Stig Bäckman, Viktor Rydberg som Erland Månesköld. Om Sven Delblancs läsning av Singoalla. (Viktor Rydberg as Erland Månesköld. On Sven Delblanc’s Reading of Singoalla.)
It was not until 1983 that Singoalla, Viktor Rydberg’s short romantic novel, was published as a book. It appeared originally in a literary calendar in 1857. When Rydberg himself first had it published as a book in 1865, he wrote a completely new ending to it and also made other changes. It was Sven Delblanc who at last saw to it that the original version was made available to the general public. He also wrote an introduction where he puts forward a biographical reading of it which, in condensed form, also appeared in the third volume of the important Swedish literary history, Den svenska litteraturen, in 1988. Delblanc argues that the changes Rydberg made were intended to obscure the fact that the novel reflected homosexual desires and impulses in Rydberg himself. Delblanc detects erotic overtones in Erland Månesköld’s relation to Sorgbarn, and the final murder of the child is seen by him as a masked representation of homosexual intercourse. The pestilence comes as a punishment for this sexual violation etc. The purpose of this essay is not to say that Delblanc is "wrong", but only to question his assertion that this is the only true reading of the novel, that this deeper level of meaning exists in the text and, unless it is discovered, the novel cannot be properly understood nor, in fact, be fully appreciated.
A close scrutiny of Delblanc’s argument reveals that he does not offer any substantial textual evidence to sustain his interpretation. Rather, his understanding and appreciation of the novel is derived from an empathic understanding of Rydberg’s biography. It is this context that makes him construe meaning in the way he does. The importance of context is illustrated by applying a different context which fully explains all that which Delblanc claims to be incomprehensible unless you adopt his "sexual" point of view. This context is derived, not from Rydberg’s private life, but from ideas he held concerning the role of Nature in medieval Christianity, his adherence to neo-platonic philosophy and his idealization of childhood as an age of purity that can never be regained. It is argued that Sorgbarn, that sickly and moribund child, can be seen as Rydberg/Erland’s inner child, a painful reminder of a purity forever lost. That is one aspect of the atmosphere of sadness that permeates the novel. Another is the loss of an uncomplicated and positive contact with nature which is illustrated in the beginning of the novel in the youthful love between Erland and Singoalla. What happens to Erland is that he is severed from nature. In his state of weakness and memory-loss after being poisoned by the gypsies, he is influenced by pater Henrik, who stands as a representative for the Christian medieval Church. According to Rydberg, Christianity, due to oriental influences, had adopted a dualistic view according to which nature was seen as evil, whereas Greek Antiquity, for instance, held a monistic view where there was no conflict between spirituality and nature. Erland is indoctrinated by pater Henrik into believing that images of Singoalla that torment him in his dreams are manifestations emanating from the devil. It is only when he is under the influence of Sorgbarn’s hypnosis that he is able to feel once again his love for Singoalla and thus regain contact with nature. The note of sadness and loss in the novel is reinforced also by reflections of Rydberg’s Neo-Platonic beliefs. In an epilogue to the novel, there is a lamentation on the plight of Man as forever imprisoned in the never-ending cycle of birth and destruction on Earth, having to look to Eternity above to find something truly stable and lasting.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2004. Vol. 125, 78-91 p.