Vilhelm Moberg. A History of the Swedish People. Volume One: From Prehistory to the Renaissance / A History of the Swedish People. Volume Two: From Renaissance to Revolution.Scandinavian-Canadian Journal / Études scandinaves au Canada 15: 131-133.
This seems to indicate that Moberg never intended this book to be used in academia. Moberg’s lack of a theoretical base for his claims is also a serious limitation. His presentist assumptions are far-fetched and not always compelling. Many historical parallels seem laboured and are aimed at his contemporaries. They tell us a lot about the social and political environments in which Vilhelm Moberg lived, but do not necessarily expand our knowledge of early Sweden. Thus, comparing Gustav II Adolf’s raids in then-Danish Skåne during the Kalmar War of 1611-1613 with American outrages in My Lai during the Vietnam War may have been rhetorically powerful at the time of writing, but is not necessarily great scholarship (Vol. II 68). Neither is the comparison between the 1200s Swedish ruler Birger Jarl and Mussolini very convincing (Vol.I 90). Nor are Moberg’s unsubstantiated and frequent references to “nationalism” and the “nationalist party,” when referring to Karl Knutsson Bonde (Karl VIII) and his supporters in the 1430s and 1440s, without problems (Vol. II 42, 49, 54). His attempts to deconstruct nationalism reveal a lack of understanding of the subject matter. In search for a model of explanation, other than traditional Christian references to “evil” and materialist Marxist interpretations, Moberg attempts to find a third cause: “nationalistic feeling, inciting the peoples to hate one another” (Vol. II 71). Here he contradicts himself: a few pages earlier, he had played down the importance of nationalism as a cause of war between Sweden and Denmark:My Swedish history is in the first place the quintessence of my sixty years reading. So I have found the task of listing all my sources beyond me. Nor have I tried to. Footnotes only irritate the reader unnecessarily, and most people skip the long lists of titles at the foot of each chapter—an unsatisfactory solution to the problem anyway, as the reader cannot know which of the listed works any given statement has been taken from. (vol. I 6)
As for Britten Austin’s translation, it is a limitation that this new edition is but a facsimile of the 1973 edition. A new edition could, and should, have eliminated spelling errors and inconsistencies, particularly when dealing with places and persons central to Swedish history. Certainly, the Latinizing/Anglicizing of Swedish royal names has a long tradition in English language literature. Thus, Karl XII is often referred to as Charles XII and Gustav II Adolf as Gustavus Adolphus. This is problematic, since the English language literature of today does not refer to Carl XVI Gustaf, the current Swedish monarch, as Charles XVI Gustavus. Britten Austin’s translation confuses the reader further by jumping liberally and inconsistently between Latin, English, Norwegian and Swedish spelling. Thus Håkan (Vol. I 118) becomes Håken (Vol. I 119), and both Gustav Vasa (Vol. II 66) and Gustav II Adolf (Vol. II 68) appear in two different spellings on the same page. As for Swedish kings by the name of Karl, they randomly appear as Karl VIII, Charles IX (Vol. II 30), Karl X Gustaf (Vol. II 69), Charles XII and Karl XV (Vol. II 33). Later Gustavs fare little better: Gustav IV Adolf, Gustaf III/Gustav III (Vol. I 119/159). The name Olof seems to have caused Britten Austin particular problems: Olof Skötkonung sometimes becomes Olaf (Vol. I 77-78), Olof von Dahlin’s name appears in two alternative (mis)spellings. Not even Olof Rudbeck, the bombastic Swedish ultra-patriot of the 1600s is spared. He would roll over in his grave if he knew his name had been spelled Olaf, in Norwegian (Vol. I 30). Even such a central phenomenon of medieval Scandinavia as the Kalmar Union is misspelled (Vol. I 199). Seeing the the city of Västerås misspelled Västeräs (Vol. I 52) will certainly give many a bilingual reader a good laugh.Collective feelings of enmity, loathing, rage and resentment, involving whole peoples, cannot be strictly speaking hereditary; are not a fact of nature. Nor are they spontaneous and self-generating. The Swedish peasant had done the Danish peasant no harm, nor had the Danish peasant harmed the Swede; therefore they felt no personal enmity. (Vol. II 62)
Per Anders Rudling
Dept. of History and Classics, University of Alberta