Verner von Heidenstam

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

One of the great Swedish writers, Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (HAY-duhn-stahm) spent several years traveling through the Mediterranean regions and the East. When he returned to Sweden in 1887, he became a vigorous participant in the literary struggles against a rising Scandinavian realism. His first publication was a book of poems based on Eastern themes, Vallfart och vandringsår (pilgrimage and years of wandering), which appeared in 1888. With this work, the Swedish literary renaissance began, and Heidenstam contributed to its romanticist development with more Oriental themes in Endymion and in Hans Alienus, which is both an epic dealing with a journey in search of beauty and a metamorphosed autobiography.

Then, like Gustaf Fröding and August Strindberg, Heidenstam turned to literary theory and criticism. He attacked the sordid realism of the time and espoused a vigorous nationalism and historicism. Heidenstam’s creative work expressing these values began with the book of poems Dikter in 1895 and attained powerful expression in The Charles Men, a cycle of tales that glorified Sweden in the time of Charles XII. A note of stoic moralism is sounded in Heliga Birgittas pilgrimsfärd (St. Bridget’s pilgrimage), and the historical theme is further developed in The Tree of the Folkungs, a novel set in medieval Sweden and dealing with the rise of the powerful Folkung dynasty that flourished in the thirteenth century. A year after the 1915 publication of his Nya dikter (new poems), he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and two years before his death in 1940 he received the Henrik Steffens Prize. He ranks with Selma Lagerlöf among the leading romanticists of his day.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam was born at the family manor, Olshammar, Sweden, on July 6, 1859. He was the only child of Nils Gustaf von Heidenstam, chief engineer for the Royal Coast Guard, and his wife, Magdalena Charlotta Rütterskiöld. The family lived in Stockholm, where Verner attended the prominent Beskowska School. He spent his summers at Olshammar, where his vivid imagination was nurtured by his grandmother and several other women of the household. During these early years, Heidenstam developed a love for Lake Vättern and the Tiveden landscape, a feeling for the land and its history that he never lost. Because both his health and his academic performance were poor, Heidenstam was taken out of school and sent south to travel. From 1876 to 1878, he toured southern Europe, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, and Greece, recording his impressions in drawings and paintings. These impressions later found expression in the striking vividness and immediacy of the settings in his early works.

In 1879, Heidenstam settled in Rome to become a painter, but he spent an increasing amount of time writing poetry. Against his father’s wishes, he married a childhood friend, Emilia Uggla, in 1880, causing a break between father and son. Heidenstam spent the next several years in middle and southern Europe, studying, painting, and writing—striving to find his own artistic form. In 1884, he made contact with Swedish playwright and novelist August Strindberg, at that time living in Switzerland, and the two men began an intense and inspiring series of discussions on all topics, particularly literature and politics. Although Heidenstam presented himself as a radical, his first published volume of poetry, Vallfart och vandringsår, with its colorful Eastern exoticism, had little in common with the doctrines of naturalism that Strindberg, at that time, championed.

Heidenstam returned to Sweden in 1887 and was reconciled with his father, who, terminally ill, killed himself the next year. Back in Sweden, the new head of his family, Heidenstam concentrated on his writing. His debut volume of poetry was published in 1888, and in Renässans and Pepitas bröllop , published in 1889 and 1890, respectively, Heidenstam developed his theories about art, rejecting the naturalism and documentary realism...

(The entire section is 957 words.)