Classic Swedish authors

Strindberg seems to have been a miserable but brilliant soul. Hjälmar Söderberg was another writer from Stockholm around the turn of the nineteenth century, and I smiled when our Swedish teacher mentioned that in all his books and short stories he never managed to portray a single male character as happy. His very first novel was all about a young man who “wanders around the city sunk in melancholy thoughts and daydreams,” as our text says. “Despite his youth he has scarcely any great hope for the future…” He is a “flanör” – a man about town – and many of Söderberg’s stories revolve around such characters, men for whom nothing seems to go well and for whom life turns out to be a disappointment. His most famous novel is Dr Glass, one to get some day when I have more time to read (!!), which is about a romantic triangle between a priest and his wife and a doctor who falls in love with the wife. Sounds like gripping stuff, right up my alley…

Apparently not all Swedish authors writing at the time were so negative and melancholic. Selma Lagerlöf, whose Saga of Nils Holgersson has been translated to English and which I read years ago, seems to have been a much happier soul. She grew up in a somewhat more aristocratic environment on a large estate in Mårbacka, Värmland, the county that borders Närke (our county) to the west. Her childhood home is still there and is a tourist attraction today which perhaps we might visit sometime. Lagerlöf’s descriptions of the natural Swedish landscape are remarkable – seductive is the word used in our text.

One of Selma Lagerlöf’s most popular novels is Gösta Berlings saga, which is an imaginative description of olden day life on a manor in Värmland. However, it is more than a descriptive novel; it is also a moral tale, a story which should help to educate young people about life. Nils is an educational story too, but is more about geography than about morals. It must be a challenge for such a writer to produce a captivating story without seeming to lecture the reader. Lagerlöf seems to have succeeded, since many of her novels remain best sellers even today, a hundred years later. I haven’t read Gösta Berlings saga, but perhaps it should be on my wish list too.

Hjalmar Bergman was another of Sweden’s greatest authors. Again to quote our textbook, “his authorship is one of the most extensive and qualitatively advanced in Swedish literature.” He is significant to me because he came from Örebro, and many of his stories take place in an imaginary town called Wadköping, which is a typical middle Swedish small city and business centre of the late nineteenth century. This town of Wadköping has been recreated in the middle of Örebro next to the city park, and has become something of a tourist attraction, with its cobbled streets, cosy cafes and small shops. There are a few small galleries and some old houses which have been set aside as exhibits of daily life in former times. Wadköping is also the name of the school where I go for my Swedish classes. So Hjalmar Bergmans world has become a part of mine in a small way.

None of his books have been translated to English as far as I know, but his most famous book, Markurells in Wadköping, is still widely sold and read in Sweden. Bergman writes as a realist and yet his characters are a little extreme – caricatures perhaps. They are not so complicated but they are captivating in much the same way that Dickens characters are. Bergman himself was a true eccentric and many of his characters are too. Apparently some of his stories are quite heavy, even melancholic, but he manages to spice them with plenty of comedy to offset the seriousness of his message. Quoting Ulf Jansson (our literature text) again, “Bergman was deeply pessimistic, his view of humanity dark. He was convinced that luck, or blind fate controlled peoples lives, not their conscious will. Behind his entertaining intrigues and lusty figures is glimpsed human meanness, violence and deceit.”

Hmmm… perhaps I need to read some Bergman too. I’ll have to look on and see if there are any English translations…


One thought on “Classic Swedish authors

  1. Pingback: Strindberg and others « holfies

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