A Perambulating Paradox: British Travel Literature and the Image of Sweden, c.1770-1865

University dissertation from Mark Davies, c/o Hist. Dept

Abstract: Sweden of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was visited and toured by a number of British author-travellers, whose subsequently published views of and on the country and its people are examined and presented in this thesis. Using as primary sources British-published monographs deriving, wholly or in part, from an experienced Sweden of c.1770-1865, it has been possible to identify and define common characteristics among such visitors, their spatial itineraries, and the rendered literary portrayal of this nation to a compatriot readership. British travel literature on Sweden was overwhelmingly produced by members of higher class- and status-based formations. Undertaking a journey to and through this country (as indeed the North generally)was at once an opportunity to discover a terra incognita, and an exercise in confirming a privileged socio-economic identity in relation to, and by contrast with,'other'groups venturing abroad. Maintaining this identity while in Sweden involved willing recourse to a concomitant system of hospitality and services ('functional familiarity'). This structure, as well as providing the means of comfortable and dignified travel, also tended to steer visitors along a well-established beaten track, along which stock attractions were situated: a spatially circumscribed Sweden. From this restricted environment, successive author-travellers, well aware of and influenced by preceding accounts and the perceived expectations of publishers and readers, competitively depicted Sweden, using, however, a repertoire of criteria and expression specific to their acculturated identities. The result was a tenaciously replicated image of Sweden; a paradigmatic literary discourse which structurally resembles those on a Europe-defined 'Orient' and Africa in this period, as analysed by Edward Said and Philip Curtin respectively. Both these historians emphasise that portrayals of a distant 'otherness' are in many respects portraits of an experienced and envisioned home society, a feature no less apparent in my particular source literature. Accordingly, an unattainably ideal homeland underlies the dialectical projection of Sweden as reprehensibly underdeveloped and an Arcadian idyll. An embedded 'home' tradition of acquisitive capitalistic enterprise, and its intensified application in this era, predisposes a corresponding focus on Swedish 'accomplishments' in this sphere, which are judged to be inferior, necessitating British-modelled socio-economic improvement. Conversely, rural Sweden is portrayed as thankfully unafflicted by problems engendered by the very dynamic of a ruthless entrepreneurial ethos: an extant golden age society. Author-travellers were engaged in back-and-forth evaluations; they represented and in turn presented vacillating and ostensibly contradictory ideas and ideals regarding individualism and collectivism, tradition and modernity, freedom and control. These contrasts were textually highlighted and thence relayed to a peer group of readers, amongst whom they resonated. My apprehension of the normative significance and import of Swedish Tours, coupled with their manifest intertextuality, has in turn necessitated a parallel appraisal and discussion of apocryphal, even obviously fictitious, accounts in this study. I conclude, firstly, that the influence of a previously identified Sweden, of whatever provenance, could rival, or render to secondary importance, actual 'on the spot' experience. Secondly, given that the norm-defining character of Swedish images was aligned to, and buttressed, domestic ideological transmission, it is far from surprising that the portrayal of a visited Sweden could at times resemble pedagogic fiction; nor that this nation should provide the setting for didactive childrenĀ“s literature: moral tales.

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