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review 2016-08-04 11:00
The Torments of an Arrogant Outcast: By the Open Sea by August Strindberg
By the Open Sea (Penguin Classics) - August Strindberg
Am Offenen Meer (German Edition) - August Strindberg

Multi-talented and restless as he was, August Strindberg (1849-1912) never limited himself to only one trade. In his life he was active as painter, photographer, natural scientist, and sinologist, but his lasting worldwide fame is based on his writing that was too controversial in his own country – Sweden – to earn him one of the early Nobel Prizes in Literature as many expected abroad at the time. Today the author is best known for his more than 60 plays of which a considerable number keeps being performed regularly on stages around the globe. And yet, they are only part of a much larger and more versatile œuvre. August Strindberg also wrote poems, essays, autobiographical works, narrations… and last but not least, ten novels that were mostly acclaimed by critics outside Sweden. One of these novels is By the Open Sea that first appeared in print in 1890.


The protagonist of By the Open Sea is Axel Borg who is in his mid-thirties and on his way to one of the tiny islands of the archipelago off the coast of Stockholm where he was assigned fisheries inspector. From the very first he provokes the hostility of the local population because he behaves like a bureaucratic know-all from the city. His arrogance, however, isn’t based on his rank in society, but on the concept of the world that his father instilled into him. Borg firmly believes that ridding himself of base desires to give unlimited room to pure reason instead and gaining knowledge to act according to it has risen him above most people in evolution. All his past efforts can’t prevent him, though, from falling in love with Maria who comes to the island with her mother for summer holidays away from the city. For him every woman is unreasonable by nature and this “girl” (who is only two years his junior) confirms his chauvinist ideas by appearing particularly childish and stupid. Nonetheless, he chooses her as his wife-to-be because he is lonely and convinced that he can teach her to accept her natural inferiority to him (and every man). Although lowering himself to Maria’s level exhausts him increasingly, they get officially engaged. Then Borg’s new assistant arrives on the island. His name is Blom and contrary to Borg he is an engaging young man who enjoys socialising. Maria begins to flirt with Blom and as can be expected Borg gets jealous. And yet, he soon realises that it’s actually a relief that he no longer needs to pass all his time with Maria…


Although the language of By the Open Sea is often highly poetic, the novel paints a very sombre and also somewhat sober portrait of a young man caught in his own limited world and ever more despairing at the mediocrity, not to say stupidity of others. Borg is shown as a highly educated, highly refined and highly sensitive person, thus as a Übermensch in the Nietzschean sense, but his father’s as well as his own exaggerated regard for everything intellectual left him with poor social skills. Certainly, his obvious introversion (»»» read for instance The Introvert’s Way by Sophia Dembling that I reviewed) and high sensitiveness (»»» learn more about it from The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron for example) add to his inability to adapt to life in a community, especially a small one where everybody knows each other and where you can’t hide as easily as in the anonymity of a big city. In brief: Borg’s intellectual ideals combined with his nature doom him to a life in loneliness that eventually changes into paranoia, i.e. madness. The psychological depth of the descriptions of the protagonist’s inner life makes it very likely that August Strindberg himself had many of Borg’s character traits. From own experience I can tell that they are extremely authentic. As for the misogynistic tone of all passages concerning women, it clearly corresponds with the author’s known sexism that may still have been shared by the majority of men in the late 1800s and that would be completely unpardonable today.


Admittedly, By the Open Sea by August Strindberg is on the whole a rather depressing read that requires a stable frame of mind to be able to enjoy it, but its merits as a psychological novel cannot be doubted. And it’s beautifully written, at least the German translation of Else von Hollander is. Sidenote: I couldn’t help wondering if Borg might not have served as model for Mr. Spock in the Star Trek series because they have quite a lot in common although the cool Volcanan is definitely more sympathetic…


By the Open Sea (Penguin Classics) - August Strindberg 

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review 2015-11-26 11:00
An Orphan’s Imagined Refuge: Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren
Mio's Kingdom - Astrid Lindgren,Jill Morgan
Mio, My Son - Astrid Lindgren,Ilon Wikland,Jill M. Morgan
Mio, mein Mio - Astrid Lindgren

Admittedly, I don’t usually read and review children’s books, but I decided to make an exception because with my main blog Edith’s Miscellany I joined the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 on Books and Chocolate and took it into my head to cover all twelve categories to make it more difficult. I picked two children’s classics, one originally written in English and one translated into English, that are said to be rewarding reads also for grown-ups: Kim by Nobel Prize laureate Rudyard Kipling, which I will review later this year, and Mio’s Kingdom by Astrid Lindgren (1907-2002), the unforgotten and unforgettable Swedish doyenne of children’s literature.


Although first published already in 1954, Mio’s Kingdom (also translated as Mio, My Son) still is a highly topical novel today because its protagonist, nine-year-old Karl Anders Nilsson, is a neglected and abused child craving for love and attention like too many in our modern society. He is an orphan living with foster parents who don’t really care about him. In fact, they don’t like children, least of all boys because they are loud, they make a mess and they sully everything. One evening in October his foster mother sends him to the bakery to get her a packet of her favourite rusk. The baker woman asks Andy to post a card for her. When he is about to throw it into the letterbox, the writing on it suddenly shines like fire thus rousing the boy’s curiosity. The message on the card intrigues Andy because it seems to refer to him and he sits down in the park to think about it. There an empty bottle attracts his attention. At first it looks just like an ordinary beer bottle, but then Andy realises that there’s something moving inside. It’s a genie! As it turns out the genie was sent to take Andy – who is really called Mio as he soon learns – back home to his father, the King of the Farawayland. And that’s the beginning of the fantastic adventures of Mio and all the new friends that he finds in his kingdom while drifting towards the inevitable big showdown with evil Sir Kato in his black castle in the Land Outside.


In Mio’s Kingdom Astrid Lindgren takes her readers from bleak reality into a fairy-tale kingdom of an always kind and loving father, happy children, flying white horses, enchanting music, a murmuring well… and the evil Sir Kato who needs to be fought and stopped for the sake of the threatened people. It’s an imagined refuge where good necessarily wins over evil. A story that children and grown-ups alike will love for its beauty and its magical power.


Mio's Kingdom - Astrid Lindgren,Jill Morgan 

Mio, My Son - Astrid Lindgren,Ilon Wikland,Jill M. Morgan  


* * * * * 


http://karensbooksandchocolate.blogspot.com/2014/12/announcing-back-to-classics-challenge.htmlThis review is a contribution to the
Back to the Classics Challenge 2015

namely to the category Children's Classic.


»»» see my post for this challenge on Edith's Miscellany with the complete reading list.

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