great deal has been said about fraud, and how manuscripts
are faked to collect large sums at Sothebys, or simply
to bring fame to their "discoverer". I have exposed
one or two forged letters myself. Quite often, these frauds
are fairly easy to see through, and if it is difficult
to judge by the handwriting, there are always ways of testing
the age of paper and ink. In a contemporary edition of
an old manuscript, though, these ways are ruled out.
do not intend to deal with deliberate fraud, however, but
with more innocent fakes how to make people feel
that a literary text derives from a certain period, lets
say the 18th century. Not cheating them, but perhaps fooling
them. I have good reason to know how this is done, because
I am a faker myself; I shall therefore concentrate on my
own attempts in this profession.
article will refer to four books: my doctoral thesis, Vältalaren
Johan Henric Kellgren (1988), my first novel, Min
salig bror Jean Hendrich (1993), my edition of Fredrika
Bremers letters (1996) and my latest novel, Den
tionde sånggudinnan (1996). Two scholarly works, and
two fictional ones. As you see, I have a split personality sometimes
I am just a scholar, sometimes only a writer of fiction.
In what follows, I will try to step in and out of the two
different roles, and at the same time take the opportunity
of introducing some Swedish authors.
all began when I started doing research on the 18th century,
about 15 years ago. The 18th century in Sweden begins with
war and turmoil, and continues with a period of economic
resurgence and expansion in the sciences. During the reign
of Gustav III from the 1770s until 1792, when the
king was assassinated at a masked ball at the Opera House
in Stockholm the arts flourished: the king considered
the cultivation of arts and language a necessity for a
modern nation, and hence supported artists, writers and
musicians. His favourite domain was the opera, where the
various arts were combined. It was also Gustav III who
founded the Swedish Academy, an institution which in those
days, long before the Nobel prizes, was charged with cultivating
the Swedish language.
chose the 18th century out of my own interest so
it was not one of those cases where the supervisor tells
a student what to do. To be honest, I was quite taken up
by the 18th century, and especially by the poet Johan Henric
Kellgren. Of course, I was very young at the time, and
was easily carried away by my own enthusiasm... On the
other hand, I still work that way. Enthusiasm is half the
work done. And so I started working on my doctoral thesis.
a good-looking womanizer, was a parsons son, an M.A.
and fellow of the University of Turku, who made a stunning
career as one of the kings poets. He was one of the
first 18 members of the Swedish Academy. He combined this
with promoting the radical Enlightenment in his daily newspaper, Stockholms
Posten, writing lascivious rococo love poetry and also
catching up with pre-romanticism.
Kellgren had been educated in the old type of school, which
had its roots in Latin scholarship of the Ancients and
the Renaissance. I wanted to point out that although he
was a follower of the French philosophes, the tools
he used to promote his modern ideas were often quite traditional.
Hence, I studied his upbringing, his youth and career,
sketching out his rhetorical education. Moreover, I analysed
his speeches. As rhetorical style is dependent on the person
speaking, I did not lose track of Kellgren the man and
I became rather infatuated with him. Eventually, some years
later, the thesis was finished: Vältalaren Johan Henric
Kellgren (The Orator JHK).
this book was finished, the children arrived: first Annie,
in the same year, and then Alice two years later. Life
was full of nappies, sleepless nights and teaching at the
university. Then my husband was awarded a scholarship to
do research in Italy, and off we went to Pisa, to the beautiful
the Italian libraries did not cater for my needs. That
left me in doubt as to what to do and suddenly,
a lot of bits and pieces that were left over from my thesis
started cropping up in my mind. What on earth should I
do with them? Write a biography of Kellgren? No. One had
been published fairly recently, and in any case that was
not really what I wanted. So I started working on a novel and
this is where I began to split up: first the scholar began
writing a novel, then the writer cropped up and tried to
get her own way.
the outline of the novel is this: after Kellgrens
death in 1795, his brother and his mistress are asked by
one of his friends, the secretary of the Swedish Academy,
to write down their memories of him. Both of them write
proper biographies, which run in parallel. Eventually,
these two biographies are combined and hidden away in an
unnamed archive, where they are discovered in the early
1990s by a scholar with the initials C.B.
enjoyed working on this book immensely, picturing the poet
through these other peoples eyes. The brother is
a rural parson, rather naive, and in many respects a remnant
of the 17th century; the mistress is a burghers daughter
and a burghers wife, interested in literature but
quite taken up with food and family. Both admire Kellgren
immensely. Thus, he is seen in a positive light by two
persons who want to be part of his life, but who are not
his equals. This narrative technique meant that I could
also keep Kellgren himself at arms length, romantic
and mysterious. If I had used him as a narrator, I would
have had to enter his head and also fake his style an
to return to this question of "faking", something
which I suppose I should really should call writing pastiche:
how does one go about writing a story set in the 18th century,
and supposedly narrated by 18th century people?
the stylistic side of it: I thought about all the disadvantages
of pastiche. It is often a nightmare to anyone familiar
with the period. Characters use more antiquated language
than any real person has ever done, and the more involved
the writer gets, the more the reader giggles. So I considered
a rather modern style but then, on the other hand,
that could sound quite strange, coming from the quill of
this 18th century parson.
left me no option. I had to fake the 18th century! So I
embarked on a stylistic bungy jump... In fact, to some
extent, I still clung to the idea of a modern style. I
tried to write fairly normal, late-20th-century prose,
but robbed it of everything with too much of a contemporary
whiff. Imagine a dress without any ornamentation, one of
those full-length, woollen dresses whose appeal lies in
its very simplicity; and then I started embellishing it
with embroideries and jewels, adding a couple of French
words, some typical 18th century idioms, a Latin phrase
for the parson, the names of some sweets for the mistress...
This was the faking part. The idea was not to create an
18th-century language, but to create the feeling of it.
Therefore, I did not avoid anachronisms sometimes
I even put them there deliberately, as an ironic wink to
the reader. I wanted the reader to feel that this was how
18th century Swedish sounded.
problem was how people thought in those days. I believe
that if we could meet these people, we would have difficulty
in understanding each other. It would not only be a question
of how language has changed, but also of manners and customs mentalities,
if you like. They would certainly consider us intensely
vulgar, with our strange clothes and our lack of ceremonies
in social life. As we all know, the modern human being the
individual had not yet been invented. In Sweden,
he and his companion, the genius, did not appear until
about ten years into the 19th century.
for the moment, we dont have to bother about that
period. 18th-century people saw themselves as representatives
of a social group, and adapted their personalities when
moving between different groups. A Swedish poet in the
17th or 18th century did not write primarily because he
felt an urge to express his feelings, but to show his intellectual
abilities, and in that way to get a job in the civil service,
the court or the church.
I had written a book based on 18th century psychology (or
tried to, because I dont think I would have succeeded),
it would have been unintel-ligible for people today. And
although I liked the process of actually writing the book,
I did want readers! So I tried to make it as faithful as
I could to both periods, walking on a tightrope between
18th and 20th-century thinking.
also did my best to check the facts so that people
did not live in houses that had not yet been built, that
dinner was served in the right way, and that the colour
of stockings in courtly dress really was white, and not
red. I do not claim that everything is correct, but I have
good reason to believe that there are not many errors as
far as dress, milieu and customs are concerned.
book was published in 1993, with a fictional preface and
an epilogue by the "editor", who was probably
myself, in view of the fact that we share initials. The
book was favourably reviewed, and people even read it but
the surprising thing was that a few reviewers bought the
whole concept of this being an edition of a newly-discovered
manuscript. I was stunned. I mean, I was not the first
one to use this type of narrative technique, was I? But
the fact remains: I had fooled a few quite knowledgeable
readers. And occasional letters still arrive from people
who ask me to make a proper, scholarly edition of this
somehow get the feeling the literary historian inside me
is getting anxious to speak, to modify somehow or other
the self-centred attitude of the writer. I would like to
point out that history is very popular in Sweden at the
moment. It looks as if the good old days of the 1960s and
70s, the early 80s produced a sudden change in our outlook.
Instead of being bright and optimistic about the future,
Swedes began to display a need for history, something that
had not been seen for forty years. Popular history suddenly
became "the in thing".
of the leading writers of historical books of this kind,
and the one who seems to have started the trend, is a young
historian: Peter Englund from Uppsala. His book Poltava deals
with the biggest defeat in Swedish military history, when
the main part of Karl XIIs army was killed or captured
by the Russians. This put an end to the days when Sweden
was a "superpower". Most Swedes had an ancestor
at Poltava I do not know if I have any, but an ancestor
of my husbands survived the battle and escaped to
Turkey alongside the king. Peter Englund has written a
couple of other books after Poltava, all of which
have been successful. As a historian, he keeps his facts
straight; but he is not above slipping into semi-fictional
prose now and then. Of course, in an historical book, the
borderline between a work of history with semi-fictional
interventions, and a fictional work about historical persons,
can be rather vague.
for the 18th century, it seems to have given rise to more
books with pretty pictures than what one might call popular
history. Art and design flourished, and the Swedish Gustavian
style has been very popular of late reproductions
of Gustavian furniture are even produced by IKEA.
novels, the 18th century has often been used for a setting.
Some of these books are highly romanticized, concentrating
on dazzling noblemen in handsome wigs; others are more
serious. Carl Jonas Love Almqvist one of the best
Swedish writers of the early 19th century, and the grandson
of one of the most active Gustavian journalists published
several novels in a Gustavian setting. Drottningens
juvelsmycke (The Queens Diadem), written in 1834,
involves a romantic intrigue; but is also a pastiche of
Gustavian literary language. It is as exciting today as
when it was first published an English translation
was published in 1992 (by Yvonne L. Sandström, published
the last three or four years, there has been quite a vogue
of novels about authors in Sweden. Somehow or other, it
seems to have been accepted that one way of approaching
history is to depict a genius. One Swedish author (Torbjörn
Säfve) even specializes in novels about artists and writers each
of them somehow resembling himself.
reading novels about historical persons, I often find myself
wondering about how much is actually true. How much has
the writer made up? Of course, one can never cling to the
truth entirely; but what I experienced when writing about
Jean Hendrich was that all those little gaps one can find
even in a well-known persons biography are gold-mines
for a writer. If one sticks to the facts (as long as there
are any) and lets ones imagination handle the rest,
one might end up with an entertaining book, that still
gives the impression of honesty to history.
apologize: the writer has just interrupted the scholar!
the time of our Italian sejour, I was already knee-deep
in a new research project: I was editing the letters of
Fredrika Bremer. Bremer was a Swedish novelist and feminist,
who started her life as the gauche daughter of wealthy
parents a hopeless case in the high society of those
days and she made her fortune both literally and
spiritually through writing novels. These often deal with
a family, where the daughters try to find out what to do
with their lives and find alternatives to marriage and
children. There is a mixture of realism, romanticism, humour
and something which might put us off sentimentality.
Bremers novel Hertha (1856) is a feminist
manifesto, arguing for things that are taken for granted
by women today, such as legal responsibility and the possibility
of handling ones own money.
novels were translated into most western languages, but
were especially popular in England, where Bremer cooperated
closely with her translators, Mary and William Howitt.
William Howitts name was often omitted from the title
page, because the publishers wanted to promote Bremers
novels as products of womens co-operation. Bremer
herself claims that she made more money out of the English
editions than out of the Swedish ones. She also influenced
many of the Victorian writers an interesting fact,
as they are widely read in Sweden today, and often regarded
as the originals. One of her novels, The Colonels
Family, appeared in a new English translation the other
year (translated by Sarah Death, Norvik Press, 1995).
keep in touch with all her friends, at home and abroad,
and to keep all these translators and publishers in order,
Bremer had an abundant correspondence. She often claims
to be a lazy letter writer well: in the 1910s four
volumes of her letters were published. However, this was
only 50 years after her death, and the editors soon discovered
that some letters had been held back. Soon, new letters
appeared as Bremers young friends (who had grown
old by then) started to die off many of those letters
were bought by Swedish research libraries and archives.
So, about thirty years ago, efforts were made to have the "new" letters
published; but it all came to nothing, and in 1990 my professor
called me and asked if I would do it. They needed a scholar
who was young, and familiar with work in archives they
were probably unable to find anyone else foolhardy enough.
So, although I was more interested in the 18th century,
I started working on the Bremer edition; six years later,
two volumes of letters finally appeared.
was the work I was engaged in when my first novel was published.
I soon found out that many of those who took an interest
in my novel took it for granted that research and
particularly research in archives was incredibly
boring. Two questions were particularly common: didnt
I want to give up all that boring stuff, and was I going
to write a novel about Fredrika Bremer next?
certainly did not! I loved my research I still do and
I would feel cut in half without it. As for the second
question: Bremer has many advantages, but she would not
be a suitable protagonist for a novel at least,
not one of mine.
ideas started to take hold of me. Shouldnt I tell
all these people that scholarly work is actually exciting?
Shouldnt I once again take advantage of my research?
What if I were to write a novel about the collecting and
editing of letters placed, say, around the time
of World War I?
I did. The letters in my novel are not those of Fredrika
Bremer, but of a Swedish writer with a similar name: Sophia
Elisabeth Brenner, who was active over the years either
side of 1700. So once more, I found myself in the 18th
century, although it was now late baroque instead of rococo.
Ill just mention a couple of things about Brenner,
and then Ill give a brief outline of the novel.
Elisabeth Brenner was obviously a talented girl. At the
age of four she began school, together with boys, and she
soon picked up Latin and started to write. Her parents
seem to have supported her thirst for learning, and when
she married the civil servant and artist Elies Brenner,
he encouraged her to learn new languages and embark on
a career as a poet. She wrote poetry all her life she
died in 1730 at the age of 71 but she also adapted
to the role of wife and mother. Fifteen children were born
in the marriage, of which five survived to maturity. Elies
Brenner also had two children from a previous marriage.
of the things I like about Brenner is that she managed
to do it all: it was her job to take care of children and
household, and also to write poetry; and she took pride
in both. Naturally, she did have servants; but having merely
three children myself, I am bound to say I find her admirable.
Brenner became one of the most famous Swedish poets of
her day, writing in several languages as was usual then,
and she was also the first Swedish author to receive a
state pension a writers salary paid by the
government. She is now sadly and unjustly forgotten.
so, Brenner is the subject of my latest novel (published
in 1996). The plot is as follows: in 1909, a young literary
historian from Uppsala, Lissie, makes a bet with her Mefistophelian
professor that if she is able to collect an interesting
scholarly edition of Brenners letters, she has an
opportunity to rise in the world of learning; if not, well,
her soul might be in danger. Together with her two friends,
Choice and Thea, she travels all over Sweden and Europe
to find letters. The letters reveal a secret feminist organization
of nine women the muses led by the tenth,
who is Brenner. The aim of this organization remains mysterious,
even for me who dreamt it all up, but it seems to have
something to do with peace, and it all revolves around
the goddess Diana.
again, I found myself writing pastiche. This time it was
easier, though, as I had some idea of how to do it. The
difference was, that while I could keep to the style of
one single period in my first novel albeit somewhat
modified between the two narrators I now had a multitude
of styles to deal with.
faking, I also developed the art of pinching. Thus, I pinched
a couple of letters from Brenner although I have
to confess that I had to simplify the language, as even
17th-century scholars find them hard to understand and
one of her poems, a beautiful sonnet about her dead baby.
The trick I used in the first book, of embellishing the
simple style, worked fairly well here too. This time, though,
I extracted certain expressions and words out of Brenners
own writings to add to the (faked) authenticity.
for the style of the 1910s, there was the advantage that
cultivated Swedish has not changed very much in the last
80 years. To remind the reader that the setting is not
contemporary, the characters occasionally wash with Florodol
soap, have problems with their corsets, or have to order
their telephone calls.
amusing thing was the spelling. The Swedish in Jean
Hendrich was spelt in a modern way, although there
were certain words that kept their (mostly French) spelling.
Now I could really indulge in the semiotics of spelling:
Brenners letters are spelt in a 17th or early 18th-century
way, albeit fairly modified. Important words begin with
capital letters, and when Brenner gets flustered, she mixes
German with Swedish. Lissie, the narrator of the 1910s,
spells quite normally, but one of her left-wing friends
uses an extreme modernized form of spelling there
was a radical phalanx in Sweden that wanted a total reform
of spelling rules. Their idea was to "spell as you
speak", and to a modern eye, the words often look
are several letters in the book, not only from Brenner
but also between the protagonists, and between Lissie and
the male research fellows of Uppsala university. Having
worked for several years editing letters, I was quite in
the habit of reading letters, and the step to writing them,
or (to return to the subject) faking them, was not a large
one to take. This also involved playing a game with different
styles, not only in language itself, but in how the letters
were composed, dated and addressed.
three women visit archives in Sweden, Germany, Italy and
Russia. I had myself been looking for letters from
Bremer, not Brenner in Berlin, Wolfenbüttel and
the so-called secret archives of the Vatican, so I had
plenty of source material. However, the three travellers
not only experienced the excitement of manuscripts, but
other adventures as well. Lissie gets her claws into a
Russian prince in Berlin, and really strikes lucky, as
his family owns some important letters. All three of them
are trapped in Germany when World War I begins, and two
of them later find themselves in the middle of the Russian
revolution. These events are parallelled in the 17/18th
century, and a modern reader might be able to find parallels
in our own time.
real life, Brenner was not a member of a feminist conspiracy,
let alone the leader of it. But somehow, truth tends to
be more surprising than fiction: one of the reviewers,
an otherwise learned man, wrote that I had been rather
too bold in my lies I even claimed that Brenner
corresponded with Sor Juana de la Cruz in Mexico. In fact,
Sor Juana did know about the real Brenner, and wrote
a laudatory poem to her! For all we know, they might have
corresponded. And although there was no conspiracy, Brenner
certainly aligned herself with 17th-century feminism.
a word one could use quite often to describe our relationship
with history. Not only the time elapsed, but the differences
in customs and mentality tend to amaze us. Anyone who has
read a popular history book for children or even
a crime story in a historical setting can see quite
clearly the struggle between telling the truth and making
us understand. The same struggle can also be found in scholarly
works, although it is not so clear and generally avoids
the same kind of errors. We are biased, and every time
we approach history, we fake it, more or less. Through
intellectual understanding, we can bring ourselves closer
to it; but there is also a need of emotional understanding.
Every time we read their poetry, listen to their music
and watch their art, we try to bridge the gap. For many
people, historical novels might be emotional bridges to
the past. But not all readers are aware that these bridges
are rather untrustworthy, since all their builders are
more or less honest fakers of history.