Short summary - The Red Room - August Strindberg

Scandinavian literature summaries - 2023

Short summary - The Red Room
August Strindberg

Second half of the 60s. 19th century Stockholm, May. A young man who is sick of serving in the Collegium of Bureaucratic Salaries (this is the name of the ministry) is burning with a desire to benefit society. He meets with Struve, a venerable journalist from the opposition Little Red Riding Hood, and asks him for advice and help: from today, he, Arvid Falk, quits public service and devotes himself entirely to literature. The highly experienced Struve dissuades Arvid: if now he lives in order to work, then, while studying literature, he will have to work in order to live - in other words: a hungry person has no principles. But Struve's words—and both interlocutors understand this—are in vain. Youth strives for the impossible - the liberation of the world, nothing less. Struve, having listened attentively to Arvid's caustic story about ministerial procedures and writing something down on his cuffs, the very next day publishes an article from his words and earns a tidy sum from it, without saying a word during the entire conversation that in a few hours before her, he had already exchanged the liberal Little Red Riding Hood for the conservative newspaper Gray Cloak, where he was promised more.

This is only the first of the lessons of the new free life, the main content of which is - naturally, in addition to freedom - lack of money and need. Arvid tries to get hold of money from his brother Karl-Nikolaus Falk, a shop owner and a rich man, but in a fit of righteous anger, he only calls him a swindler. Didn't Arvid give him the last time he borrowed a receipt that he had received in full all that was due to him from his father's inheritance?

Having destroyed his younger brother morally, Karl-Nikolaus comes into a great mood and offers to take him to a restaurant for breakfast. But Arvid, frightened by such unexpected generosity, immediately, without saying goodbye, disappears into the street. He has somewhere to go. He is heading to the suburban town of Lille-Yans, where his friends and acquaintances live and work - the short sculptor Olle Montanus, the talented painter Sellen, the unscrupulous zhuir artist Lundell, the skinny and dull as a pole, the philosopher-writer Ygberg and the young baron from an impoverished noble family Renjelm posing for artists instead of a sitter. All free evenings this impoverished fraternity spends in the Red Room - the hall of the Bern restaurant - where the Stockholm youth meet, who have already left their parental shelter, but have not yet acquired their own roof over their heads. For the sake of a delicious dinner, a modest drink and friendly communication, Arvid's acquaintances are ready to say goodbye to the last - a jacket, boots, even sheets - preferably not their own, but a friend's.

Yes, a restaurant needs money - the blood pulsing in the veins of a huge and infinitely diverse organism upon closer acquaintance with it. This is exactly what Arvid Falk is doing now as a correspondent for Little Red Riding Hood. The impressions are depressing. At the meetings of the Riksdag, Arvid is surprised by the zeal with which the parliamentarians discuss trifles, and their indifference to issues that are crucial for the country; at the reporting meeting of shareholders of the Triton Marine Insurance Company, he was amazed at the ease with which, it turns out, the company was organized by several scoundrels who then did not have a penny for their souls (and in fact, in circumstances unfavorable for the case, they did not make up for anything to the victims were going to - in any case, the state would take over the debts of the society). Already somewhat familiar with the newspaper business, Arvid is indignant at the hidden springs and rods exposed on closer inspection, with the help of which businessmen from journalism and literature control public opinion: the publishing magnate Smith, for example, creates and destroys writers' reputations at his own discretion ("The other day I said to his Friend Ibsen: “Listen, Ibsen, we are on “you” with him, “listen, Ibsen, write something for my journal, I’ll pay you what you want!” He wrote, I paid, but I was paid too”) . And previously a skeptic of religion, Arvid is struck by the sheer scale of purely commercial operations that take place behind the signs of religious and charitable societies.

The theater is no better than anything else (the theatrical world in the novel is shown by the author not through the eyes of the protagonist, but by his spiritual counterpart, the young Baron Renjelm, who also decided to become an actor out of ideal motives). The attempts of the famous tragedian Falander to dissuade him do not stop Renjelm, who also managed to fall in love with the sixteen-year-old actress Agnes, who also likes him. “Well,” Falander advises him, “let him take it, enjoy life” (“love like the birds of heaven, without thinking about the hearth!”). No, the young moralist decides, he cannot now marry Agnes (as if he is asked to do so), spiritually he is not yet worthy of her.

Renjelm's theatrical career does not add up, he is not given a role. The director of the theater (he is also the owner of a match factory, he is also a great playwright) does not give the role to Agnes, extorting love from her in return, which, as it turns out, has already been given to Falander, who is experienced in matters of the heart. But Falander is not the main thing for Agnes: a role is needed - and the director achieves her goal. Wounded to the depths of his soul, Falander opens his eyes to Renjelm. In the morning he invites Agnes, who had spent the night with the director, and at the same time Renjelm to his place in the morning - in essence, he arranges a confrontation with them. The young baron cannot stand this scene and flees from the city where the troupe is touring, back to Stockholm, refusing his first role of Horace in Hamlet, which he was supposed to play in the evening.

Meanwhile, Arvid Falk continues to uphold the lofty ideals of humanity and social justice. He attends meetings of the Riksdag and church councils, the board of church societies and charitable organizations, is present at police investigations, attends festivities, funerals and public meetings. And everywhere he hears beautiful words that do not mean what they should mean. Thus, Falk develops "an extremely one-sided idea of man as a deceitful social animal." The discord between the ideal and reality is solved by his friends, artists and writers, in an original way and each in his own way. Ygberg, for example, tells Falk that he has no convictions, no honor, he only fulfills the most important duty of a person - to survive. Sellen, a true talent, is completely immersed in solving his artistic tasks. Medic Borg generally despises all social conventions, asserting in their place the will - the only criterion of his, Borg, personal truth. Lundell, having become a fashionable portrait painter and forgetting about all the problems, adapts to the circumstances, and although his soul is black, he lives, trying not to look into his soul.

But one more thing remains. One day, having overheard a dispute between a carpenter and ladies from a charitable society who visited his house, Arvid learns about the discontent ripening among the people. The carpenter directly threatens: for hundreds of years, the common people, the lower classes, beat the kings; next time they will hit the idlers who live off the labor of others. So maybe the future belongs to the workers? Having achieved some recognition as a poet by this time, Arvid Falk leaves the festive table in his brother’s house, preferring to him the meeting of the working union “Morning Star”, where, however, he hears only the truths about the patriotism of the Swedes that have set the teeth on edge - to a real worker, just that carpenter , which Arvid heard, the words do not give. Arvid's friend Olle Montanus is also dragged off the podium: still, he encroached on the "sacred cow" of the Swedes - on patriotism! Olle argues that there is no national self-consciousness in Sweden: in fact, the south of the country has always gravitated and gravitates towards the Danes, the west, led by the city of Gothenberg, towards the British, the Finns live in the Finnish northern forests, metallurgy has always been dominated by those who founded it in Sweden in 17th century Walloons, and the gene pool of the nation was destroyed by the military campaigns of the famous Swedish monarchs - Charles X, Charles XI and Charles XII. So long live internationalism! Long live Charles XII! And may Georg Shernjelm, the creator of the Swedish literary language, perish! If not for him, the Swedes would speak German, understandable to all Europeans!

Arvid Falk leaves the insufficiently radical "Little Red Riding Hood" for the "Working Banner". But even here he feels uncomfortable: contrary to the simplest common sense, the editor of the newspaper extols “everything is only working”, he manages the newspaper, forgetting about the democracy he glorifies, like a dictator or tyrant, not even stopping at corporal punishment (the editor beat the delivery boy). In addition, and this is the most important thing, it is also venal. Arvid is on the verge of despair... And at that moment he is picked up by newspapermen from the tabloid "Viper", from whose embrace Borg rescues him, the most original and honest person, recognizing nothing but his own will. Borg takes Arvid on a yacht to the skerries, where he cures him of cringing before the common man ("from the habit of breaking his hat at the sight of any redneck"). Medic Borg's treatment is producing brilliant results. Having lost faith in all his ideals, Arvid Falk gives up. He goes to work in a gymnasium boarding school for girls and serves freelance in the Collegium for supplying cavalry regiments with fresh hay, as well as in the Collegium of Distillation and in the Department of Taxation of the Dead. Falk also happens to be at family dinners, where the women find him interesting, and he occasionally tells them nasty things. He also visits the Red Room, meeting Dr. Borg, Sellen, and other old acquaintances there. The former rebel completely got rid of dangerous views and became the most pleasant person in the world, for which he is loved and respected by his superiors and comrades in the service.

But still, - Borg writes a few years later to the artist Sellen in Paris, - Falk is unlikely to calm down; he is a fanatic of politics and knows that he will burn if he lets the flame flare up, and therefore, by persistent studies in numismatics (Falk is now also engaged in this too), he tries to put out the smoldering fire. Borg does not rule out that Arvid already belongs to one of the secret societies that have emerged recently on the continent. And further. Falk married, by force obtaining an agreement on the marriage of his daughter from her father, a former military man.