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.