International Web Community for Scandinavian Studies

#2 - Blog-posts

Norden och spansk verklighetsförståelse

Scandinavia and the Spanish self-image

— Two examples.


The Scandinavian region has never been an important source of influence in Spain, although different images of the north have existed from early history and until now. Similarly, in the opposite direction influence has been scarce but images have abounded . However, there are exceptions.

In this study I will throw light on two different modes of mediating images of Scandinavia to the Spanish public. One concerns a travel report written by a young Spanish author and diplomat, Ángel Ganivet, stationed in Helsinki for almost two years at the end of the 19th century. Finland was at that time not an independent state but part of tsarist Russia with a certain amount of autonomy.  During his stay he wrote articles (letters) published in his hometown newspaper in Granada, later collected and edited as Cartas finlandesas (Finnish letters). Ganivet was intensely busy with his own writing and analysing the social and political conditions in his homeland at the same time as he explored the Finnish society as it appeared to him in the Finnish capital Helsinki, all of which influenced his attitudes, interpretations of what he found out about Finland. Therefore his letters from Finland are not a neutral ethnographical description but rather a deeply personal, partly biassed statement.

Ganivet was not the only traveller from the south reporting about the north at this time. The process of  industrialization and modernization  taking place in northern Europe and the modern cultural expressions related to this process caused attention and debate in Spain.

The second example concerns the recent export of one particular genre of popular culture from Scandinavia, crime stories.  The peak of this development was reached when Stieg Larsson´s Millenium trilogy was translated into Spanish and sold almost 3 million copies. Influential critics, with some exceptions, in the important national newspapers tore Larssons novels apart both from an artistic - aesthetic point of view and also from a crime genre perspective. Both Mankell and Sjöwall- Wahlöö were still considered the masters of northern crime stories. Larsson represented the decline of the genre.

These two examples represent two different modes of cultural communication.  One, a traditional traveller´s report reflecting the discovery of a new interesting world and at the same time functioning as a point of reference in understanding the social och political conditions of the reporter´s own country. The other an example of exportation of cultural products on an international market where entertainment is the core value and not philosophical contemplation.