Carl Jonas Love Almqvist Biography

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(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist was born in Stockholm in 1793 to Carl Gustaf Almqvist, an army paymaster, and Brigitta Lovisa Gjörwell, daughter of a famous publicist. Almqvist’s ancestors included a theology professor and a dean on his father’s side, and his mother came from a famous middle-class Stockholm family. He attended Uppsala University, where he studied history and philosophy. It was there that he became familiar with German Romanticism and with the works of the Uppsala center of Romanticism.

Having earned his master of arts degree from Uppsala in 1815, Almqvist embarked on a career as a civil servant, which he grew to dislike and abandoned in 1823. In the meantime, however, he started publishing theological and philosophical tracts, one of which, Vad är kärlek? (1816; what is love?), provided a theme for his future writing. In 1817, he helped found Manna Samfundet, a Romantic circle dominated by the ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish Enlightenment thinker, noteworthy scientist, and theological writer. Almqvist’s Romantic ideas and social criticism were manifested in 1822 in the novel Amorina (1822, 1839). However, Almqvist’s uncle, who was a bishop, had the book destroyed, fearing the ideas expressed within it would have negative consequences for his nephew.

In 1824, Almqvist started another romantic experiment: Drawn by the Romantic dream of living the idyllic life of a peasant, he became a farmer in Värmland. He married a peasant girl and devoted his time equally to writing and farming. However, his enthusiasm for the rural life did not last long, and in August, 1825, he returned to Stockholm and started a new career, becoming a teacher. Financial difficulties dominated the next few years, until in 1828 when he became the principal of a famous experimental school in Stockholm. Between 1829 and 1841, in addition to his philosophic, religious, and literary works, he wrote textbooks in a wide range of subjects and introduced a number of educational reforms. In 1832, Almqvist began his lifelong literary project, Törnrosens bok. Well received by the public, the first volumes were quickly followed in 1834 by another success, the novel Drottningens juvelsmycke: Eller Azouras Lazuli Tintomara (1834; The Queen’s Diadem, 1992).

Toward the end of the 1830’s, however, Almqvist’s views on art, religion, society, and politics turned away from Romanticism and toward realism. A Neoplatonic Romantic and an ordained minister, Almqvist was disappointed by his unsuccessful application for the chair of aesthetics and modern languages at Lund University in 1838. A year later, the publication of his realistic novel Sara Videbeck caused a big stir among his contemporaries as they found Almqvist’s liberal treatment of the marriage controversy too radical and morally damaging. He was questioned by the Cathedral Chapter of Uppsala because of both the novel and the theological drama Marjam and was soon dismissed from his position as a principal. In 1846, he joined the staff of Aftonbladet, Sweden’s liberal newspaper, to which he had been contributing since 1839.

Almqvist’s financial difficulties persisted despite his position at the newspaper. In 1851, he was accused of having attempted to poison a creditor and of having forged and stolen promissory notes. Although these crimes were never proved or disproved, they resulted in Almqvist’s exile from Sweden in August, 1851. The next fourteen years Almqvist spent in the United States, where, after extensive travels, he settled in Philadelphia and married a second time under a false name. In 1865, the seventy-two-year-old Almqvist left the United States for Bremen, Germany, under the name Professor Carl Westermann. He never saw his native country again, dying in Bremen on September 26, 1866.