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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Weary Men

Arne Garborg

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Weary Men

Title: Weary Men
Author: Arne Garborg
Genre: Novel
Written: 1891 (Eng. 1998)
Length: 255 pages
Original in: Norwegian
Availability: Weary Men - US
Weary Men - UK
Weary Men - Canada
  • Norwegian title: Trætte Mænd
  • Translated by Sverre Lyngstad
  • With an Afterword by Per Buvik

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Our Assessment:

B+ : feverish fin de siècle soul-searching, with a Nordic spin

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 10//12/1999 Carolyne Larrington

  From the Reviews:
  • "Garborg's ability to evoke the bleak interior world of the man who believes he is truly the only freethinker among his freethinking friends, yet who, in his dealings with women, is constrained by intellectual, aesthetic and class snobbery, is surpassed only by his extraordinary imagination: a later section of the novel forecasts almost exactly the invention of cable television. There is pleasure to be found in the ironic juxtaposition of Garborg's hero with his contemporaries, but somehow Weary Men was, despite its surprising ending, somewhat wearying to read." - Carolyne Larrington, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Weary Men is narrated by Gabriel Gram, who is very much in crisis. A main pre-occupation is the woman-problem: should he settle down and marry ? Can he love ?
       But there's more too, a general fin de siècle ennui, as he searches for meaning. It's a basic conflict he has trouble working his way through, jokingly reduced to:

I often wonder what's worth more: an elegant woman's foot or a serious philosophy of life.
       His melancholy disposition certainly makes the going hard:
     If I am so morbidly inclined from the outset, so disharmonious in my basic system -- nerves, brain, spinal cord, ganglia -- that everything turns into suffering for me; if, that is, I lacked from the very outset the pig's and philistines calm, devout disposition, then I can't become a philistine or pig however gladly I "would". In the last resort, you see, I am not capable of willing it.
       But he is tempted to try.
       The novel is almost like a diary, a collection of accumulated notes and jottings in which he has unburdened himself (as well as describing some of what is happening in his life). Like diary-entries, they tend to be personal and soul-searching, and if not quite hysterical he certainly has a Romantic streak to him. Nevertheless, he's not so much life-weary as he is torn between the sacrifice of settling down (he can't imagine himself tied to one woman, and can't imagine love surviving that), finding meaning in life (perhaps through belief in a god ?) and suicide.
       There are several women in his life, but he (and they) can't commit -- though occasionally he finds himself almost giving in out of desperation:
     I can't stand it. I'll go mad. I'd better risk this marriage of convenience all the same, to have someone around. Not to be alone in that dreary apartment throughout long stormy nights, when ghosts and spirits knock; marriage is probably still the best one can come up with to protect oneself from eternity, which, dark and cold like an October night, will descend upon a tossed-about soul in the wilderness.
       Suicide seems a way out, but ultimately only as an idea to play with, a distraction. He's worried about it becoming known that he was a suicide, and every possible 'accident' might not meet with success. Woman is at fault, of course:
     Without her I don't care to live. Anything is better than to live with this wastage, which sucks my head dry of wit and my bones of marrow. But I can't live with her either. I love her to the point of madness, but not enough.
       The interesting final alternative is his flirtation with religion. Religion seems like it would offer meaningfulness -- but Gram has a problem: he doesn't believe. Still, he's open to suggestion:
     "It's purely a matter of will," the pastor says. "If one wants to believe, one can."
       Gram's main problem seems to be a lack of willpower, so even such a commitment is a lot to expect from him, but he's sorely tempted:
     I must have a God. A soul center no. 2 .... A burden is easier to bear when it's divided.
     I need a God, therefore I invent him. And I pray, pray: God, give me the madness it takes to believe ! -- or to die.
       Yes, he's quite the tormented soul, and yes, it feels a bit too feverish and tortured ("Fall is my season, especially when there's rain and fog") when read now, over a century later. And yet the fundamental conditions are surprisingly familiar, the complaints thoroughly modern. Occasionally he gets it entirely wrong, but the concern rings true: his tone drips with irony when he writes: "Oh, what progress the country has made under the blessings of democracy !" and he's concerned about the rapid changes forced upon the country by modernity -- foreigners buying up property, farmers mortgaging their land: he thinks it can only lead to disaster. As with his personal life, he wants the safety of sameness, and can't envision real progress on any front. Far from in any way (beyond the sexual) revolutionary, he is deeply reactionary -- and it is for this reason that the novel's conclusion (the choice he makes) should come as no surprise.
       Weary Men is a fin de siècle tale of the decadent school, but with a distinctly Nordic touch. Not as twisted as Strindberg, Garborg (still with a Romantic streak in him, unlike Strindberg) does have an appealing style and the ideas Gram is obsessed with are certainly of interest. The character can be hard to take seriously -- the marriage-concerns are somewhat dated (though certainly understandable in the context of those times), and the suicidal thoughts rarely sound very convincing -- but there's enough flair to his account to overcome that for the most part.
       The book isn't truly fragmentary -- Garborg doesn't entirely explode the novel-form -- but does read somewhat haltingly, especially as much of it involves philosophical (self-)debate. But there's enough action and turmoil here to move things along and hold the reader's interest.
       Gram observes:
Fin de siècle. Strange times. The world is on the eve of another turning point. The more we know, the more we see that we can know nothing; all we can do is to recognize this and seek remedies elsewhere.
       It's a feeling that we still haven't entirely moved beyond (or that we've returned to, yet again), and while Garborg's proffered solutions aren't entirely convincing, Gram's quest and questions still resonate.
       Something of an historical curiosity, but still worthwhile.

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Weary Men: Arne Garborg: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Norwegian author Arne Garborg lived 1851 to 1924.

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© 2006-2010 the complete review

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