Carl Jonas Love Almqvist Critical Essays


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s work, both Romantic and realistic, is dominated by the conflict between the individual and society, specifically the conflict between an enlightened intellectual with liberal and radical views and the society of early nineteenth century Sweden, with its traditional, conservative social and religious beliefs. In artistic terms, this is expressed in Almqvist’s Romantic aesthetic of the poetic fugue, a combination of drama and epic with dance and music. Two of his early works, Amorina and The Queen’s Diadem, are novels in dramatic form: Dramatic monologues or dialogues, accompanied by dance and music pieces, make up about 90 percent of the former and 60 percent of the latter. A contemporary reader may see in this an anticipation of modernism; however, Almqvist’s works use older narrative techniques that would later be replaced by the use of an omniscient third-person narrative and interior monologue. Still, the pronounced dramatic aspects of both works attracted the attention of Alf Sjöberg, a gifted Swedish director, who successfully produced dramatic adaptations of Amorina and The Queen’s Diadem at the Royal Dramatic Theater in 1951 and 1957, respectively. Almqvist’s Romantic aesthetic could also be seen in his creation of a new genre, his songes, short poems that aimed at an organic unity between poetry, drama, and music. These songes were presented as short stage plays, or living pictures, in famous literary salons as well as in the theater during the 1820’s and gained enormous popularity.

Almqvist experimented with a variety of dramatic forms: verse and prose drama, comedy, tragedy, tragicomedy, melodrama, classical and theological drama, and pieces in which he discussed aesthetic and philosophical principles. At the beginning of his literary career Almqvist tried to escape from the immediate present by exploring different time periods and geographical locations, including the Celtic and Nordic past, the early Christian period and the Middle Ages, and the Mediterranean and other exotic locales; however, in his treatment of both subject matter and characters, it is possible to discern a subtext that reveals his awareness of contemporary political, economic, social, and aesthetic problems....

(The entire section is 942 words.)