Hilde sits in her room, readingSophie’s World. Her mother asks her to lend a hand with the family motorboat, but Hilde says that she’s busy reading.
Hilde continues to ignore her mother—she’s more interested in the symbolic “parenthood” of her book than the literal parenting of her mother.
In the book, Sophie walks along the hedge by her house. She meets up with Joanna, and together they have a great time writing an invitation to a “philosophical garden party” on June 23, Midsummer Eve.
In the midst of all the philosophy and meta-fiction, we get a brief scene of Sophie just having fun with her friend.
Next Tuesday, Sophie gets a call from Alberto Knox, who explains that he’s received her invitation—he doesn’t say how. He reminds Sophie that June 23 is the day Albert Knag gets back from Lebanon.
The clock is ticking—Sophie and Alberto have decided that they must finish their lessons before Albert returns from Lebanon, so they have a chance to “escape.”
Alberto and Sophie meet up in the major’s cabin that afternoon. Alberto explains that he’s going to tell Sophie about the history of Romanticism in Europe. Romanticism was a rebuttal to the perceived coldness and emptiness of Enlightenment rationalism. In a way, though, Romanticism was just a logical continuation of Kantian thought. Kant had emphasized the importance of the mind and of perception—in this way, the Romantics concluded that every individual had the freedom to interpret the world in his own way. Another cornerstone of Romanticism was the emphasis on nature—in this sense, the Romantics weren’t so different from hippies 150 years later.
Alberto has a difficult task: he has to show how each successive philosophical movement was both a critique and a continuation of the preceding one. For example, Romanticism borrows many of the basic tenets of Enlightenment philosophy, yet critiques the Enlightenment for valuing reason more highly than emotion.
Alberto mentions Lord Byron, one of the key English Romantic poets. Another was Novalis, who fell in love with a young girl namedSophie,who died 4 days after her 15th birthday.Sophie finds this disturbing, since Sophie herself is now 15 years and 4 days old. Alberto dismisses this as a coincidence.
Sophie has plenty of doppelgangers in this text: Hilde herself, and now Novalis’s fiancée.This points to the fact that Sophie, as we understand her in the book, isn’t a unique individual: she’s just an “echo” of someone else’s reality. And yet we could say the same of Hilde, too.
Alberto moves on with his history of Romanticism, and Sophie listens eagerly—she’svery interested in Romanticism. The Romanticphilosopher Schelling (1775-1854) believed in the fundamental unity of nature and art, as well as mind and matter. One consequence of this idea is that studying the natural world and studying abstract ideas are just two sides of the same coin. Schelling also argued that culture was the most important part of a person’s identity. To understand a strange person, then, we must understand that person’s culture. Schelling’s renewed emphasis on the importance of culture was key in the rise of nationalism—the emphasis on a group of people’s common cultural identity, as organized by the nation-state.
Schelling is an interesting figure because he’s crucial to the development of the modern concept of a nation-state. So far, we’ve seen various cultural “units”: the city-state, the empire, the kingdom, etc. The nation-state is different from all of these, in the sense that the people of a nation share a common cultural heritage (similar to the feeling that Sophie felt after learning about the Judeo-Christian tradition). One could even say that Sophie’s philosophy lessons are really a history of the rise of the modern nation-state, and of the formation of Western culture as we now understand it.
One further consequence of Romantic nationalism was that countries became more interested in compiling their own folklore, a key part of their culture. It’s during this period (the 19th century) that the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen lived and worked—their compilations of fairy tales were monuments to their respective cultures. In general, Alberto claims, the fairy tale is the ideal Romantic form—a space in which the author can control his characters like a god.
This is an especially interesting passage because it provides something of a justification for the whimsical, playful format of this book. Fairy tales and children’s books aren’t just frivolous endeavors: they’re crucial in the formation of a nation. In the same way, one could argue that Sophie’s playful adventures with Winnie the Pooh and Alberto are crucial in teaching her about the nature of life.
Alberto continues talking about fairy tales. In the Romantic era, writers wrote works that acknowledged their own fictional nature. In Act Five of Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt, a character says, “One cannot die in the middle of Act Five.” Sophie finds this fascinating—the character in the play is essentially admitting that he’s just a fictional character. Alberto reminds Sophie that she won’t die like Novalis’s fiancée, since “there are several more chapters.” Sophie doesn’t understand whatthis means, but she complains that she’s getting dizzy.
This is a self-referential passage: the characters are talking about themselves as charactersin a work of fiction. In fact, it’s doubly self-referential—not only are the characters talking about their own fictional status; they’re talking about this by referencing another work of fiction in which characters speak self-referentially!Sophie’s Worldaims to disorient readers, getting them to question what they think of as reality and fiction.
A young boy carrying an oil lamp runs up to Alberto and Sophie, claiming that his name is Aladdin, from Lebanon. Aladdin rubs his lamp, and a spirit emerges from it. The spirit has a black beard, and wears a beret. He tells Hilde (not Sophie) that Bjerkley seems like a fantasyland to him, since he’s so used to Lebanon.Aladdin runs away, and Alberto reminds Sophie that they both only exist in the major’s mind.
The spirit (who looks like Alberto and Albert) is pointing to the arbitrariness of any definition of reality or fiction. From the right perspective, Lebanon (a real place) could be termed just as fictional as a fictional place like Bjerkely or the world of Sophie’s book.
Sophie tells Alberto that she’s had enough of being controlled by the major—she’s going to run away. Alberto tells Sophie that their only option is to try to talk to Hilde directly—and since Hilde reads every word of the book they’re in, this should be easy. Alberto complains that Hilde’s father is “acting the fool,” arrogantly “manipulating” the characters in his book, as if they’re his slaves. Alberto also reminds Sophie that they only exist in the “soul” of Hilde’s father, in Lebanon. But by the same token, it’s possible that Hilde’s father is himself just the projection of someone else’s mind. As Sophie puts it, this makes Alberto and herself “the shadows of shadows.” To elaborate on this idea, Alberto plans to tell Sophie about Hegel.
Sophie and Alberto can’t actually free themselves from Albert’s work of fiction, but they can satisfy themselves in a different way: by pointing out that Albert is no freer than they are. Albert, it could be argued, is also locked in a world in which he has no true free will (and this point is especially valid because we know that Albert exists only in Gaarder’s mind). Based on Kant’s definition of freedom, one could argue that the only true form of freedom is an awarenessof one’s lack of freedom (in the same sense that the only true wisdom is acknowledging one’s total lack of wisdom, per Socrates).