Monday, July 03, 2017

Carl Jonas Love Almqvist: Det går an

A steamship built in 1903, at Mariefred, near Strängnäs

[Image source: , from an excellent site (in English) by the Public Transport enthusiast "Busspojken" (]

C.J.L Almqvist,  or Carl Jonas Love Almqvist,  (1793 - 1866), or Carl Jonas Ludvig Almquist (according to his gravestone in Solna churchyard),  is an important Swedish author from the Romantic/Realist era. 

Det går an (1839) was one of his most celebrated and controversial works (it forced him to give up his post as a school rector). The title literally means "It is acceptable", Albert's reponse to Sara's outline proposal of an egalitarian, unmarried relationship.

Full text online:

Translated into English as Sara Videbeck by Adolph Burnett Benson (1919). Happily this translation is available online:

The story takes place on a steam ferry. The ferry starts in Stockholm and, by the end of the first chapter, arrives at Strängnäs on Lake Mälaren (called Lake Maelar in the English translation).

Here's an extract from the first chapter, describing some early brushes between Albert, the gallant sergeant, and Sara, the strangely independent glazier's daughter:


showing his hands, "I too have thrown my ring into the lake. It was the best we could do."

First a sharp survey from top to toe, followed immediately, however, by an almost imperceptible though tolerably sweet smile, then an exquisitely sparkling look, which instantly disappeared, constituted her answer. "Is the ring in the lake? Oh!" she added.

"I hope a pickerel has already swallowed it," said the sergeant.

"A big perch took mine."

"Now when the pickerel swallows the perch," resumed the sergeant, and bowed his head, "which I hope will happen very soon, the two rings will still come to lie -- under the same -- heart." The last was whispered with a tender protraction of the words, but the sergeant's purpose failed completely. The girl turned away abruptly without answering, and joined the other maids.

"Prosit, my boy!" he said to himself. "Squelched again! And why speak of a heart? And on deck! But one thing pleases me: she didn't take it amiss that I ventured to address her at all. Therefore, don't be faint-hearted!"

He went down into the dining-room and bought a cigar, lighted it, came up again, sat down on his trunk with a free and lofty mien, drew long clouds of smoke from his cigar, and seemed content.

He noticed that the attractive glazier's daughter passed him several times quite unconcerned, now and then adjusting the pink silk knot under her chin and fingering the beautiful lace of her neckerchief, which fell down over her breast. She talked freely with the other girls, and seemed very much at ease.

The cigar, like so many other things in this world, came to an end. The sergeant threw away the little stump, which was still afire, with the intention of tossing it into the lake; but the stump was so light that it went only a short distance on deck and lay there smoking. At once came a foot in the prettiest little polished shoe, and stepped on it, so that it was extinguished instantly. The sergeant raised his eyes from the foot to the head and saw the girl stranger. Her glance met his. He rose hurriedly from his trunk, approached her with a polite bow, and said: "Thank you my dear girl! My cigar hardly deserved to be touched by your foot -- but --"

A cold, scornful expression in her face was her answer.

( From Det går an, Chapter 1)


I say "happily", because though I've had a volume of Almqvist on my shelves for a few years now, I've found it difficult to start reading it, because aside from all the usual challenges of reading Swedish I struggle with the old-style spelling and vocabulary. (Swedish spelling was substantially reformed in 1906.)

E.g., from the middle of the above passage:

– När nu, återtog sergeanten och böjde hufvudet, gäddan slukar aborren, som jag hoppas snart sker, så komma ändock de begge ringarne att ligga – under samma hjerta! Det sista uthviskades med en öm dragning på orden, men som alldeles misslyckades för sergeanten. Flickan vände sig tvert bort utan att svara, och blandade sig med de öfriga jungfrurna.

– Prosit junker! sade han till sig sjelf. Afbiten på ny stat! och hvarföre tala om hjerta? och på däck! Men ett fägnar mig: hon misstyckte icke, att jag vågade ett du till henne. Fördenskull och alltså, aldrig mamsell mera!

I can count 14 archaic words or spellings in that, and there's probably more that I've missed.

Note that the line translated by Burnett as "she didn't take it amiss that I ventured to address her at all" actually means "... that I ventured a du to her" i.e. the informal second person pronoun.

Strängnäs Cathedral

[Image source:]

When he examined the shores they were passing, he noticed that the steamer was about to put into Strängnäs. Sailors far out on the lake can see the large cathedral and its majestic spire, which commands the whole Södermanland neighbourhood. Only at close range can one discern a number of small red wooden houses straggling below the church...

( From Det går an, Chapter 1)

As an E-W waterway Lake Mälaren was such an important civilising feature of ancient Svealand  that three of Sweden's tradional counties are named by their position relative to the lake: Uppland to the north, Västmanland to the west and Södermanland to the south.

C.J.L Almqvist, portrait by Johan Gustaf Köhler

[The images above and below come from this web page about portraits of Almqvist: ]

C.J.L. Almqvist, portrait by Carl Peter Mazer

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