Levertin, Oscar Ivar

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LEVERTIN, OSCAR IVAR (1862–1906), Swedish poet and literary critic, the first Jew to gain eminence in Swedish literature. Levertin, the son of a Stockholm antiquarian, was born in Gryt, near Norrköping. In his student days at the University of Uppsala (where he was a pupil of Johan Henrik *Schück), he joined the literary circle of "Young Sweden." In 1899 he became professor of literature at the Academy (now the University) of Stockholm. As a poet, Levertin was distinguished by his aestheticism and his sophisticated preoccupation with aims and moods. Emotionally drawn to romanticism, he was intellectually a determinist, and the personal struggle engendered by this conflict became the leitmotiv of his poetry. He was thus closer to the English Pre-Raphaelites and the French symbolists than to writers of the contemporary Swedish school. His most characteristic verse appears in Legender och visor ("Leg-ends and Songs," 1891), which contains a number of poems on Jewish themes. Two other collections were Nya dikter ("New Poems," 1894) and Dikter ("Poems," 1901). As a critic, Levertin displayed sensitivity, learning, and cultural awareness. In 1897 he joined the reorganized Svenska Dagbladet, gaining new fame as the newspaper's principal literary critic. Together with Carl Gustav Verner von Heidenstam, a leader of the Swedish anti-naturalist movement, he formulated a literary program to which he adhered in his own writing.

Levertin's many prose works include novels, novellas, and essays. Rococo-noveller ("Rococo Stories," 1899), a collection of pastiches, recreated the courtly 18th-century world of King Gustav iii. One of the most beautiful of these tales, Kalonymos, describes a Passover celebration in Stockholm, the central character expressing something of the writer's own skeptical humanism. As a young man in 1880, Levertin had published a poem denouncing antisemitism. Though thoroughly Swedish in his tastes and sympathies (his family had settled in the country in the late 18th century) he remained a conscious Jew, emotionally and historically bound to his people and never quite at home in his Scandinavian environment. For many years he suffered from a lung disease, and he became increasingly obsessed with death and religious problems. His last major work was the verse cycle Kung Salomo och Morolf ("King Solomon and Morolf," 1905), whose themes derived from Jewish, Oriental, and medieval sources. His other publications include the novella Konflikter (1885), Diktare och drömmare (1898), Teater och drama under Gustav iii (1889), and Svenska gestalter (1903). His collected works appeared in 24 volumes (1907–11).


W. Söderhjelm, Oskar Levertin, 2 vols. (Swedish, 1914–17); O. Mendelsohn, Jödiske innslag i Oskar Levertins diktning (1938); C. Fehrman, Levertins lyrik (1945); Svenskt litteraturlexikon (1964), s.v.; A. Levertin (ed.), Den unge Levertin (1947); B. Julin, Hjartats landsflykt (1962).

[Hugo Mauritz Valentin]

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Levertin, Oscar Ivar

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