First, I think I should speak a little about religion. I imagine that you, Guillermo, were raised Roman Catholic. I don't know if you were raised in a religious family, Joffre, but since you're Southern, I imagine that if you were it was probably either Baptist or Methodist. (The little you've shared about your family doesn't much sound like Pentecostals to me.) Anyway, I don't know if either of you ever give serious thought to the concept of "God's will."
This is a profoundly Protestant concept, that derives in part from the idea of a Personal Savior. Please don't mistake me for making fun of this concept. I have thought about it a great deal. The most common view seems to be that God is a loving, indulgent Father, and this His will is pretty much our will. I have noticed that most people who, when faced with a decision that they say they "are going to pray about," generally wind up doing exactly what they wanted to do in the first place. A second version, hardly less childish than the first, is that God's will is whatever you don't want. This derives from a stern, unforgiving, rigid sort of church (the Lutheran pastors in Bergman movies come to mind). Clearly, Gregarious falls into the first category and Helga, at least as a girl, fell into the second. (My own thoughts are neither of the above. I'm not embarrassed to share them with you two, but they are not relevant to the novel.)
This is important because even Helga says, in describing what she describes as marital rape, that "He's no hypocrite." It also is the key to understanding why she married. After escaping from the man who tried to seduce her, who at last unlocked her sexuality, Helga was consumed by guilt. She consequently believed that Gregorius' offer of marriage was God presenting her with an acceptable (to Him) way of quenching her unacceptable sexual appetite. Although sex with Gregorius was always "difficult," it only became "unbearable" after she began sleeping with Recke.
I went through the text carefully. Gregorius is actually popular with his congregation, perhaps because he takes a kindly, rather than stern, view of God's will. But if his unattractive demeanor was a problem for everybody, he would hardly "enjoy the favour of his congregation." It's true that Glas, Helga, and Markel and Birck find him disgusting (in other words, almost every actual character in the novel), but Glas' opinion is the pathological one. And apparently not general.
One could argue that it was wrong of Gregorius to ask for the hand of such young girl after becoming a widower. He was, I figure, 51 when they married. However, not only do I imagine that this was not unusual in fin-de-siŔcle Sweden, it's not that unusual today. I have several 50-something male patients, divorced, who are trying to find someone through internet dating. At least two that I can think of off-hand are looking for women much younger than themselves. I have attempted to gently nudge them toward more age-appropriate women, partly because I think they are unlikely to find a much younger mate and partly because I fear for them if they actually do. But I hardly think that they are committing a capital offense by wishing for a young one.
Second, in a society in which divorce is extremely unusual, you would have to find a widow to find an older prospective wife. Presumably they would have been much less common than today's many divorcees. Third, although Glas mocks Gregorius' wish to father a child, how are we to know that it is not true? He did not have one with his first wife. Why would he not be interested in marrying a woman still in her child-bearing years? Fourth, fifty-one is not really that old. I'll bet if Gregorius looked like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, both of whom are in their fifties, she would be more than happy to have conjugal relations.
So, the only actual report of Gregorius doing anything wrong is the charge of marital rape. This is certainly more delicate. I think, though, that we should not judge Gregorius by our twenty-first century standards. Marital rape became a crime in Sweden in 1965. This is much earlier than in all 50 US states and much earlier than Mexico. Still, it was sixty years after this novel was published. I don't know if S÷derberg was so enlightened that he truly believed that such a thing was possible in 1905, but certainly his audience would have found it a strange claim for a wife to bring against her lawful husband. I think that Gregorius would sincerely have believed that he had an actual right to force his intentions on his wife. In 1905, he would not have violated the law. He did not violate custom or conventional morality of the time. Indeed, if Helga were at all attracted to him, she would almost certainly have simply given in. Unless, of course, she was in love with someone else.
It is a reflection of Helga's shallowness that she has fallen in love with such a sleazy cad as Recke turns out to be. We know almost nothing about him, but I looked at the timeline. On August 21, he asks Helga to run away to America with him. Glas (and probably Helga) believe the this is because she has told him that she is pregnant, but let's look more closely. The next day, August 22, Glas murders Gregorius. On August 26, the day of the funeral, only five days after asking Helga to run away with him, Recke is seen in the restaurant with the rich girl he has been wooing. The conclusion? Recke is manipulative enough to know that Helga would never actually run away with him. He asks her to precipitate an excuse for a break because knowledge of his engagement will shortly be public knowledge. Great choice, Helga.
Now then, let us come to Glas. Bringing my psychologist's skills to bear, some very interesting things emerge. One, why in the world does he count among his "best childhood memories" the time he was beaten by his father unjustly? And why, on the contrary, is he unable to forgive his father for "merited thrashings?" My answer is that in the former case, he is able to be magnanimous and forgive his father. As a consequence, he can feel very good about himself. On the other hand, he is totally unable to face up to his own shortcomings, so he projects them on to his father. Glas appears to be totally unaware of this. It could be a partial explanation for why he does not see his personal issues as an adult.
His profound physical aversion to his father suggests a possibility of childhood sexual abuse. Since we are to accept that this is a personal diary, presumable Glas would be more direct if such a thing had happened. Still, there is something quite compelling about "fear of death and of contact with his [his father's] naked body were practically equal." That would go a long way toward explaining both his virginity and his immature, childish revulsion toward sexuality. Glas doesn't really want a real woman. He wants an idealized vision of a woman. He is only attracted to women that he can't have. He is uninterested in women that actually want him (Eva Mertens).
He is fooling himself again with the poison pellets. He pretends that he is not seriously thinking of suicide and made them up "just in case." That's ridiculous. He obviously could make them when he needed to if he became ill or impoverished. Clearly, at some point previous to our narrative, he thought seriously enough of suicide to make them. He simply won't admit the truth to himself.
Gregorius is the right age to be Glas' father, and he feels a strong physical aversion to both. (He claims to be "fond" of his father, but that is probably partly vanity--his father admired his intelligence--and partly reaction-formation.) It is not a big jump to imagine that Helga lit the fuse that had been burning all his life.
It is a measure of S÷derberg's skill that it seems to be a nearly justifiable homicide because we are so deeply into Glas' diseased mind that his personal disgust seems almost reasonable to us, despite his actually admitting "What's disgusting is not him, the man himself, but the impression I have of him."
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