Carl Jonas Love Almqvist Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist is known primarily for his fiction and nonfiction. His major works, including his plays, were organized within a frame narrative called Törnrosens bok (the book of the friar rose), which he published in two editions: The fourteen volumes of the duodecimo edition appeared between 1832 and 1851 and the imperial octave edition’s three volumes between 1839 and 1850. Inspired by a characteristically romantic aspiration toward an organic unity among the genres and probably also by frame narratives such as Alf layla wa-layla (15 c.e.; The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, 1706-1708), Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron: O, Prencipe Galetto (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620), and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Unterhaltungen deutscher Ausgewanderten (1795; Conversations of German Emigrants, 1854), Almqvist combined stories and fairy tales, novels and novellas, dramatic and lyric pieces, treatises and lectures, tracts and speeches, and essays on a wide range of sociopolitical, economic, and religious topics in his Törnrosens bok. These works are not connected thematically and bridge two movements in Swedish literature, Romanticism and realism. However, Almqvist succeeds in creating an organic whole, which has unity despite its heterogeneity, and ambivalence. A firm supporter of liberalism in Swedish society and in education, Almqvist also published a series of influential textbooks in science and grammar books in Swedish, Greek, and French.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Because of his legal problems and flight from Sweden, Carl Jonas Love Almqvist failed to receive formal recognition of his innovative work and daring ideas during his lifetime from either the Swedish public or the literary establishment, both of which failed to draw a distinction between Almqvist the man and the writer. It was not until 1894 when Ellen Key published her influential article calling Almqvist Sweden’s most modern poet that Almqvist’s literary and nonliterary production enjoyed popularity and acclaim. He has come to be regarded as one of the most talented and intrepid Romantic writers in Swedish literature. Though he was one of the founders of the Stockholm center of Romanticism, he was a keen cultural reformer and liberal who never joined the Swedish Academy, the most prestigious literary establishment at the time.

In the 1830’s, Almqvist introduced folklivsskildring, stories that featured realistic representations of life in rural Sweden, into Swedish literature. In the 1880’s, this art form would come back in vogue and shape the poetry and prose of a whole generation of Swedish writers. In the 1890’s, the influence of Almqvist’s peasant stories could be clearly seen in the tales of Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman writer to win the Nobel Prize, and in the works of many other writers.

Almqvist’s masterpiece, Det går an (1839; Sara Videbeck, 1919; also as Why Not! A Picture Out of Life, 1994), a didactic and radical yet lively and enjoyable novel, was his response to the debates on the function of weddings; the rights of unmarried women, especially their right to work; and the Lutheran doctrine of marriage. His rather daring ideas of “free marriage” made the novel one of the first significant feminist texts in Swedish literature. It anticipated the arrival forty years later of the strong feminist voices of Det Unga Sverige, a group that opposed traditional social and religious conventions in the so-called Great Scandinavian Morality Debate.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Blackwell, Marilyn. C. J. L. Almqvist and Romantic Irony: The Aesthetics of Self-Consciousness. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1983. Examines Almqvist’s Romantic production with special emphasis on his dramatic novels and early fiction and nonfiction.

Blackwell, Marilyn. “Friedrich Schlegel and C. J. L. Almqvist: Romantic Irony and Textual Artifice.” Scandinavian Studies 52, no. 2 (1980). Places Almqvist within the context of German Romanticism. Sees a common Romantic search for a higher unity of genres (drama, epic, and lyric poetry) and emphasizes the importance of the Romantic fragment.

Nolin, Bertil. “The Romantic Period.” In A History of Swedish Literature, edited by Lars G. Warme. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. A chapter on Almqvist presents a brief biographical introduction, followed by an overview of his major works. A chapter on Romantic plays situates Almqvist within the context of nineteenth century Swedish drama, highlighting his influences.

Romberg, Bertil. Carl Jonas Love Almqvist. Boston: Twayne, 1977. A detailed and laudatory study of Almqvist’s life and work. Contains close readings of major works and useful summaries of the rest, all of which are accompanied by generous examples from Almqvist’s correspondence and nonliterary writing.