Early Swedish Working-class Literature and the Literary (c.1910): The Case of Maria Sandel

Beata Agrell

Abstract


Working-class literature, not unnaturally, is primarily investigated from political, ideological, and sociological points of view, while literary and aesthetic perspectives have been played down. Admirable efforts have been made, indeed, but they have been oriented towards modern and modernistic concepts of the literary, that have not always been compatible with the peculiarities of working-class literature - autodidactic and developed at the margins of canonized literary tradition as it often is. Therefore working-class literature often has been conceived as "artistically immature" or "aesthetically defective". But no thing is made for the sake of its defects but for the sake of its merits, as already the wise critic Thomas Thorild maintained. And each thing should be taken for what it is and never for what it is not (as he also maintained). The overarching issue of this paper is therefore: what kind of literature is working-class literature, and what are the particular merits of it? Since my space is restricted my discussion will focus on narrative prose. A case in point is a narrative by Maria Sandel, belonging to the first generation of Swedish working-class prose c. 1910-25. This prose is interesting, since in time it coincides with the most explosive phase of the Modernization process, a peak of industrialization, urbanization, proletarization, secularization, democratization, massmedialization, and the like. At the continent the various modernist movements are rising, but in Sweden we have fusty idealism and a new bourgeois realism, at the same time as popular mass literature, folk-high schools and above all popular movements. What kind of proletarian literature could grow from such circumstances? How does it relate to the literary, and how should it be described? I want to try the possibility of a new sensuous and pragmatic concept of literature, based on hybridity: concrete vivid depiction marked by mixture of style and genre and a strong address. The depiction presents the allegedly well known in a recognizable way, but - I imagine - simultaneously defamiliarizes it by displaying it in hybrid forms. This way the depiction also has a rhetorical function, a dimension of address aiming at internalizing ideas, conjuring up change of vision and founding pragmatic attitudes - rather than realizing Kantian principles of disinterested pleasure and literary autonomy. The theoretical perspectives that I want to try are mainly derived from Peter Widdowson (the concept of the literary), and Sara Danius/ Jacques Rancière (the concept of the sensuous).

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