The socialist devil. Swedish young socialist fiction at the beginning of the 20th century

Emma Hilborn

Abstract


When studying the early publications of the Swedish working-class movement, one is struck by how prominent the fictional elements were, especially in the newspapers, where poems were published in practically every number. Apparently, the appreciation of literature was so great, that the fictional texts could not be dispensed with. This interest in literature and fiction was especially marked in the Swedish social democratic youth league, a comparatively small but strident radical organization whose controversial propaganda attracted much attention at the beginning of the 20th century. In their official paper Brand (Fire), the members of the young socialist movement published a vast amount of poems and short stories. Although the explicit aim of the paper was to mediate the political standpoints of the organization to sympathizers as well as political opponents, it contained a conspicuous amount of fictional material along with news and argumentative articles. In my thesis, I analyze the fictional texts in Brand between the years 1898 - 1917, with the aim of discussing possible uses of fiction in a political context at the turn of the century. The thesis focuses on a range of different themes, symbols and narratives carrying literary as well as political meaning. One of the most controversial symbolic images present in the young socialist fiction was without a doubt the powerful figure of the devil, and in my presentation, I therefore intend to focus on the different uses of the devil in these radical left-wing fictions (and, to a certain extent, also in the broader social democratic tradition). In their fictional texts, the young socialists borrowed themes from a vast range of traditions associated with the devil. Their representations were inspired not only by the intimidating visions spread by the clergymen of the Swedish state church, but also the Enlightenment's idealization of knowledge and the romantic perceptions of the dark, tormented hero. When placed within a pronounced political context, the already contentious character of the devil, developed into an undeniably socialist devil, partly new and partly dependent on prior meanings and interpretations.

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