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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Red Room (1879) by August Strindberg

Berns Salonger, a venue in Stockholm Sweden, is the titular Red Room of the Strindberg novel.

Book Review
The Red Room (1879)
by August Strindberg
Translation by Peter Graves (2009)
published by Norvik Press

  This satire of Bohemian Swedish society is often called "the first modern Swedish novel."  It differs from many of the other classic early Scandanavian novels: Gosta Berling's Saga, The Growth of the Soil, in that it eschews a depiction of the slow, rural life in favor of a scene that wouldn't be out of place in London or Paris of the same time.  "The Red Room" of the title is a cafe/salon where Arvid Falk, an ex-civil servant and main character of the book, and his group of semi-successful bohemian artists, gather and mostly talk about ways to make money.

 Despite the bohemian milieu, much of the plot has to do with various schemes to raise money and here Strindberg is acerbic in a manner very reminiscent of other critiques of mid 19th century capitalist practices (See The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope.)

  Although amusing and sarcastic, the lack of a sympathetic central character and/or any female characters of note make The Red Room a bit of a false start in terms of the central themes in Scandinavian literature.  The overwhelming theme of the rural Scandinavian life, absent here, dominates Swedish literature well into the 20th century, making The Red Room an early outlier.

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