Hjalmar Söderberg’s partly autobiographical second novel was originally published in 1901, and traces the development of the title character from a seemingly idyllic Stockholm childhood to maturity as a thirty-year-old man, an introspective outsider, critical of society, constantly searching for the truth but going through a gradual process of disillusionment. He dreams of being a poet, but is too melancholic to break free from his modest bureaucratic career, and slowly drifts towards nihilism and aestheticism.
Martin Birck’s Youth is a book rich in fin-de-siècle themes – melancholy, eroticism and decadence abound. The Stockholm depicted here is a haunting city of shadows and snowstorms, suppressed passion and loneliness. The conflict between dreams and reality which occurs in so many novels of the period is central to the novel, and its preoccupation with issues of free will, determinism and morality prefigures Söderberg’s next novel, the highly acclaimed Doctor Glas (in which Martin Birck makes a cameo appearance).