Verner von Heidenstam Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to his novels, Verner von Heidenstam (HAY-duhn-stahm) published poetry, short stories, and nonfiction works. Among his volumes of poetry are Vallfart och vandringsår (1888; pilgrimage and wander years), Dikter (1895; poems), and Nya dikter (1915; new poems). His two collections of short stories are Sankt Göran och draken (1900; Saint George and the dragon) and Skogen susar (1904; the woods whisper), and his essays include Renässans (1889; Renaissance), Pepitas bröllop (1890, with Oscar Levertin; Pepita’s wedding), Modern Barbarism (1894), Dagar och händelser (1909; days and events), and Vad vilja vi? (1914; what do we want?). He also wrote an autobiographical work, Från Col di Tenda till Blocksberg (1888; from Col di Tenda to Blocksberg), and a history textbook, Svenskarna och deras hövdingar (1908-1910; The Swedes and Their Chieftains, 1925). Several volumes of his essays and poetry were published posthumously, including När kastanjerna blommade (1941; when the chestnut trees bloomed) and Sista dikter (1942; last poems). His collected works have been published in twenty-three volumes by Bonniers.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In 1916, Verner von Heidenstam was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which bore the apt inscription “The leader of a new era in our literature.” Beginning with his first book of poems, Vallfart och vandringsår, in 1888, and continuing until the publication of Nya dikter in 1915, Heidenstam challenged the literary trends of his time. He rebelled against the bleak worldview and confining aesthetics of naturalism in his early works and was responsible for ushering in the new poetry of the 1890’s. First and foremost a poet, Heidenstam embraced the creative power of the imagination above any attempt in his writing simply to imitate everyday life. His rejection of naturalism did not, however, take him to opposite extremes: Decadence, or art for art’s sake, was not an answer for Heidenstam. He tried to blend realism and the inspired creations of the imagination. Disgusted by the pessimism in the writing of his contemporaries, Heidenstam increasingly turned to the past to find a cultural heritage and a set of values powerful enough to launch a new national literature. His three historical novels and Nya dikter succeeded in doing so.

The Swedes recognized Heidenstam’s important role in revitalizing their national literature. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Heidenstam received several other honors, including membership in the Swedish Academy in 1912 and an honorary doctorate from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 1909. It is important to point out, however, that Heidenstam’s cultural nationalism does not have at its core a narrow chauvinism. Heidenstam’s frame of reference, ultimately, is a classical humanism, based on the love of ideals, beauty, and the creative powers of the human mind.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Blankner, Frederika, ed. The History of Scandinavian Literatures. 1938. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1966. Contains a bibliography of Heidenstam in English translation, along with a brief discussion of the author.

Brantly, Susan. “Heidenstam’s Karolinerna and the Fin de Siècle.” In Fin(s) de Siècle in Scandinavian Perspective, edited by Faith Ingwersen and Mary Kay Norseng. Columbia, S.C.: Camden House, 1993. A critical study.

Bredsdorff, Elias, Brita Mortensen, and Ronald Popperwell. An Introduction to Scandanavian Literature from the Earliest Time to Our Day. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1970. Places Heidenstam in the context of Swedish authors in the period from the 1890’s to about 1910.

Gustafson, Alrik. A History of Swedish Literature. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1961. Includes a discussion of Heidenstam.

Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandanavian Novelists: Lie, Jacobsen, Heidenstam, Selma Lagerlöf, Hamsun, Sigrid Undset. 1940. Reprint. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966. The essay on Heidenstam is considered one of the best brief critical studies of him in English.

Rossel, Sven H. A History of Scandinavian Literature, 1870-1980. Translated by Anne C. Ulmer. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982. Includes a discussion of Heidenstam.