Johnson, Eyvind (29 July 1900 - 25 August 1976)

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Eyvind Johnson (29 July 1900 - 25 August 1976)

Monica Setterwall Wranne
The Eyvind Johnson Society, Stockholm

1974 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech

Johnson: Banquet Speech





This entry was expanded by Wranne from her Johnson entry in DLB 259: Twentieth-Century Swedish Writers Before World War II.

BOOKS: De fyra främlingarna (Stockholm: Tiden, 1924);

Timans och rättfärdigheten (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1925);

Stad i mörker (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1927);

Lettre recommandée (Paris: Collection européenne, 1927); original Swedish published as Stad i ljus: En historia från Paris (Stockholm: Tiden, 1928);

Minnas (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1928); expanded as Herr Clerk vår mästare: En gruppering, edited by Örjan Lindberger (Stockholm: Atlantis, 1998);

Kommentar till ett stjärnfall (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1929);

Avsked till Hamlet: En historia om en ungdom (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1930);

Natten är här (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1932);

Bobinack (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1932);

Regn i gryningen (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1933);

Än en gång, kapten! (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1934);

Nu var det 1914 (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1934); translated by Mary Sandbach as 1914 (London: Adam, 1970);

Här har du ditt liv! (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1935);

Se dig inte om! (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1936);

Slutspel i ungdomen (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1937);

Nattövning (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1938);

Den trygga världen (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1940);

Soldatens återkomst (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1940);

Grupp Krilon (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1941);

Krilons resa (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1942);

Krilon själv (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1943);

Sju liv (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1944);

Som en av våra egna: Ett samtal om norska böcker och svenska, by Johnson and Sigurd Hoel (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1944);

Romanen om Olof (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1945)–comprises Nu var det 1914, Här har du ditt liv!, Se dig inte om!, and Slutspel i ungdomen;

Pan mot Sparta: Fem noveller med klassiskt motiv (Copenhagen: Folmer Christensen, 1946; Stockholm: Bonnier, 1946);

Strändernas svall: En roman om det närvarande (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1946); translated by M. A. Michael as Return to Ithaca: The Odyssey Retold as a Modern Novel (London & New York: Thames & Hudson, 1952);

Krilon: En roman om det sannolika (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1948)–comprises Grupp Krilon, Krilons resa, and Krilon själv;

Strändernas svall: Ett drama i tre akter och ett antal bilder om den återvändande (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1948);

Dagbok från Schweiz, 1947–1949 (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1949);

Drömmar om rosor och eld (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1949); translated by Erik J. Friis as Dreams of Roses and Fire (New York: Hippocrene, 1984);

Lägg undan solen (Stockholm: Bonnier / Helsinki: Schildt, 1951);

Romantisk berättelse (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1953);

Vinterresa i Norrbotten (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1955);

Tidens gång: En romantisk berättelse (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1955);

Molnen över Metapontion (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1957);

Vägar över Metaponto: En resedagbok (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1959);

Hans nådes tid (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1960); translated by Elspeth Harley Schubert as The Days of His Grace (London: Chatto & Windus, 1968);

Spår förbi Kolonos: En berättelse (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1961);

Livsdagen lång: En roman, berättad i Rom (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1964);

Stunder, vågor: berättelser från resor (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1964);

Favel ensam (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1968);

Några steg mot tystnaden: En roman om fångna (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1973);

Personligt, Politiskt, Estetiskt, edited by Örjan Lindberger (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1992).

PLAY PRODUCTIONS: Strändernas svall, Linköping, Linköpings Stadsteater, 10 November 1948;

Musik för stråkar och Nausikaa ensam, text by Johnson, music by Ingvar Lidholm, Eklidens skola, Nacka, September 1971.

PRODUCED SCRIPTS: Den respektfulla skökan, television, translation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s La Putain respectueuse, Sveriges Radio TV, 7 October 1960;

Smutsiga händer, television, translation of Sartre’s Les Mains sales, Sveriges Radio TV, 2 September 1963;

Stängda dörrar, television, translation of Sartre’s Huis clos, Sveriges Television 2, 10 November 1981.

OTHER: Håndslag: Fakta og orientering for nordmenn, edited by Johnson (Stockholm, 1942–1945).

SELECTED PERIODICAL PUBLICATION–UNCOLLECTED: Text for Musik för stråkar och Nausikaa ensam, Prisma, new series 6 (1948).

Eyvind Johnson’s work is central to Swedish fiction of the twentieth century. The richness of his prose, his experiments with narrative form, his erudition in humanist fields, and his aversion to oppression and tyranny made his writings a catalyst of the social and political upheaval in Sweden and in Europe. Many of his novels feature historical settings that depict almost all centuries of European history, including ancient eras of legends and sagas such as that of Odysseus. Yet, whatever the fictional time frame, Johnson is ultimately concerned with the human condition of the narrative present. The trademark of his narrative art is his distinctive mingling of realism with fantasy. The appreciation of Johnson’s novels by critics has come about gradually, with their deepening respect and admiration, and over the course of his career he received many literary prizes. In 1974 he and the poet Harry Martinson, a close friend, shared the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Johnson’s life and work are the more remarkable because of the modest circumstances of his provenance. Eyvind Olof Verner Johnson was born on 29 July 1900 in the village of Björkelund, just outside the city of Boden, far north in Sweden. (Some sources list his birthplace as Svartbjörnsbyn, but he only went to school there for a few years.) His parents, Olof Petter Johnson and Cevia Gustafsdotter Johnson, had come from southern Sweden, having worked their way north with the construction of the railroad; his father cut stones for the railroad tracks, and his mother baked bread for the navvies. The Johnsons were immigrants, in a sense, to the sparsely populated areas and rugged landscape of Norrbotten. Young Eyvind and his four siblings grew up with tales of wonder about southern Sweden, where apples and pears were said to grow freely and bread was made with wheat flour.

While the family was living in Björkelund, Olof Johnson became ill and unable to work. The family’s already strained finances grew desperate, and Johnson soon became the foster child of his mother’s sister and her husband, also a quarryman, who had no children of their own. At first they lived in a house across the road from Johnson’s mother and father in Björkelund. In 1913, however, the boy and his foster parents moved north with the railroad to Näsberg, a settlement of a few cottages close to a stone quarry. Johnson worked with the grown men in the quarry and also spent time trekking in the wilderness. After a couple of years he left his foster parents’ home and started walking south along the railroad tracks, his belongings in a birch-bark backpack.

Johnson spent the next four years doing sundry jobs in the Boden and Luleå areas and experienced hard times. World War I worsened the insecurity of the Swedish economy; the welfare system–for which Sweden was later lauded–was still twenty years away. Johnson worked as a logger, a sawmill worker, a brickyard laborer, a farmhand picking potatoes, and a projectionist in a movie theater, eventually joining the workers’ union. He also read voraciously. He first became acquainted with Homer’s Odyssey (circa 800–700 B.C.) while screening movies in the projection booth. Johnson portrayed this period of social and intellectual discovery, of survival and maturation, in a series of novels he wrote in the the 1930s, beginning with Nu var det 1914 (1934; translated as 1914, 1970). Although he did not explicitly call them autobiographical, Johnson nonetheless shared much with their protagonist, a teenager named Olof, such as bouts of hard physical labor, loneliness and wandering, odd jobs, the love of reading, and a growing awareness of the power of words.

In 1919 in Boden, Johnson joined the Young Socialists, a political group that had broken away from the Social Democratic Party in 1908 because of differing attitudes toward social injustice. In his articles that appeared between 1919 and 1924 in the periodical of the Young Socialists, Brand (Fire), Johnson’s political views and growing social consciousness show the influence of the Russian philosopher Petr Kropotkin’s nonviolent anarchism. Kropotkin’s belief that society could be changed without violence remained for years a challenge and a central issue for Johnson, who continually sought ways to oppose all forms of tyranny. Indeed, in the early 1920s, Johnson in his writings was already warning against the nascent Nazi movement in Germany.

Johnson’s contacts with young anarcho-syndicalists enabled him to move to Stockholm in 1919, and two years later he hid in the cargo hold of a ship on its way to Hamburg; he spent most of the 1920s in Germany and France. While Johnson experienced much material hardship and sometimes verged on starvation in post-World War I Berlin and Paris, he also came of age as a writer during this period. Living in an environment rich in original literary ideas, he often encountered larger-than-life people–many of them survivors from the war who later reappeared as characters in his novels. Yet, a shortage of means prompted Johnson to return to Sweden in 1923. For a year he was politically active as secretary of the Young Socialists in Stockholm. He also published a collection of short stories, De fyra främlingarna (1924, The Four Strangers), in which the main character of each story is a misfit in society and lacks the energy necessary to solve his particular dilemma. Some reviewers of the book overemphasized the theme of social outcasts and ridiculed the inability of Johnson’s characters to help themselves.

Johnson’s first novel, Timans och rättfärdigheten (1925, Timans and Righteousness), was written during a return visit to the province of Norrbotten and his foster parents’ cottage in Näsberg. The protagonist, Stig Timans, is well-to-do but nevertheless alienated from society. While he feels genuine solidarity with the poor, he cannot engage himself constructively to help them; he is unable to take action against social injustice. One of his father’s employees, and a friend of Stig’s, struggles for workers’ rights and is shot in the process, without Stig coming to his assistance. The themes of guilt, solidarity, and the inability to take decisive action in a postwar world of confusion recall the circumstances of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and recur in several of Johnson’s novels of the 1920s and 1930s. A few of the reviewers recognized Johnson’s experiences in Berlin and Paris as an extra dimension in the narrative and commended the intensity of his prose. Upon receiving the advance payment for Timans och rättfärdigheten, Johnson was able to buy a typewriter and a ticket to return to Berlin and Paris.

Between 1926 and 1930 in France, Johnson’s irregular means of subsistence amounted to the meager remunerations he received for articles submitted to Swedish magazines. His increasing knowledge of French language and literature, however, and his contacts with French writers and intellectuals motivated him to experiment with the narrative form. On a tour southwest to the Bay of Biscayne he saw the sea for the first time. Back in Paris he married a young Norwegian girl, Aase Christoffersen, and together they made their home in St. Leu-la-Forêt, just north of Paris, until 1930, when they moved back to Sweden. Despite the couple’s financial hardship, these years were relatively calm and full of writing for Johnson. In late 1927, however, he suffered a heavy personal loss when his youngest and closest brother, Tore, died in a hospital in Cassadaga, New York, from tuberculosis. Through their correspondence, Johnson knew that Tore’s lungs were afflicted; he took severely to heart the fact that he had not been able to help his brother in time.

Johnson set his next novel, Stad i mörker (1927, Town in Darkness), in a small town in northern Sweden, where the freezing winter, the seemingly eternal nights, and the gossip provide the background for the three protagonists. Their lives and reflections represent facets of the writer’s own persona in his attempts to come to terms with harsh living conditions. The interlacing of multiple voices also points up Johnson’s interest in the instrumentation of music, an early example of a narrative method that he developed in future novels. As in Stad i mörker, the act of reconciling oneself with personal hardships is central in Stad i ljus (1928, City in Light). Although Johnson submitted the novel in late 1926 for publication, it did not appear in Sweden until 1928. In the meantime, however, Stad i ljus was translated into French by Johnson’s friend the journalist Victor Vinde and published in Paris as Lettre recommandée(1927, Registered Letter). Johnson presents a dilemma closely modeled on his own: the endless walking of a hungry writer, Torsten, on the streets of Paris, while he awaits a registered letter from Sweden with money for articles submitted. There appear to be two main characters whose voices blend intermittently: Torsten and the city of Paris itself. Johnson’s avid reading of Knut Hamsun, Marcel Proust, Henri Bergson, and Sigmund Freud influenced the quality of his prose, his use of psychological time versus physical time, and his portrayal of Torsten as a conglomerate of irrational impulses.

Johnson’s next work, the novel Minnas (1928, Remembering), was long in the making, since his brother’s death in 1927 had delayed the author’s writing process. The original title, “Herr Clerk, vår mästare” (Mr. Clerk, Our Master), refers to a double setting: part of the story is set in a small northern town, the other part in Heaven. On Earth, Clerk is the town librarian, and, in Heaven, God is portrayed as a sea captain who tries to keep Earth on a steady course. Clerk in his world of books and God in his supreme position both have an advantageous survey of the human condition and thus a clear view of the desirable outcome of events. Nevertheless, they share the predicament of not being able to avoid disasters. The two parts of Heaven and Earth made the manuscript unwieldy, however, and Johnson eventually deleted all of the heavenly setting, renaming the novel Minnas. The deleted parts were later published as part of Spår förbi Kolonos (1961, Traces Past Kolonos). Finally, in 1998 the full text of the novel was published under its original title. By the time Minnas came out, Johnson was well aware of the stream-of-consciousness technique for which James Joyce was known, although he did not actually read Joyce’s novel Ulysses (1922) until 1929. In Johnson’s novel a character’s inner drama is reflected through his or her own turbulent, fragmented thoughts. Early examples of interior monologues, illustrating the psychological probing of a character, also appear in the short story “Svår stund” (1928, Difficult Moment), which was collected later in Än en gång, kapten! (1934, Once Again, Captain!), Johnson’s third volume of short stories.

Johnson frequently employs interior monologues in his next novel, Kommentar till ett stjärnfall (1929, Commentary to a Falling Star). Stormdal, a fruit wholesaler, grows uncontrollably tense to the point of a mental breakdown. His elation at receiving an order–the falling star of the title–stands in vivid contrast to his fixation on bananas. His wife, Laura, brings in a psychiatrist whose questions aggravate rather than help Stormdal, and once his fixation develops into a craze, he is confined to an asylum. The narrative embodies several parallel subplots and characters, such as Stormdal’s two sons–Magnus Lyck and Andreas Sonath–by two different mistresses. Magnus and Andreas are in many ways each other’s opposites, and, if considered in tandem, they represent various aspects, strengths and weaknesses, of the writer’s own persona. Viewing communism as a solution to social injustice, Magnus protests against the bourgeois values of his father; yet, not a committed political activist, he is in search of deeper beliefs. Through childhood memories and, most importantly, a proximity to the primal forces of nature, Magnus eventually finds his source of strength. Andreas, on the other hand, with his good looks and his sense of music (he plays the piano), has no qualms about other people’s misfortunes. Sailing through the pleasures of life, he allows women of means to provide for him–Stormdal’s own wife being one of them.

Many of the story lines in Kommentar till ett stjärnfall intersect with each other; however, although the characters are portrayed with deep psychological insight, they remain essentially apart, disparate, and thus unable to understand one another. The novel represented a breakthrough in terms of critical reception. Reviewers acclaimed the book for Johnson’s modern, dynamic characterization of individuals whom the reader sees from inside their thoughts and caprices. Not only was this use of the interior monologue considered a first in Swedish fiction, but also, for the first time in a novel, Stockholm was portrayed as a big city full of lonely people.

Johnson wrote his subsequent work, Avsked till Hamlet: En historia om en ungdom (1930, Farewell to Hamlet: A Story of a Youth), in only a couple of months. He considered the novel unfinished but was unable to explore its contents further because they approached too closely his own sorrow and a sense of having failed his brother. The narrative incorporates characters whose relationship as siblings parallels the closeness that Eyvind and Tore Johnson shared. Mårten Torpare cares deeply for his twin sister, Sigrid, who–lacking the education and financial support that her brother received from his wealthy foster parents–has gone on to lead a carefree, somewhat reckless life. When Sigrid dies in childbirth, Torpare blames himself, believing that he neglected to take responsibility for her and to act on behalf of her welfare. His loss also has a bearing on the choices he makes later in his life. He finally takes action, when he prevents his younger sister, Tora, from running off with a revivalist preacher. In this sense, Hamlet’s dilemma–the conflict between inaction and action–informs Johnson’s narrative, with Torpare serving as the mouthpiece of the writer himself.

Johnson returned to Sweden in the early 1930s and began working on his next novel, but the writing proved slow. In order to provide for his family (which now included a son, Tore, born in 1928) he had to produce short stories continuously; some of these stories were collected for publication in Natten är här (1932, Night Is Here). A few of the stories concern Johnson’s experiences in France and Germany after World War I and reflect his affinity at that time for the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. For Johnson, with the old European culture gone–its monuments and values having been destroyed by the war–the time was ripe for a new individual, a human being unlike any other, to emerge; Rousseau’s creative vitality and unbounded appetite for life affirmed this perspective. Johnson’s next novel, Bobinack (1932), is named after such an experimental human being. Bobinack is a bewildering man, always present in the center of action but not always for clear reasons. At once loved and feared, he laughs loudly and demonically, as if echoing life in its prime. His energy works like an amoral force, for weak and strong characters alike succumb to his power.

Set in Stockholm, the novel starts with a collision. On a busy street in the city a sudden crash occurs between a tram and an automobile. The characters in the book either witness the event from various vantage points or are involved in the collision; Bobinack himself is watching high up on a bridge across the street. The narrative follows the postcollision movements of the characters, who are gradually shown to be interrelated by marriage, money, or mere acquaintance, and through all of them Bobinack works his destabilizing influence. This collision and Bobinack’s machinations elicit Johnson’s main reason for writing the novel. Influenced by D. H. Lawrence and his emphasis on natural instincts, Johnson uses Bobinack to criticize the attack on primitivism by the cultural establishment of the early 1930s.

Johnson resumed the question of how primitivist ideas might revitalize a stifling bourgeois culture in the novel Regn i gryningen (1933, Rain at Dawn). The protagonist, Henrik Fax, breaks with his conventional, middle-class life and tests a return to nature by moving back to the rural circumstances of his childhood and engaging in a love affair. In Regn i gryningen Henrik Fax, Torpare, and a writer with the initials E. J. try to come to terms with the fluidity of truth and the question of how far one’s instincts should be allowed to go in order to break with societal conventions. Through these three different characters embodied in a single narrator, Johnson illuminates the personal dilemma of working through his own unprocessed memories. Regn i gryningen was not well received, however; the indignant critics deplored what they considered to be amoral content and subversive tendencies.

Before writing about his childhood in a series of autobiographical novels, Johnson completed the story collection Än en gång, kapten! The motifs in most of these stories are based on his home province of Norrbotten, a setting that–with its seemingly endless miles of forests, marshlands, and mosquitoes–marked a first in Swedish fiction at that time. The collection was a success upon publication.

The novels that Johnson based on his life are Nu var det 1914; Här har du ditt liv! (1935, Here Is Your Life!); Se dig inte om! (1936, Don’t Look Back!); and Slutspel i ungdomen (1937, Closing Remarks to Youth). All of these works were republished in one volume, titled Romanen om Olof (1945, The Novel about Olof). In each of the four books, Johnson inserts a legend, tale, or folk song. In Nu var det 1914, the tale of mist and consumption is a poetic rendering of a social disease, tuberculosis, which was rampant in the poverty-stricken areas of Sweden in the early 1900s. In Här har du ditt liv! Johnson weaves a folk song of love and betrayal into the narrative, while in Se dig inte om! he derives the tale from a true story about people who were lured from Norrbotten to work in Brazil and promised a life of riches and food in abundance but who died there. In the fourth volume, Slutspel i ungdomen, a series of imitations of well-known classics, such as Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the story of Buffalo Bill, and the nineteenth-century Entwicklung novels, appear in Olof’s hallucinatory dreams. Reflecting Johnson’s experiments in mixing realism with fantasy to convey harsh conditions, the tales of this tetralogy metaphorically illustrate the Norrbotten inheritance that Olof brings with him into the world. The treasure of stories, legends, songs, and books he has read fosters in him a social concern and a sense of responsibility toward his own learning.

Although some critics regarded the interlacing of fictional reality with saga and folk song as an unsuitable mixture of genres, reviewers in general praised Johnson’s autobiographical novels as the best works he had yet written. Some critics pointed out his refreshing approach to autobiographical material and his emphasis on words, rather than on deeds, in describing Olof’s growth process. In the beginning Olof reflects and ponders more than he speaks. He listens intently to the sounds of words, but only gradually does he begin to communicate. His delirious fantasies in Slutspel i ungdomen, the final book of the tetralogy, are those of a verbal equilibrist well acquainted with the classics.

The issues behind the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 caused a heated debate among the media in Sweden. Johnson, along with many other writers and intellectuals, expressed his solidarity with the Spanish Republic against Francisco Franco and the military support given him by Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Johnson’s concern in his earlier novels–to ask pertinent questions rather than provide the answers–was now an intellectual luxury that seemed no longer affordable. His support of the Spanish government troops proved a way for him to express in writing his struggle for freedom and democracy. In Nattövning (1938, Night Maneuver), his next novel, the narrator– again named Mårten Torpare, who is a pacifist at heart–contemplates how to fight the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Although he was slow to finish writing it, Johnson’s ideological stand in Nattövning is clear and unequivocal. For Torpare, words in the service of humanist values cannot be used as weapons, while words used as weapons run the risk of becoming simplifications or mere antifascist propaganda. The tumult with which the book was received upon its publication showed how divided the ideologies were in political and literary circles at the time in Sweden. Some critics applauded Nattövning for its firm stand against Nazism and Fascism; others called it a hateful book; and still others questioned why a writer of Johnson’s caliber stooped to the level of propaganda.

On 25 December 1938 Johnson’s wife, Aase Johnson, died suddenly and unexpectedly from pneumonia, and in his grief Johnson was unable to resume writing. At the same time, World War II was drawing nearer. On 1 September 1939 Hitler’s troops marched into Poland, and on 30 November the Russians detonated bombs in Helsinki. The coalition government in Sweden gave permission to its citizen voluntaries in December 1939 to fight with Finnish troops against the Russians in Finland. In January 1940 Johnson and his close friend Martinson traveled to northern Sweden to persuade the military troops stationed there to enlist as volunteer soldiers in Finland. The two friends themselves left afterward for Finland. Johnson’s second wife, Cilia Frankenhaeuser, hailed from Borgå in Finland; she was Finnish but spoke Swedish. The two were married in June 1940 and went on to have two children: Maria, born in 1944, and Anders, born in 1946.

Appropriately for such a war-stricken time, a call for mutual solidarity between Nordic countries in the face of oppression is the guiding motif of Johnson’s next novel. In Soldatens återkomst (1940, The Soldier’s Return) a soldier is killed on a Swedish country road as he returns from fighting in wars on the European continent. His interior monologue, as he lies dying, is intermittently broken by a story of liquor smuggling and by the notes of Torpare–notes assembled as a series of essays on the defense of human decency against all forms of oppression. As the writer’s mouthpiece, Torpare conveys a highly personal account of Johnson’s own strengths and weaknesses in the manner of Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, whose writings frequently served as a major source of inspiration to Johnson.

As chief editor of the magazine Håndslag (Handshake) from 1942 to 1945, Johnson gave moral support to the resistance movement in Norway during the German occupation. Printed on thin paper, measuring only five-by-seven inches, the magazine was small enough to be smuggled in boots across the Swedish-Norwegian border. Johnson began each issue with an editorial, while the news items were written in Norway.

Upon the completion of his autobiographical novels about Olof, Johnson started on a sizable narrative project that reflects the course of events of World War II as they developed and as they influence the fictional characters. The perspective is Swedish, exposing the official government position of neutrality in contrast to a theme of firm resistance against oppression. The Krilon trilogy, which Johnson wrote between 1941 and 1943, consists of Grupp Krilon (1941, Group Krilon), Krilons resa (1942, Krilon’s Journey), and Krilon själv (1943, Krilon Himself). The trilogy spans approximately 1,800 pages and was collected in 1948 as Krilon: En roman om det sannolika (Krilon: A Novel about the Probable). The subtitle of the 1948 edition indicates Johnson’s ambition to go beyond exact realistic detail. True to his opinion that the shortest road to the truth is located in the realm of the fantastic, Johnson presents examples from the borderline area where the expected gives way to fantasy. On such occasions the conventional rules of time and space cease to exist. The figure in a portrait steps out of its frame and begins playing the piano; the emperor of China is crowned while speaking words of wisdom; and an angel with a long, silvery beard reappears at intervals, soothingly directing the course of events.

The Krilon books indeed incorporate accounts of realism–for example, the reports of Germans torturing their Norwegian prisoners. Johnson’s characters react to the official Swedish policy of adapting to German demands in funny, rather satirical renderings. With its examples of resistance against tyranny and oppression, this trilogy may be considered Johnson’s military service in words, as the writer himself announces toward the end of the third book. Yet, more importantly, the Krilon narratives make up a novel about courage in the face of persecution.

The plot concerns Krilon, a real estate agent, and an assortment of friends: the cabinetmaker Hovall; the carpenter foreman Minning; the building contractor Jonas Frid; the salesman Arpius; the engineer Odenarp; and the surgeon Segel. All of the men meet regularly to speak on elevated subjects. Soon, new competitors in the real estate business, G. Staph and T. Jekau, encroach on Krilon’s market shares and eventually bankrupt him. They resort to dirty tricks, discrediting Krilon behind his back–even setting fire to his office and incriminating him in the blaze. They put pressure on Krilon’s friends, until all of them turn against him and gradually come under the sway of Staph, Jekau, and their cohorts. Krilon tries at length to unify his friends–as a group they have power, he reminds them, whereas as individuals they are all defenseless–but he fails and is excluded from the group. His friends soon find out, however, that working for Staph means selling one’s soul to the devil. Thus, as a call to resistance in the guise of imperial mildness and wisdom, Krilon sends Hovall an eighteenth-century illustration depicting the coronation of the emperor of China. Krilon then sets off in secret for Norway, crossing the border undetected. He meets with the Norwegian resistance movement and receives reports of torture in Norwegian prisons. On his return he discovers that his closest friend, the Polish artist Isabelle Verolyg, has committed suicide. The carrier pigeon, the sign of his safe mission, had not reached her. In spite of this personal tragedy, Krilon is able to instill new courage in his friends, and they reunite around him. Together, they finally oust Staph and his followers.

Johnson weaves allegory into these narratives of oppression and revenge, embedding certain textual clues through the names of the characters. The name of Krilon’s nemesis, G. Staph, phonetically signifies the Gestapo. Staph’s underlings, Görén, Göllén, and Höllén, stand for Hermann Göring, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler. T. Jekau approximates “Tjekan,” the Swedish transcription of the Soviet secret police, the KGB. The American Frank Lind, who becomes Krilon’s ally in the struggle against Staph, stands for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the third part of the trilogy, Krilon själv, they make their treaty–their Mälar-Charta–in a rowboat of a gray battleship color on Lake Mälaren. Johnson implies that Krilon and his friends represent free states fighting for independence against oppression. In this manner the course of events in World War II and the fates of individual states not only provide the backdrop of fictional reality but also are played out on an allegorical level by the characters themselves. Moreover, Krilon fights against evil for the freedom of being human–a freedom that must be won repeatedly. Johnson’s depiction of Krilon’s struggle displays deep psychological insight, humor, irony, and his distinctive mingling of fantasy and everyday reality.

The effects of war on the individual psyche is a leitmotiv in Johnson’s first novel of the postwar era, Strändernas svall: En roman om det närvarande (1946; translated as Return to Ithaca: The Odyssey Retold as a Modern Novel, 1952). While its subtitle means “a novel about the present,” the narrative is set in the ancient period of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, in which the gods command Odysseus to return home to kill the suitors of his queen, Penelope, thereby achieving divine justice and restoring order on the island of Ithaca. In his version of the epic, Johnson questions the authority of the gods and their sense of justice, for his gods are less than divine and his heroes less than heroic. Johnson’s Odysseus is a warrior scarred with memories of battle–recollections that he can barely live with and that make him reluctant to kill again. Eumaeus, the swineherd, voices the central idea of the narrative: violence breeds only violence, and killing the suitors will bring further bloodshed from generation to generation unless Odysseus can replace dictatorship with a more humane system.

The novel opens with Odysseus on the island of Calypso, where he has spent the last seven years and from which he departs by raft at the gods’ behest. At the same time, in a second narrative thread, Odysseus’s wife, Penelope, waits at home on Ithaca for his return. In a third narrative thread, Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, visits Nestor and Menelaus and inquires about his father, who has been absent for nineteen years. Barely surviving a storm at sea, Odysseus is thrown up on the Phaeacian beach and is found by Nausikaa. He spends the evening recounting his adventures at her parents’ court, and the next day he returns home to Ithaca to resume his rule on the island.

Johnson develops the role of the narrator, a central preoccupation of his writing, much further in Strändernas svall. For example, at the Phaeacian court of Nausikaa’s parents, Odysseus does not merely report on the horrors of his warrior past. Instead, he strives to make his listeners understand the harsh reality of what he has seen and done. Odysseus’s eagerness to convey his experiences in battle in a vivid and palpable way motivates him–and by extension Johnson–to incorporate the supernatural in his account. Johnson suggests that with glittering touches of the fantastic, the unbelievable can better be grasped. He lets his Odysseus develop into a narrator who moves his audience by his use of intense, graphic images of saga-like events. Johnson’s characterization of Odysseus as a potent, skillful storyteller helped Strändernas svall receive overwhelmingly positive reviews. The book sold well, enabling the writer and his family to move abroad to the canton of Graubünden in southern Switzerland in 1947.

While living in Switzerland, Johnson wrote his first historical novel, Drömmar om rosor och eld (1949; translated as Dreams of Roses and Fire, 1984). Set in France in the 1600s, a time of religious and political strife between the Catholics and the Huguenots, the book follows the intrigues deftly maneuvered by Cardinal Richelieu and the Paris court of Louis XIII, with the dowager queen, Maria of Medici, in the center. Johnson’s novel is based on actual events in the city of Loudun, involving a Catholic priest whose good looks, arrogance, and keen interests in power and in women got him deeply entangled in political intrigues and ultimately aroused the ire of formidable enemies. Witch-hunts were not uncommon at the time, and the priest, accused of being the devil’s henchman, was burned at the stake. The case, eventually considered a miscarriage of justice, has since been widely documented.

Among Johnson’s sources for Drömmar om rosor och eld was a diary, written in the seventeenth century by Marie Aubin, a girl at the Ursuline convent in Loudun; her nephew had the diary published in Amsterdam in 1716. In the diary Aubin gives a detailed account of some of the exorcist séances. The nuns were said to be possessed by shouting devils, and spectators were invited to witness the séances. One spectator, Daniel Drouin, commented caustically on the faulty Latin that one of the devils used, and the crowd laughed. Johnson employs Drouin’s remark as the opening paragraph of Drömmar om rosor och eld. As is typical of his narratives, the significance of the echo recurs both in the fictional course of events and as a device for injecting a narrator into the text. Mildly satirical, the narrator of Drömmar om rosor och eld has Drouin wander about Loudun in search of another caustic remark that will reverberate throughout the city. Mercilessly, as the voice of posterity, the narrator denounces the testimony left behind by the possessed nuns, by the exorcist priests, and–not least–by de Laubardemont, Richelieu’s right-hand man and the tormentor behind the scenes.

Although infused with ambiguity, the character of the persecuted priest, Grainier, is the core concern of the novel. Portrayed by Johnson as someone sincerely in search of the truth, Grainier confesses his sins to the lady of his heart, Madeleine de Brone. The accusations against him are absurd; yet, when the screaming, demonized nuns confront him, he admits to hearing a demonic echo inside himself. In essence, Grainier constitutes a person of both strengths and weaknesses, with a demonic potential for both good and evil. Finally, in contrast to Grainier’s inner search for truth is Drouin’s commentary in his diary on the historical and fictional events. Drouin’s diary gives a hilarious account of his self-delusions as an upright citizen, a deputy judge, and as a person who preserves truth for posterity. Drouin’s redeeming feature as a character, however, is his loyalty to Grainier as a friend.

Critics received Drömmar om rosor och eld with praise for its historical accuracy and the psychological depth of its character portrayals, stressing the significance of the search for truth. Some reviewers drew parallels with contemporary examples of victims of collective hysteria and intolerance, while others recognized the analogy of seventeenth-century devils to contemporary Nazi and Fascist sympathizers. In addition, critics pointed out that while these radical parties no longer posed overt threats after the war, their oppressive tendencies need to be addressed in the context of the human psyche.

For less than a year, in 1949 and 1950, Johnson and his family stayed outside London in Amersham. The novel he wrote at this time, Lägg undan solen (1951, Put Away the Sun), tells about a group of fugitives seeking shelter on a mountaintop somewhere in Europe. The geographic area recalls the border between Switzerland and Italy, a region that was previously the Johnsons’ home for two years. As European pawns in the power game of neighboring states, the fugitives are led by Gallo, a follower of Peter Kropotkin’s antimilitarist philosophy. Gallo is a revolutionary who has had to put aside his pacifist ideals to fight oppression. A central work in Johnson’s authorship, Lägg undan solen foreshadows Hans nådes tid (1960; translated as The Days of His Grace, 1968), the historical novel that Johnson set in the time of Charlemagne.

In 1950 Johnson and his family moved back to Sweden for good. From this point on he considered Stockholm his geographical home base, interrupted only by frequent travels in Europe. In 1951, several years into the Cold War, Uppsala University invited him to give the “vårtal,” the annual speech given in celebration of spring. Johnson used the occasion to argue in support of Western democratic ideals and the principles of human rights. His speech affirmed that he sided with the West against the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and continued his struggle for human freedom against oppression–a perspective that he had voiced as early as the 1920s, with his repeated warnings against Nazism. Many intellectuals and writers in Sweden, however, favored a stance of strict neutrality, a position called “tredje ståndpunkten” (third point of view). Protests erupted, and Johnson’s speech was hotly debated.

For some time Johnson had contemplated writing a sequel to the Olof tetralogy, placing the main character–a projection of himself–in the 1920s in Berlin and Paris, cities where Johnson spent formative years as a young man. His next two novels, Romantisk berättelse (1953, Romantic Tale) and Tidens gång: En romantisk berättelse (1955, The Passage of Time: A Romantic Tale), may thus be called autobiographical in that Johnson sought through writing them an answer to the question of how he became an author. Yet, his methods of answering the question hardly follow the typical definition of autobiography. The narrative is not chronological; it refrains from posing questions as to what really took place; and it does not focus on a single, main character. In looking back on his life in the 1920s in these novels, Johnson essentially depicts three selves. One persona is Yngve Garans, a professional author of bourgeois upbringing, who writes in the 1950s about his recollections of the 1920s. To help him, Yngve has a collection of letters written in the 1920s and given to him by his cousin Greger Garans, a journalist of international repute and the second persona of the novels. Yngve also refers to the diary that Greger kept in the 1920s. The third character is Olle Oper, whose background and appearance coincide closely with those of Olof from the tetralogy.

The central features of the novels are music as a leitmotiv and the merging of past and present, as well as of the three personae. Johnson indicates the leitmotiv of music from the opening pages of Romantisk berättelse, in which a few bars from Ludwig van Beethoven’s Appassionata are presented as notes. The act of Olle giving words to music or describing music in words parallels Johnson’s own elation and sense of creativity when he himself listened to music, particularly to Beethoven. The other main theme of these novels is that of coalescence. At the end of Tidens gång the three characters–Yngve, Greger, and Olle–seem to merge into one, and the different time frames are subsumed in a continuous present that suggests the influence of the French philosopher Henri Bergson on Johnson. The past and present meld together, becoming a part of each other. This revival of Bergson’s theories, popular in the 1920s, has a direct bearing on Johnson’s subsequent novels.

Johnson composed his next work, Vinterresa i Norrbotten (1955, Winter Journey in Norrbotten), in three weeks, following a visit to his home province. He outlines the scenery of the Norrbotten landscape, his characters, and their interactions in precise detail, with the confidence of one revisiting the past, an integral part of himself. While the book is modest in size, it is indispensable for an understanding of Johnson’s sense of his origins.

As was his habit, Johnson had begun his next novel, Molnen över Metapontion (1957, The Clouds over Metapontion), before completing Tidens gång. The narrative of Molnen över Metapontion is propelled by two stories of different time periods with many instances of intersecting plot. Xenophon’s Anabasis and the Persian War of Cyrus against his brother Artaxerxes provide the background of one story, while life in a German concentration camp, where an archeology professor named Lévy is imprisoned, and the subsequent travels of a surviving prisoner, Klemens Decorbie, make up the other. Moreover, ancient Greece, bounded by Magna Graeca in southern Italy to the west and by Persia to the east, in effect parallels the setting of Decorbie’s twentieth-century search in southern Italy for traces of Themistogenes, Xenophon’s likely comrade in the Persian expedition.

The situation of the prisoners in the concentration camp contrasts with that of the Greek soldiers whom Artaxerxes’ troops imprison after the death of Cyrus. In both situations the power of words is decisive. When Lévy entertains the concentration-camp prisoners with stories of the Greek expedition to Persia, his words fortify the prisoners, allowing them to forget for a time their harsh present. Similarly, Xenophon’s speech emboldens his Greek soldiers; strengthened and encouraged, they fight their way back to freedom and eventually return to Greece. Their spirit of resistance gives balance to the bleak, unending cycle of human imprisonment. In Johnson’s fictional universe, to persevere and maintain hope is always an option.

In 1957 Johnson was elected a member of the Swedish Academy. At the same time, Molnen över Metapontion was received with much interest, particularly because of its use of different time levels in an attempt to create simultaneity. It also captures in vivid detail ancient times in Magna Graeca and in Persia, with analogies to the present.

The theme of power is central in Johnson’s next novel, Hans nådes tid, in which Charlemagne’s rise to power and the building of his empire provide the historical frame of the story. With respect to facts and chronology Johnson adheres to standard historical accounts, but his concern lies with the inhabitants of Longobardia, people confronted by Charlemagne’s blatant use of power. In Hans nådes tid the Lupigis family–a father and his three sons–live in Forojuli, which is present-day Friuli in northern Italy. The sons are all in love with Angila, the daughter of the local duke, but the youngest, Johannes, bonds with her after extinguishing a spark that had fallen on her lap. The Lupigis men join the duke in an uprising against Charlemagne, but the rebels are easily and mercilessly crushed by the emperor’s troops. The duke is killed, and Angila is given as part of the plunder to one of Charlemagne’s lackeys; abused in body and soul, she is held prisoner for many years. Johannes, who craves revenge, becomes a secretary to Charlemagne. In this position he is now finally able to free Angila, but she dies on their way home.

Johnson intersperses the fictional present, narrated largely by an anonymous speaker, with different historical periods. The narrator is assisted in his account of the events by the notes and reflections of a much older Johannes, who is casting a backward glance on the events that shaped his and his family’s life. The frequent quotations in the text from a fictional ninth-century chronicler provide an additional perspective on the central course of events. Furthermore, the fictional characters tell stories and engage in interior monologues, resulting in several levels of narratives: the official language of the chronicles; the careful, semitransparent language of Johannes as loyal secretary to Charlemagne; and the privacy of interior monologues. This intricate pattern of narration has several functions. Narrators with varying distances from the center of action each explore their own interpretations of what actually took place. The many narrative voices help Johnson question the effects of political and military oppression on individuals. Furthermore, the narrative is rich in symbolic language and supernatural characteristics. In his defense of human dignity and of the struggle to persevere against heavy odds, Johnson further develops his narrative methods of mingling saga and realistic detail and of creating a sense of simultaneity in times past and present.

Spår förbi Kolonos was intended as a travel book about Johnson’s journey to Greece in 1961. In addition to writing a diary he returned to his own works from the 1920s and 1930s for material. For example, he included chapters on Heaven that were omitted from the novel Minnas. Johnson’s explorations of Greek geography and history in Spår förbi Kolonos gave him an opportunity to retrace his own life and his development as a novelist.

His next novel, Livsdagen lång: En roman, berättad i Rom (1964, Life’s Long Day: A Novel, Told in Rome), accentuates time as a theme. He shows how different times or moments through history become proximate to each other through the recurrence of certain characters. In each new historical setting a man and a woman reappear. Just as in Hans nådes tid, in which Johannes and Angila are separated by her death on their homeward journey, the young couple in Livsdagen lång never unite, although they meet in six different narratives from different centuries. While their names might change, there is something about them that always makes them recognize each other as counterparts before they are separated again. As the subtitle implies through the word berättad (told), Johnson gives a frame to the six stories with a conversation held intermittently in narrative time. The conversation is between the Narrator and the Historian, both of whom display characteristics of the author himself. The emphasis is as much on the creative process of telling a story as it is on the recurrent meetings of the young couple, who lead a life of growing independence from the Narrator, often evading him. They finally leave him behind in despair of his role as one who mediates reality; he is left with a sense that all of his life has been a dream. If one keeps in mind that all of Johnson’s novels are ultimately statements on his own life as a writer, Livsdagen lång may be considered a sequel to Romanen om Olof, Romantisk berättelse, and Tidens gång

Favel ensam (1968, Favel Alone) represents an isolated narrator’s attempt to come to terms with elusive reality. The setting is, alternatively, Amersham, where Johnson lived from 1949 to 1950, and postwar Berlin, which he revisited in 1967. The names of the two main characters, Favel Hyth and Charlon Loday, are references to Raphael Hythloday in Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), and the meaning of utopia is a leitmotiv in the conversations between Favel and Loday. Johnson suggests in Favel ensam that for survivors of the horrors of World War II, the likelihood of creating a better world seems remote. Favel’s search for truth and his insistence on revealing family secrets eventually give way to a sort of Utopian awareness. He comes to the conclusion that his contribution to a better society is to protect the next generation from the pain of learning the truth about their family relationships.

Johnson further explores the meaning of utopia in relation to the limits of the human condition in his last novel, Några steg mot tystnaden: En roman om fångna (1973, Some Steps toward Silence: A Novel about the Imprisoned). This work forms an intricate pattern of narrative voices from different centuries in Europe, interlacing historical events with elements of saga and legend. Robert Guenole is a retired Swedish lawyer who is interested in his family’s history, especially in connection with abuses of power by autocratic rulers. He has asked Andreas Fermier to compile and render a narrative out of his extended research on the Colinet-Guenole family. He instructs that Fermier illuminate in particular two ancestors at certain points in their past: the old mercenary soldier Colinet prior to his involvement in the battle at Nancy in 1477 and the deputy judge André-Saturnin Colinet-Guenole at the time he was pleading a case, from 1804 to 1805. The novel also features a future generation of the Guenole family in the personages of Robert’s nephew, Thomas, and Thomas’s wife, Nina. Thomas and Nina spend their honeymoon in the town of Pontoro on the Swiss-Italian border shortly after the end of World War II.

Political and spiritual imprisonment mark central motifs in Några steg mot tystnaden. In Pontoro, Thomas and Nina are shown photographs of victims of Nazi concentration camps. Another case of imprisonment for political reasons is that of the duke of Enghien, who was accused of treason in a sham trial and executed on Napoleon’s orders in 1804. At the same time a group of people in Village-des-Lanciers are wrongfully incriminated as murderers. The fictional character André-Saturnin commits himself to pleading their innocence. Strong forces are against him, however, with more than mere indications that Napoleon hides one crime while allowing another. André-Satumin fails and is dismissed from his position as a deputy judge, and the prisoners are executed. Nevertheless, for the rest of his life André-Saturnin retains his belief in a better world to come.

A third example of political imprisonment, albeit on the periphery of the narrative, is More’s confinement in the Tower of London. In his work Utopia (1516), he had promoted religious tolerance. Accordingly, he refused to acknowledge Henry VIII’s supremacy over the church, and was executed in 1535. A portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger of one of More’s daughters, Cecily Heron, assumes special significance in the narrative. Although in the painting Cecily’s eyes appear turned away from the viewer on subsequent glances, both Robert and his nephew are convinced that she has looked directly at them. They are also aware of Cecily’s strong likeness to the three important women of the narrative: Robert’s wife, Lucile; his mistress, Elisabetta; and Thomas’s wife, Nina. In this manner and as a contrast to the destructive use of power, Johnson draws a distinct line from the author of Utopia to the women of the Colinet-Guenole family.

Colinet appears toward the end of the narrative. His story, or legend, about the student Jean Buridan–who cleverly outwitted the cruel machinations of a noblewoman in Paris in the early 1300s–spreads warmth and satisfaction among his cold and hungry fellow soldiers on the night before the battle at Nancy. Colinet makes explicit an important function of a Johnson narrator: to free his listeners for a moment from their predicament of being human pawns in the power games of rulers.

Några steg mot tystnaden was highly praised by the critics. It was called one of Johnson’s greatest, most richly composed works. Shortly after its publication, Johnson was awarded a prestigious literary prize by Litteraturfrämjandet, an association (no longer extant) for the promotion of literature.

In 1974 Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson were awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. The citation for Johnson’s award stated that it was “for a narrative art, far-seeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom.” The award brought on a storm of protests in the Swedish press. The immediate background to this reaction was a series of events in January 1974 that had made Johnson resign his membership in the Swedish Writers’ Union. These events were related to the activities of the State Intelligence Bureau. Two journalists, members of the Writers’ Union, had accused the Intelligence Bureau of espionage in Eastern countries and of keeping under surveillance several leftist organizations in Sweden. Action was brought against the two journalists for having published partly classified material, and they were sentenced to jail. A heated Writers’ Union debate followed, centering on the issue of freedom of speech and directed against Swedish authorities in general and the Swedish judicial system in particular. Unwilling to side with political buffeting, Johnson resigned his membership in May 1974. His action drew backbiting comments in the press, somewhat damaging his position as the highly respected writer of Några steg mot tystnaden only a few months earlier. Among the critics were also those who, following Johnson’s Uppsala “vårtal” in 1951, had chastized Johnson for siding with the United States against the Soviet Union instead of backing a third alternative, Europe free from both East and West.

Several times during his writing career, then, Johnson had appeared as a somewhat politically controversial figure even before the Nobel Prize award was announced on 3 October 1974. The Swedish Academy had chosen two of their own members–Johnson for his prose and Martinson for his poetry. The reaction in the press was immediate and at times vitriolic. Sarcasm was leveled at the Swedish Academy for selecting two of their own members and at the two writers for accepting the prize. Having been publicly berated before, Johnson was less concerned for himself than for Martinson as the more vulnerable of the two. Despite his exposure to criticism, Johnson had plans for new novels, but his health was failing. He died of lung cancer on 25 August 1976.

Of the two writers, Martinson was better known outside of Sweden. Although Johnson’s literary texts have been translated into some twenty-six languages, only four of his novels have appeared in English. (One reason may be that the English sentence structure is generally paratactic, making it less readily a vehicle for Johnson’s frequently complex sentence structure characterized by subordination and modal phrases.) Despite the criticism, the Swedish Academy had previously shown a willingness to award the prize to its own members, including Verner von Heidenstam in 1916 and Pär Lagerkvist in 1951. A driving force behind the protests in 1974 was the political climate in general. Venerable institutions such as the Swedish Academy were often regarded as old-fashioned and autocratic, and their power to bestow awards to the right persons was held in doubt.

Why did the Swedish Academy make such a controversial decision? The presentation speech at the Nobel Prize festivities stressed a factor largely overlooked by the eager voices of derision. Johnson and Martinson were chosen as the two foremost representatives, in prose and poetry respectively, of a new phenomenon in Swedish literature of the early to mid twentieth century: the so-called proletarian writers, self-taught without means or formal education, who had created a body of literature sprung from the heart of a people hitherto largely anonymous. Furthermore, some of them, and indeed both Johnson and Martinson, had grown beyond their own region, acquiring deep learning in other cultures and literatures.

For Johnson, the act of writing was essential to life itself. In 1927, in his late twenties and at the beginning of his career, Johnson explained the importance of writing in an impassioned letter to his friend Rudolf Värnlund:

Jag har sagt det förr och säger det tusen gånger tusen: jag lever för att skriva, jag är född till det, det är min instinkt. Jag skulle skriva böcker på näver och med lingonsaft, om det inte funnes andra medel. Jag skulle skriva i mörkret om det inte funnes andra medel. Jag är varken proletär eller aristokrat: jag är en som skriver, som är avsedd av sin instinkt, av sitt öde att skriva.

(I have said it before and will say so thousands of times: I live to write, I was born to write, it is my instinct. I would write books on birch-bark and with the sap of lingon-berries, were there no other means. I would write in the dark, were there no light. I am neither proletarian, nor aristocrat: I am one who writes, who is intended by instinct, by fate, to write.)

Among Johnson’s contributions to the Swedish art of narration are his emphasis on psychological development rather than on the intricacies of a plot, his use of inner monologue to depict a character’s conflicts, his self-consciousness as a writer, and the variety of narrators giving a polyphonous character to the text. With increasing complexity a multitude of voices echo throughout the text, as laughter mingles with seriousness, and fantasy meshes with realism–yet always with a sense of responsibility to the story being told and always with an invitation to the reader to participate in the storytelling.


Per-Olof Mattsson, Eyvind Johnson: Bibliografi (Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis, 2000).


Örjan Lindberger, Norrbottningen som blev europé: Eyvind Johnsons liv och författarskap till och med Romanen om Olof (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1986);

Lindberger, Människan i tiden: Eyvind Johnsons liv och författarskap 1938–1976 (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1990).


Stig Bäckman, Den tidlösa historien: En studie i tre romaner av Eyvind Johnson (Stockholm: Aldus, 1975);

Sverker Göransson, “Berättartekniken i Eyvind Johnsons roman ‘Molnen över Metapontion,’” Samlaren, 83 (1962): 67–91;

Elna Hessel, “Så mötte jag författaren Eyvind Johnson: Om Eyvind Johnsons kamp mot nazismen under Andra världskriget, särskilt mot förhållandena i Norge och hur Krilon-romanerna speglar dessa förhållanden,” Parnass, 2 (1996): 9–13;

Yrjö Hirn, “En fransk häxeriprocess år 1634: några bibliografiska randanteckningar utomkring Eyvind Johnsons senaste roman,” in his Den förgyllda balustraden och andra uppsatser från åren 1949–1952 (Stockholm: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1953);

Bo G. Jansson, Självironi, självbespegling och självreflexion: Den metafiktiva tendensen i Eyvind Johnsons diktning (Stockholm: Almquist & Wiksell, 1990);

Mona Kårsnäs, “Eyvind Johnson och djävulen: Människans andrà jag och den politiska ondskan: studier kring ett motivkomplex i Eyvind Johnsons romankomst,” dissertation, Uppsala University, 1984;

Örjan Lindberger, ed., Herr Clerk Vår Mästare: En gruppering (Stockholm: Atlantis, 1998);

Lindberger, ed., Och så vill jag prata med dig: Brevväxlingen mellan Eyvind Johnson och Elmer Diktonius (Stockholm: Bonnier, 1997);

Merete Mazzarella, “Myt och verklighet: Berättandets problem i Eyvind Johnsons roman Strändernas svall” dissertation, Helsinki University, 1981;

Ole Meyer, Eyvind Johnsons historiska romaner: Analyser av språksyn och världssyn i fem romaner (Copenhagen: Akademisk Forlag, 1976);

C. A. Munk-Nielsen, Eyvind Johnson und Thomas Mann (Copenhagen: Orbis litterarum, 1958);

Birgit Munkhammar, “30-talets perspektiv: Eyvind Johnson som kritiker i tidningen ‘Arbetet,’” Svensk Litteraturtidskrift, 3–4 (1977);

Gavin Orton, Eyvind Johnson (New York: Twayne, 1972);

Torsten Pettersson, Att söka sanningen: En grundprincip i Eyvind Johnsons författarskap (Åbo: Åbo Akademi, 1986);

Nils Schwartz, Hamlet i klasskampen: En ideologikritisk studie i Eyvind Johnsons 20-talsromaner (Lund: Liber, 1979);

Monica Setterwall, “The Unwritten Story–A Study of Meta-Form in Three of Eyvind Johnson’s Novels,” dissertation, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1980;

Barbro Söderberg, Flykten mot stjärnorna: struktur och symbol i Eyvind Johnsons Hans nådes tid (Stockholm: Akademilitteratur, 1980);

Thure Stenström, Romantikern Eyvind Johnson (Lund: Ekstrand, 1978);

Gunnar Wiman, “Den inre monologen i Eyvind Johnsons ‘Kommentar till ett stjärnfall,’” Modersmålslärarnas Förenings årsskrift (1956).


The main collection of Eyvind Johnson’s papers is housed at the Royal Library in Stockholm.

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Johnson, Eyvind (29 July 1900 - 25 August 1976)

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