Doctor Glas, a short novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, tells the story of three months in the life of a young Stockholm doctor. Interestingly enough, there is a Canadian connection here, as the introduction was written by Margaret Atwood.
Dr. Glas feels down because he has never had a woman in his life (he repeated laments that life has passed him by), and life suddenly gets more complicated when he decides to take steps to make one woman’s life happier. The women in question, Mrs. Gregorius, comes to him complaining about the unwanted sexual activities her husband imposes on her. Dr. Glas councels Mr. Gregorius, a old pastor which Margaret Atwood compares to a troll, to slow down on sex on account of some heart problems. This provides some temporary relief to poor Mrs. Gregorius. She happens to have a lover on the side but that is not that important in the end. What does happen in the end is that Dr. Glas murders the poor pastor in order to free Mrs. Gregorius. He never does really find out her fate following her husband’s demise.
The form that this novel takes is that of an intimate journal, one that the doctor is constantly afraid should be found since it contains incriminating evidence of his involvement in the pastor’s death.
In the Introduction, Margaret Atwood states that “The uproar around Doctor Glas stemmed from the perception that it was advocating abortion and euthanasia, and was perhaps even rationalizing murder.”
In the beginning of the book, Dr. Glas write the following in his journal:
Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour. Why can’t I sleep? After all, I’ve committed no crime.
Certainly, this anticipates will comes later in the novel. A sense of alienation and a deep-seated loneliness, but also the committing of a crime. The sense of depression that settles on Dr. Glas in the end, brought on by comparison to the effect of autumn on nature, may lead to yet more irreversible decisions.
Söderberg, Hjalmar, Doctor Glas, Anchor Books, New York, 1991. (originally published in Swedish in 1905)