end doesn’t feel like an ending at all — there’s a sequel called The Holy City (Jerusalem II), and Lagerlöf must already have known how she would continue the story there when she got to the end of Jerusalem. (I sneak peeked: the sequel does have a “proper” ending, and one that makes the story come together much more roundly, too.)

Like with Brita, I’m in two minds about Karin and Halvor. They seemed extremely decent people in the beginning, but once they were brainwashed … yes, I, too, resented their auctioning off not only the farm itself but everything that was in it as well.

This has certainly been an interesting read!

 


#32 – W.

Oh, thank you TA. You are such a treasure! Here I was feeling cheated by the lack of a proper ending and just chuckling to myself at the children not wanting to go and you have found a sequel for me. I am sure this will satisfy my unrest with the ending.

I found a copy online at http://archive.org/details/theholycit…. My Sony Tablet and Gutenberg are not on speaking terms and I often go to this website or Manybooks.net for the oldies.

 


#33 – Themis-Athena (Lioness at Large)

Yes — I found the copy I looked at on archive.org as well! 🙂

Are you going to read this one, too?

 


#34 – W.

Yes, I am. Many thanks to you.


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