Delblanc, Sven (Axel Herman) 1931–1992

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DELBLANC, Sven (Axel Herman) 1931–1992

PERSONAL: Born May 26, 1931, in Swan River, Manitoba, Canada; died, 1992; immigrated to Sweden; naturalized Swedish citizen; son of Sigfrid A. (a farmer) and Anna (Nordfeldt) Delblanc; married Christina Ekegard (a teacher), December 3, 1955; children: Anna, Frederik. Education: Uppsala University, Ph.D., 1965. Politics: "Liberal." Religion: "Deist."

CAREER: Worked as farmhand and manual laborer; University of Uppsala, Uppsala, Sweden, educator; writer. Visiting professor at University of California—Berkeley, 1968–69.




Homunculus, en magisk berättelse, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1965, translation by Verne Moberg published as Homunculus: A Magical Tale, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1969.

Kastrate: En romantisk berättelse, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1975, translation by C. W. Williams published as The Castrati: A Romantic Tale, Karoma (Ann Arbor, MI), 1979.

Speranza, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1980, translation by Paul Britten Austin published under same title, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.


Aminne (title means "Remembrance"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1970.

Stenfågel: En berättelse från Sörmland (title means "Stone Bird"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1973.

Vinteride: En berättelse från Sörmland (title means "Winter Ride"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1974.

Stadsporten: En berättelse från Sörmland (title means "The City Gate"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1976.

Agnar, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1992.


Eremitkräftan (novel; title means "The Hermit Crab"), Aldus/Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1962.

Robotbas (play; title means "Robot Base"), produced in 1963.

Ariadne och pafageln (play; title means "Ariadne and the Peacock"), produced in 1964.

Nattresa (novel; title means "Night Journey"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1967.

Asnebrygga (novel; title means "Donkey Bridge"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1970.

Zahak, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1971.

Primavera: En konstnarlig berattelse, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1973.

Grottmannen (novel; title means "The Cave Man"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1977.

Morgenstjärnan (teleplay; title means "The Morning Star"), Alba (Stockholm, Sweden), 1977.

Gunnar Emmanuel: En tidlös berättelse, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1978.

Gröna vintern, Alba (Stockholm, Sweden), 1978.

Arme Richard: En melodram i två akter (play; title means "Poor Richard"), produced in 1978.

Un man på havet, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1979.

Treklöver: Hjalmer Bergman, Birger Sjöberg, Vilhelm Moberg, Alba (Stockholm, Sweden), 1980.

Samuels bok (title means "Samuel's Book"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1981.

Samuels döttrar (title means "Samuel's Daughter"), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1982.

Kanaans land, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1984.

Fågelfrö: Närande och giftigt från tre decennier, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1986.

(With Lars Lönnroth) Den Svenska litteraturen, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1987.

Oanat, osett: En överlick av Reinhold Ljunggrens bilvärld, Grafioteket (Stockholm, Sweden), 1990.

Ifigenia: Berättelse i två upptåg, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1990.

Livets ax: Barndomsminnen, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1991.

Ragnar Johansson, Galleri G. (Helsinki, Sweden), 1991.

Slutord, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1991.

Homerisk hemkomst: Två essäer om Iliaden och Odysséen (essay), Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1992.

Kära Alice!: Sven Delblanc Brev Till Sin Syster i Canada Kommenterade av Henne Själv, Sveriges Radio Forlag, 1995.

(With Lars Lönnroth) Den Svenska literaturen/redaktion, Bonnier (Stockholm, Sweden), 1999.

Also author of Ankan, Prastkappan (novel; title means "The Cossack"), 1963, Ara och minne, 1965, Trampa vatten, 1972, Kära farmor (novel; title means "Dear Grandmother"), 1979, Stormhatten, 1979, Senecas död, 1982, Jerusalems natt (novel), 1983, Marie ensam (title means "Maria Alone"), 1985, and Moria land, 1987. Writer for Dagens Nyheter.

SIDELIGHTS: Sven Delblanc is a prolific Canadianborn Swedish writer whose works include novels, plays, radio dramas, literary criticism, memoirs, and essays. He is well-known in Sweden, in part because his work has been broadly disseminated through the media. "He is, nevertheless, anything but a 'popular' writer in the pejorative sense of the term," commented Rochelle Wright in Dictionary of Literary Biography. "Many of his novels and plays explore complex, unsettling moral and philosophical issues, sometimes in an historical context—he was especially drawn to the eighteenth century—and sometimes in an allegorical or futuristic setting."

Delblanc's grandparents were of Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian descent. Delblanc was born in a homestead in Manitoba, Canada, but poor economic conditions induced his parents to move to Sweden by the time he was four years old. His parents divorced ten years later, and his father returned to Canada. Delblanc joined his father in North America in 1947, but returned to Sweden after enduring physical and psychological abuse during his stay in Canada. After a turn of military service, he studied at University of Uppsala and began teaching there in 1959. His writing career began with articles on literary topics for newspapers, and his first book was published in 1962.

Eremitkräftan ("The Hermit Crab") is a allegory that shows the main character, Axel, escaping an authoritarian society for an apparently utopian place called the White City. He finds that underneath the White City's calm exterior lurks mind control and brutality. Further searching for an ideal way of life eventually leads Axel to return to his first home and beg to be admitted into its prison-like walls. "Vulnerable like a hermit crab, he feels safe to continue his search for another alternative only within the protection of an authoritarian shell," explained Wright. "This apparent paradox should not be read as a defense of totalitarian systems but rather as an expression of Delblanc's deep-seated pessimism, tempered nevertheless by the insistence that human beings must behave as if meaningful action is possible." In Nattresa, published in 1967, he offers another allegory, one which illustrates his own struggle to merge "individual and collective interests, incorporate innovation within the framework of tradition, and reconcile potentially conflicting aesthetic and political goals. Though no definitive answers are provided, the narrative concludes on a note of hope."

One of Delblanc's best-known works in English translation is Speranza, a historical novel presented as the observations of a young Scandinavian aristocrat aboard a slave ship in 1794. This narrator, Malte Moritz von Putbus, is a believer in the Rights of Man as defined by the principles of the French Revolution, and is accordingly repulsed by the idea of slavery. Over the course of the voyage, however, he becomes complacent and accepting of the ship's human cargo. In the process he loses his innocence and is forced to watch the destruction of his own world when his black servant leads a slave revolt. David Evanier, writing in the New York Times Book Review, declared that with Speranza Delblanc has produced "a parable of slavery" that "springs to life with disturbing power." Alberto Manguel, reviewing the novel for the Toronto Globe and Mail, called it an allegory that could "sit companionably next to The Faerie Queen and the Roman de la Rose." "In the best allegorical tradition the hero becomes universal," Manguel declared, "and in the end his changing state of mind turns into a powerful reflection of our own."

The majority of Delblanc's writings remain unavailable in English translation. Among these works is an autobiographical series about life in rural Sweden, which includes the volume Samuels bok. It details a minister's fall into insanity. In the book, Pastor Samuel Eriksson, raised in the United States with a theological degree from an American college, finds no place for himself in the hierarchical Swedish church. As a result, he lapses into eccentricity and madness. World Literature Today reviewer Rochelle Wright proclaimed this tale "powerful and moving." The succeeding tale, Samuels döttrar, charts the hardships of the minister's family, particularly its female members. Wright, in another World Literature Today assessment, noted that "Delblanc demonstrates with insight and empathy his awareness of the limitations imposed on women both by society and by their perception of their own roles."



Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 257: Twentieth-Century Swedish Writers after World War II, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 2002.


Books Abroad, spring, 1971.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 21, 1984.

Harper's Magazine, November, 1983, Jamie Baylis, review of Speranza, p. 75.

New York Times Book Review, October 30, 1983, pp. 15, 42.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1983, review of Speranza, p. 42.

Times (London, England), February 16, 1984.

Village Voice, September 20, 1983, p. 49.

World Literature Today, autumn, 1982, pp. 706-707; winter, 1984, p. 117; spring, 1989, Rochelle Wright, review of Damiens, p. 322; winter, 1990, Sven H. Rossel, review of Ankan, p. 133; autumn, 1992, Rochelle Wright, review of Livets Ax, p. 735; autumn, 1993, Rochelle Wright, review of Agnar, p. 845.

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Delblanc, Sven (Axel Herman) 1931–1992

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