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Swedish Literature  

Although Heliga Birgitta (St. Bridget, 1332-1364) in her Revelations accuses King Magnus Eriksson of sexual intercourse with the nobleman Bengt Algotsson, same-sex love in Swedish literature is largely a nineteenth- and twentieth-century phenomenon.

The Nineteenth Century

In the early nineteenth century, same-sex romantic friendship is a feature of the work of Erik Sjöberg (1794-1828), who wrote under the pseudonym Vitalis. His Songs to the Man in the Moon (Sånger till mannin i månen) is inspired by the epigrams of Meleager. Later in the nineteenth century, Viktor Rydberg (1828-1895) exhibits a deep sympathy for same-sex relations in "Antinous," published in his collection of essays, Roman Marble Emperors (Romersk kejsare i marmor [1875]).

By the end of the nineteenth century, homosexuality had become a psychiatric concern; this conception of homosexuality is reflected in the symbolist and decadent poetry produced at this time. In Sensitive Love (Sensitiva amorosa), a collection of decadent short stories published in 1887, Ola Hansson (1860-1925) sketches a friendship between an older man and a young boy. The figure of the young boy also inspires the poetry of Vilhelm Ekelund (1880-1949), especially his collection In Candidum. The letters of Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), the Nobel prize-winning novelist and member of the Swedish Academy, reflect her deep affection for women.

The Twentieth Century

In early twentieth-century Swedish literature, same-sex love becomes a more frequent motif. Gustav Otto Adelborg (1883-1965) recounts the attraction between a young man and a handsome workman in his collection of short stories, Venture, Counterventure (Våga, vedervåga), published in 1908.

By contrast, the naturalistic writer Martin Koch (1882-1940) presents a bleak view of homosexuality in his depressing 1916 novel, God's Beautiful World (Guds vackra värld), which traces a young boy's descent from poverty to prison. Koch's story was modeled on an unpublished autobiography of a well-known thief, Knut Stålhand. Also expressing a negative view, the ambivalence and shame over his homosexual impulses felt by the important novelist Hjalmer Bergman (1883-1931) are obliquely reflected in such works as The Boss Mrs. Ingeborg (Chefen Fru Ingeborg [1924]).

In the 1930s, several works featuring lesbian love appeared. Charlie (1932) by Margareta Suber (1892-1984) is often described as the first lesbian novel in the Swedish language; it portrays a young girl falling in love with a mature woman. The prominent poet Karin Boye (1900-1941) describes the sexual ambivalence of a young woman in a 1934 novel, Crisis (Kris).

In the early 1930s, Agnes von Krusentstjerna (1894-1940) published a series of books titled The Misses von Pahlen (Fröknarna von Pahlen), which contain depictions of same-sex love. The characters in Bobo and the Aristocrats (Bobo och aristokraterna [1938]) by Brita von Horn (1886-1983) are based on real people in von Horn's circle. The novel ends unhappily, yet it contains a memorable speech in defense of homosexuality.

Although homosexual acts were legalized in Sweden in 1944, the late 1940s through the 1950s were repressive years for gay men and lesbians. Nevertheless, many literary works with homosexual themes were published during this time. For example, Nils Hallbeck (1907-1997), often writing under the pseudonym Jan Hogan, published a series of gay novels, including Boy Going Astray (Grabb på glid [1949]). Bengt Söderberg (b. 1925) and Gösta Carlberg (1909-1973) also are among the writers dealing with same-sex love in this period. A bohemian life in Europe during the 1950s is portrayed wonderfully in Love in Europe (Kärlek i Europa [1981]) by Birgitta Stenberg (b. 1932).

Although the 1960s witnessed a revolt against sexual prejudice, Anna-Karin Svedberg (b. 1934) published gloomy novels such as Clipped Wings (Vingklippta[ 1962]) and Your Own (Din egen [1966]), which offer a depressing view of homosexuality. More positively, Bengt Martin (b. 1933), after publicly coming out on television, became, along with his partner Hans, a celebrity for gays. Martin wrote a series of books about a young man who discovers his homosexuality: Apple of Sodom (Sodomsäpplet [1968]), The Pimpernel Clam (Nejliksmusslan [1969]), and Exist (Finnas till [1970]). Other significant works from the 1960s include Counterdance (Kontradans [1969]) by Eva Alexandersson (1911-1994) and Shadows of Angels (Änglaskuggor) by Ronnie Busk (b. 1944).

More recent Swedish gay and lesbian literature includes coming out stories, historical novels, and poetry. The coming out novel is a particularly popular genre; examples include works as diverse as Brave Boy (Duktig pojke [1977]) by Inger Edelfeldt (b. 1956) and Plays Role (Spelar roll [1993]) by Hans Olssons (b. 1962).

In the 1990s, gay and lesbian lifestyles became the subject of mainstream fiction. For example, the best-selling novel Stars Without Dizziness (Stjärnor utan svindel [1996]), by the soap opera writer Louise Boije af Gennäs (b. 1961), tells the story of the author's relationship with journalist Mian Lodalen. The story is set in a lovingly described Stockholm.

Perhaps the best known of all contemporary gay writers in Sweden is Jonas Gardell (b. 1963), who made his debut in 1985 with The Passion Play (Passionsspelet), a novel that parallels the love of two young men with the life of Jesus. Gardell has also written an important memoir, The Growth of a Comedian (En komikers uppväxt [1992]). A prolific writer and stand-up comedian, he and his partner are celebrities who are frequently reported on in the tabloid press.

Jan Magnusson


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literature >> Overview:  Decadence

Nineteenth-century Decadent literature either describes aspects of decadent life and society or reflects the decadent literary aesthetic.

literature >> Overview:  Romantic Friendship: Male

Critics use the term male romantic friendship to describe strong attachments between men in works ranging from ancient epics and medieval romances to Renaissance plays, Gothic novels, westerns, and war movies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Stockholm

One of Europe's most progressive cities, Stockholm has recently become notably gay-friendly.

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A liberal and democratic kingdom, Sweden has a reputation for sexual openness, yet it maintains a law that punishes buyers of sex from prostitutes.

literature >> Lagerlöf, Selma

Although she only hinted at sexual transgression in her novels, Nobel Prize winner and Swedish Academy member Selma Lagerlöf reflected directly her deep affection for women in her letters.


Hammarström, Camilla. Karin Boye. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1997.

Homosexuella och samhället. Betänkande av utredningen om homosexuellas situation i samhället (Homosexuals and Society. Report from the Official Investigation of the Situation of Homosexuals in Society). Stockholm: Liber/Allmänna förlaget, 1984.

Magnusson, Jan. "Från tragiskt öde till fritt vald livsstil. Bögar och lesbiska i det sena nittonhundratalets svenska litteratur." Homo i folkhemmet. Homo- och bisexuella i Sverige 1950-2000. Martin Andreasson, ed. Göteborg, Sweden: Anamma, 2000. 59-75.

Söderström, Göran, ed. Sympatiens hemlighetsfulla makt. Stockholms homosexuella 1860-1960. Stockholm: Stockholmia förlag, 1999.

Stenberg, Lisbeth. "'en lifsmakt för qvinnan': Hur en begynnande diskurs om relationer mellan kvinnor tystnar under 1880-talets skandinaviska sedlighetsdebatt." Lambda Nordica 4:2 (1998): 6-32.


    Citation Information
    Author: Magnusson, Jan  
    Entry Title: Swedish Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 4, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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