Short summary - The Seducer's Diary - Søren Kierkegaard

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Seducer's Diary
Søren Kierkegaard

The Seducer's Diary is a part of the Danish philosopher and writer Soren Kierkegaard's most famous book, Either-Or, written in the form of a novel, sometimes published separately. In the "Preface" to the book, its imaginary publisher Viktor Eremita explains: the notes he published were found in an old bureau bought on the occasion. By handwriting and content, he divided them into two volumes: the first contains articles and works of an “aesthetic nature”, written, obviously, by one person, whom he conventionally called Mr. A, the second contains edifying and philosophical letters of a certain assessor Wilhelm, addressed to Mr A.

The “Diary” is included in the first “aesthetic” volume attributed to the pen of Mr. A. However, on its very first page, Mr. A refuses authorship: he just found the diary - in the drawer of his friend Johannes, who left Copenhagen for several days. The contents of the notebook, entitled "Commentarius perpetuus" (meaning "Endless Commentary") by its true author, and several other draft letters found in the same box, so impressed Mr. A's imagination that he decided to rewrite them: he had considered his friend to be an outstanding nature, half living in a magical world of beauty, separated from reality only by a thin transparent veil, having become acquainted with his diary, he discovered for himself: Johannes' life itself is a series of conscious attempts on his part to fulfill his dream - to live exclusively poetically, and since he has a highly developed ability to find interesting things around him, he makes full use of it, and then poetically reproduces what he experienced on paper.

Most of all, Johannes, as the diary testifies, is interested in love affairs and girls - an undoubted part of the beautiful. True, the spiritual side that prevails in his nature does not allow him to be content with the base role of an ordinary seducer - that would be too rude - no, in a love, or, as Johannes puts it, "erotic" game, he most of all appreciates precisely the virtuoso possession of it. . In fact, Mr. A judges from Johannes's diary, most often the ultimate goal of his friend's persistent harassment turned out to be ... only a bow or a smile. However, this is not the case with the main character of the diary, Cordelia (her real name was changed by Johannes), whom Mr. A knows well: she herself handed him the letters sent to her by Johannes, as well as several more addressed to Johannes, but not opened by him and sent back by him. letters - the cry of her loving and rejected soul.

The diary opens with Johannes' entries made in early April. Once his attention was attracted by a girl gracefully jumping from the footboard of the carriage. A few days later, he meets her walking along the street, accompanied by a footman. The footman falls awkwardly and smears himself in the mud, and Johannes gallantly escorts the girl to the carriage. A few days later, he meets her again on the street - this time on the arm of an elderly woman: the beauty of the girl amazes him, but after just a few minutes, Johannes cannot remember her face, and this torments him, for some reason he wants to remember him necessarily,

Johannes is seriously interested. He is looking for a stranger on the streets and in theaters, at opening days, takes long walks around Copenhagen. And then one day he meets her in the evening immediately after sunset at one of the outposts. The girl stands and looks at the boy fishing in the lake with a bait. The boy is dissatisfied with her attention. The girl laughs and leaves. Johannes hurriedly follows her and, in order to examine her, runs ahead and goes into one of the houses to look at the girl from the window - and just then he loses her.

But a few days later he meets her again. Johannes sees a stranger on the street in the company of other girls: they call her Cordelia. Johannes follows them and finds out: Cordelia visits Mrs. Jansen's house, her parents (father-captain and mother) died long ago, Cordelia lives with her aunt, a virtuous and strict woman. Johannes enters Mrs. Jansen's house and is introduced to Cordelia, but he does not impress the girl, which is to his advantage. From now on, he intends to see her only as if by chance, calculating, for example, the time in such a way as to meet her, entering the house at the moment when she leaves it. His plan is cunning. It is necessary to find a fiance for Cordelia - a decent and handsome young man, not too far, however, - in a word, who has no chances compared to him, Johannes.

And such a person is quickly found. The son of the merchant Baxter, Edward, is in love with Cordelia with the first and reverent love. To meet Edward and win his friendship for Johannes is a mere trifle. He sincerely advises the young man not to be too dreamy and act more resolutely - sigh enough! Soon both of them are regular guests in Aunt Cordelia's house, and Johannes, Edward's adviser and accomplice in matters of the heart, diverts the aunt's attention from the couple, he occupies the mistress of the house with conversations on agricultural topics. Johannes' inattention to Cordelia is defiantly insulting: Johannes behaves like an old man; Cordelia feels that something is wrong here, she is intrigued and ignores the babbling of Edward in love, listening instead to the pseudo-serious conversations of Johannes and her aunt, reeking of "milk poetry" and "cheese dialectics". Although from time to time Johannes injects a word or two into his speech, from which the aunt goes numb, realizing that they are from another world - philosophy and high poetry (however, they are not intended for her hearing). Johannes gradually prepares Cordelia for her future role as a lover: he selects books for her to read, which, of course, Edward brings into the house on his behalf, condescends to talk with her about music.

Finally, Johannes decides: Edward has played his part, he is no longer needed. In the outpouring of his feelings, the young man can lose his measure, break loose, declare his love to Cordelia and thereby complicate and spoil the planned intrigue. Therefore, Johannes “plays ahead of the curve”: he is the first to propose to Cordelia a marriage proposal, she does not answer him, entrusting the decision to her aunt, and she gladly gives her consent - thus Johannes and Cordelia are engaged, they are the bride and groom. But Johannes is not going to marry, he has other far-reaching plans, he does not doubt for a minute that he will force Cordelia to break off the engagement and at the same time win her love. Although he does not pursue the possession of it, the main thing for him is "pleasure in the artistic and aesthetic sense." The struggle for love begins: Johannes retreats, promising Cordelia an easy victory over himself: he demonstrates love for her in all its manifestations - in anxiety, passion, longing, hope, impatience. He is sure that by showing Cordelia the power of love that possesses him, he will convince her: love is a great power, and she will want to love ...

Johannes continues the siege: he writes passionate letters filled with romantic passion and frank love languor, but at the same time, every time he meets Cordelia, he behaves with her with underlined self-control and irony,

Does he really love Cordelia? Yes! Sincerely? Yes. With good intentions? Yes, in an aesthetic sense. He wants to awaken love in her. But love seizes Johannes himself, and at the same time so much that for a while he refrains from courting, as usual, several girls at once, and changes his principle, which says that “just in case, a fisherman needs to cast small fishing rods and on the side."

Finally, Johannes is convinced that Cordelia has been awakened, and he doubles the ardor of the letters: his whole life is presented in them as a myth he created about Cordelia. According to Johannes, the girl quickly learns the lessons of love - now sometimes she sits on his knees, her arms gently wrap around his neck. “Her passion can be called naive ... when I start to retreat, she will use all her efforts to keep me, and for this she will have only one means - love.” Accordingly, Johannes begins to show coldness: now, when meeting with Cordelia, he assumes the appearance of a man obsessed with an idea and talking about it all the time, without noticing the bride. In his letters, he inspires Cordelia with the idea that the engagement fetters, binds his feelings, true deep love can only be a secret ... And Johannes achieves his goal: Cordelia returns his word and breaks off the engagement. Her aunt is somewhat puzzled by this news, but she is too liberal to captivate her niece, and she directly sympathizes with Johannes.

Cordelia is allowed to leave for a few days in the village to visit friends. Johannes continues to write to her, he strengthens (his imaginary or real?) beloved in contempt for the opinion of the world and convinces her of the greatness of the power of love, reproducing a legend in one of his letters: Alpheus fell in love with the nymph Arethusa while hunting. She did not want to heed his pleas and ran away from him until she finally turned into a source. Alpheus grieved for her so much that he himself became a stream. But even in his new form, he did not forget his beloved and connected underground with a dear source ... Doesn't he, Johannes, now that he and Cordelia are separated, rush into the dark depths to connect with her?

Johannes carefully prepares the furnishings for the dacha where Cordelia is to be brought to him. Here is the same tea table as in Aunt Cordelia's house, the same lamp on the table - but everything is much more luxurious. And in the living room there is the same piano as the one on which Cordelia played a Swedish folk song at one of the moments when Johannes was invisibly admiring her view.

The last entry in the "Diary" is dated 25 September. It's all over: Johannes doesn't want to see Cordelia anymore. Once the girl gave herself, she lost everything. “Alas, the days when a deceived girl could turn from grief into a heliotrope have passed!”

Johannes is now interested in the question: is it possible to "poetically get out of the girl's heart" in order to leave in her the proud conviction that it was she who abandoned the seducer, and not he her?