Doctor Glas, it should be noted, is a virgin at 30+ years of age and has a pathological horror of sex. His diary seems to be the only way he has of expressing his feelings, since he lacks close friends. However, and strangely, Glas is much more liberal than the average Swede of his time: if he refuses to perform abortions, it is not from conviction, but from an accommodation of contemporary mores, as he is averse to open rebellion.
While in "The End of the Affair" (tEotA), Maurice Bendrix cordially hates his rival, here Glas feels an undisguised, open hatred towards Gregorius, and surely for the right reasons, as the pastor seems to be hypocritical, lecherous, selfish, cruel and disgusting. So, when Helga asks him to lie to Gregorius to save her from repulsive sex, Glas accepts, not without much fretting and self-justification for this egregious break of medical ethics. It should be noted that his misanthropy is very rare, as he really sympathizes with other people, including women who approach him to ask for abortions. Far ahead of his time (and let's remember that this novel caused a scandal in Sweden when published), Glas is in favor of euthanasia: "The day will come, it must come, when the right to die will be recognized as a human right, much more important and inalienable than the right to cast a vote on a ballot", and so he keeps cyanide pills at hand.
Something that sets this love triangle apart from most other novels about adultery is that the triangle exists only in Glas's head: it is never consummated. Helga loves another man, a younger, handsomer, more successful guy. His actions, therefore, are more purely altruistic, since he never really expects to have sex or be loved with Helga. It is a service to humanity, in his eyes.
Glas says his story is not about love, but about "the dream of love". As in tEotA, this is struggle against God, but not, in this case, an internal struggle, but an external fight against the hypocrisy of the pastor.
What lies behind Glas's anguished conscience? He gives a strong clue himself: a cruel, repressive, harsh Father whose shadow is always over his life. He regrets not being an artist and seems to deny himself the possibility of happiness: "There is no dream of happiness that doesn't bite its own tail". His condition doesn't escape the acute insight of his friend (and wonderful character) Markel, who says: "There are people without a gift for happiness. Such persons don't look for happiness: they only try to put some form and style into their unhappiness. Glas is one of them".
Glas longs for love, but he doesn't know how to get it, and it hurts: "Nothing so reduces and degrades a human being as the conscience of not being loved". And it is surely true, painfully and universally true. "The world is unkind to those who love".
Transgressive even today, audacious, fierce and with a very Scandinavian sense of humor; bitter and melancholy, but ingenious, this novel is a masterful psychological portrait, a Dostoevskian thriller, tense and gripping, and it is justly considered a classic of Swedish letters.
It is also a wonderful description of Stockholm, a city I would love to visit.
I eagerly await Sterling's psychiatric insight and Joffre's existential comments on this work.
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