by Pär Lagerkvist

Paper Book, 1999



Call number




Stockholm : Bonnier, 1999 ;


"I have noticed that sometimes I frighten people; what they really fear is themselves. They think it is I who scare them, but it is the dwarf within them, the ape-faced manlike being who sticks up his head from the depths of their souls." Pär Lagerkvist's richly philosophical novelThe Dwarf is an exploration of individual and social identity. The novel, set in a time when Italian towns feuded over the outcome of the last feud, centers on a social outcast, the court dwarf PIccoline. From his special vantage point Piccoline comments on the court's prurience and on political intrigue as the town is gripped by a siege. Gradually, Piccoline is drawn deeper and deeper into the conflict, and he inspires fear and hate around him as he grows to represent the fascination of the masses with violence.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member ocgreg34
Set in Renaissance Italy, "The Dwarf" introduces a most unique literary character -- that of a man no more than twenty-six inches in height, but with an ego far grander and far more devious than any regular-sized person. The dwarf recounts the tale of his master, The Prince, working on a scheme to
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seize the stronghold of Montanza from his enemy, Il Toro, and at the same time grumbles on about the Princess and other member of the court. As a dwarf, people of the court look at him patronizingly and sometimes forget that he's even present so he goes about his business without bother. Through his subjective vision, the world of Renaissance Italy springs to life, with the wealthy living the high life, the fantastic art and weaponry of the age created by Maestro Bernardo (who strongly resembles Leonardo Da Vinci), the weariness of war and the terror of plague.

The dwarf sets himself above humans, declaring many times that he is not like them and comes from a much older race of beings. At the same time, he calls his fellow dwarves buffoons and can't stand being around them because "they have to make jokes and play tricks to make their masters and the guests laugh." Only he can make real sense of what is going on around the palace, and only he knows what truly lies in the hearts of those at court -- especially that of the Prince. In that respect, I think the author makes him more human than he would like to believe. We all sometimes think we know more than we actually will let on, getting us into trouble. When he takes his "intuition" of the Prince's needs a step too far, though, he holds onto that sense of being above everyone like a liferaft, keeping him safe from the world around him.

With "The Dwarf", author Pär Lagerkvist has created a truly ugly character, filling him with all the evils within the human heart -- he lusts for war and battle, feels no remorse for killing another human (or dwarf), and has a superiority complex like no other. This makes for an interesting character study and is definitely worth a read.
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LibraryThing member janeajones
It strikes me that both The Dwarf and Lagerkvist's The Sibyl are about the divine that resides deep inside all of us -- but much closer to the surface in some. This divine is amoral -- it doesn't follow the rules of good or evil -- it's much more like the divine power in the Book of Job.
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The Dwarf is an allegory set in Renaissance Italy. I don't think the Dwarf is actually even a character in the novel despite that he is the narrator. He's the impulse to power, to avenge, to destroy, that lurks in humanity. When it's unleashed, all hell breaks loose. At the end of the novel, he's chained to an underground cell, but he knows that he'll be freed at some point, because he is needed.

In The Sibyl, the Wandering Jew, cursed with eternal life because he refused to let Jesus, on his way to be crucified, rest his head against his wall, has come to Delphi to seek wisdom from the Oracle. As an alien, he is driven away from the temple, but he discovers an ancient sybil high in the hills who recounts her tale of divine possession to him. She does not understand the divine possession that had taken hold of her, but she has borne the son of the god -- a mute idiot. Her life has been spent ostracized from the common life of humanity, except for a brief passionate love.

One interesting grace note that the novels share is that enigmatic smile -- the one that the painter Bernardo (Da Vinci) gives to his portrait of the Princess in The Dwarf and that an ancient statue of the god bears in The Sibyl:

"Suddenly he knew of what that perpetual smile reminded him. It was the image of a god which he had seen yesterday, down in the temple at Delphi: an ancient image standing somewhat apart as if to make room for newer, finer images. It had the same smile, enigmatic and remote, at once meaningless and inscrutable. A smile neither good nor evil, yet for that very reason frightening."

The characters in Lagerkvist's novels seem to be god-struck -- at once inspired and scapegoats for the common run of humanity (I couldn't help but to think of Ursula LeGuin's story, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas").

Lagerkvist's other two famous novels, Barrabas about the thief who is freed by Pontius Pilate in exchange for Jesus, and The Death of Ahasuerus, who is the wandering Jew, undoubtedly deal with a similar theme.
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LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
in a perfect world I'd have time to do this book justice--there is a lot to say. It is a story that seems simple until the end, when you see the twisted innards; I see it as an allegory on war guilt, a look at how we impose narratives of guilt and punishment on scapegoats to turn the infinitude of
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human suffering into the individual banishable ill, and a creepy gothic story about a melodramatized Italian Renaissance court and the atavistic dwarf who lets evil out of the bottle and looks on with his ancient eyes, who is expelled at the end but lies in wait still, who is nothing but what we made him. Second-best WWII face-of-evil story about a dwarf, after The Tin Drum, whose protagonist Oskar convinces as a human monster of ego and not just the mask on a malevolence.
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LibraryThing member phillipfrey
This book was a great read. It was first published in Sweden in 1945. Par Lagerkvist's income as a writer would have been much better had the book been earlier translated into English, which wasn't until 1958. Though in 1951, he did receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his book "Barabbas."
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"The Dwarf" and "Barabbas" are both spellbinding.

"The Dwarf" takes place in Italy during the Medici period. This particular dwarf does not consider himself human. He despises humans, and does nothing but plot against them. As the dwarf to a reigning prince he has the capability to destroy--perhaps in the Shakespearean fashion of an Iago, or a Richard III. The only "human" he has respect for is an artist, Maestro Bernardo, who comes to live at the castle to design weapons of war for the prince, while he paints a portrait of the princess, while at the same time works on his painting of the Last Supper. Remind you of anyone? Bernardo-Leonardo.

Read the first paragraph of this book and you'll be hooked. I have the first English printing of the paperback, which I had originally read decades ago. Rereading it now was an absolute treat.
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LibraryThing member Niecierpek
The story is narrated by a dwarf at an Italian court during the Renaissance period. The narration is interesting as it is both limited in omniscience and unreliable, but giving a great insight into the Dwarf’s character, his limitations and hang-ups. The story itself is full of interesting
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observations on human nature and the relationship of good and evil. It is all set on the background of love, deceit and intrigue, and played out by typical characters of the period.
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LibraryThing member ffortsa
In this short book from 1945, the author meditates on the sources of evil through the monologue of a dwarf in the court of a minor Italian prince in the Middle Ages. The personal relationshipos are very much in the Freudian mode, and the events of war and treachery reflect the world war during
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which it was written.

Piccoline, the dwarf, is the Id of the prince he worships, the child of the family, and in a deeper sense the embodiment of the evil that stirs in the human culture again and again. I'm not sure if the author intends this to be a cautionary tale or, in a strange way, a comfort for the inevitable upheavals to come, the fable that proves our evil can be chained but never fully escaped.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
The Dwarf is a dark and complex novella concerning the contrasts of the human condition on themes of good and evil, faith and reason, love and hate - just as in most of Lagervist's work. I like to imagine that Lagerkvist took cliche plots from Renaissance literature and redid in the style of
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modernism; and then like the negative of a photo, view the story from the opposite, light becomes dark and darkness light: a love story becomes a hate-story. A story of heroics and loyalty become one of poisoning and treachery - thus revealing truths of humanity buried. Some see it as an allegory of WWII Europe but Lagerkvist was writing on universal and timeless themes, probably inspired by current events of the war.
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LibraryThing member pjpjx
gives you another take on the ducal palace in Mantova
LibraryThing member coffeezombie
Somewhere between a classicist parable and an ethical study, this Swedish novel depicts the mind of a medieval dwarf serving a Machiavellian prince. The dwarf's deep cynicism and complete disregard for human life makes for some compelling contrasts. Wonderfully readable work.
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
This was my introduction to Lagerkvist and what a book it is. I found it unique in my experience and well worth rereading. It is narrated by the title Dwarf, 26 inches high, at the court of an Italian City-state in the renaissance. He is the narrator of the story, obviously obsessed by writing down
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his experiences in a form of diary. Everything in the novel is described from his particular viewpoint, mostly in retrospect, ranging from a few hours or minutes to several weeks or months after the actual events. The dwarf is a profound misanthrope and generally embodies all things evil. He hates almost every person at the court except for the prince (who is the ruler of the city-state, rather king than prince), or rather aspects of him. He loves war, brutality and fixed positions. While almost all other characters of the novel develop during the chain of events, the dwarf does not change. He is still exactly the same character from the first to the last page. He is deeply religious, but his take on Christianity includes the belief in a non-forgiving God. He is impressed with Bernardo's science but soon repelled by its relentless search for truth.
The exact locations are unclear, but since the character named Bernardo, which is unmistakably modeled on Leonardo da Vinci, appears in the novel and it is full of political inrigue that is truly Machiavellian the setting is not in doubt. In addition it is considered his most important novel and the most artistically innovative. If you are interested in Renaissance history or the politics of Machiavelli you are sure to find this novel a great read.
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LibraryThing member William-Tucker
This was a great book, very fun.
LibraryThing member dbsovereign
One of the most hateful narrators ever! And since he's not likeable himself, the novel is a bit difficult to stomach. Read it for insights that hate provides. A bit like getting to know your enemy.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
An evil little man talks about life. A glimpse into the rancor of angst and despair and hate which supposedly exists within us all.
LibraryThing member MSarki
At times a reading both fun and exhilarating, and occasionally periodic moments of disgust or despair. But between these covers hatred is seriously examined and accounted for. As the back cover blurbs suggest, there turns out to be absolutely no hope for anyone's redemption. And only a small
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person's colossal confidence that lives filled with disdain shall always remain and flourish.
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LibraryThing member billt568
This was a great book, very fun.
LibraryThing member Petroglyph
I really liked this one!

Historical fiction, set in Renaissance-era Italy, with squabbling city-states and courtly intrigues as the backdrop. The narrator, a dwarf kept as a curiosity by a local lord, has rejected all connections to humanity, and views everything and everyone else with
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barely-concealed hatred and disgust. Absolutely no-one he’s ever met has treated him in any other way than as a despicable non-human, and so he keeps himself aloof, separate from the accursed human race.

The narrator is unapologetically and just so delightfully evil. Early on in the book, to establish his character, Lagerkvist has him kill a kitten, just to hurt the child whose pet it is. As the novel progresses, and his lord’s ambitions soar, he delights in wreaking underhanded havoc, revels vicariously in crude bloodshed, and spews his indiscriminate revulsion at any and all.

It’s one of those books where the main character would be an awesome villain in someone else’s story, and where the story is one of things going from bad to worse for a fascinatingly evil main character, such that you enjoy the destruction while at the same time kinda rooting for and admiring them.
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LibraryThing member snugthejoiner
This guy's writing is so captivating. I haven't read this in over a decade, but I remember it packing an astonishing punch. As noted below, very dark, very nasty.


Original publication date


Physical description

157 p.; 18 cm


9100569771 / 9789100569778

Other editions

Dvärgen by Pär Lagerkvist (Paper Book)
Dvr̃gen by Pär Lagerkvist (Paper Book)
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