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Åsa Arping & Yvonne Leffler, Göteborg universitet

“…as much at home in Boston as in Stockholm” 

- Nation, gender, literary celebrity, and the Swedish “novel wonder” in the U.S. around 1850

Names and Academic credentials: 

  • Åsa Arping; professor of Comparative Literature, University of Gothenburg
  • Yvonne Leffler; professor of Comparative Literature, University of Gothenburg. 

Abstract: Franco Moretti has pointed to the limited scope of historical literary research – that it tends to deal with a rather narrow selection of authors and texts, and that these in many cases are not the ones that actually were disseminated through the cultural systems of their own time. Moreover the interest in imported texts tends to operate in view to today’s national literary canons. These asymmetries contribute to the continuous exclusion of the majority of texts that has circulated among historical readers, thus impeding a more accurate understanding of the history of literary culture. 

How would current images of Scandinavian literary history be affected by a shift of focus according to this reasoning? Several researchers have noted, often in opposition to existing national literary canons, the crucial impact of women novel writers on the 19th century book market. In her study Reading by Numbers: Recalibrating the Literary Field (2012), Katherine Bode concludes that Australian women novel writers were the most successful measured by sales figures and impact, since they were translated and published abroad, while their male colleagues prioritised “building the nation” and to publish locally/nationally. 

Bode’s conclusions are similar to what we have found in our research on Swedish women novelists and their international dissemination. This investigation is part of an ongoing project at the University of Gothenburg, “Swedish Women Writers on Export in the 19th Century”, where in-depth case studies are supplemented with theoretical and methodological discussions on ways to rethink and recharge Swedish literary history. 

In our paper we will focus on the American launching and reception of Fredrika Bremer (1801–1865), Emilie Flygare-Carlén (1807–1892), and Marie Sophie Schwartz (1819–1894) in the mid 1800’s – a process that rapidly developed into a Swedish “novel wonder”, which in turn raises a number of questions: How did translators and other transmitters introduce the Swedish women novelists – were they presented to preserve or develop typical images of Swedish or Scandinavian society and culture, and how was gender an operating force in these depictions? To what extent were the writers themselves exploring or exploiting concepts of Swedish, Scandinavian or American identity, and what were the reactions to this from the critics? And, to conclude on a more general, long-term level of canon formation, how, if at all, is our view on Scandinavian and Swedish literary history affected when we look at it from the “outside”, that is through the lenses of historical observers “from abroad”?

Theme: Scandinavia in the Eyes of the World

Earlier Event: June 17
Panel 8: "Poeten Tegnér"