Time for a post-Covid plan

I am reading, working and making some progress but it all feels rather “staccato” just now, difficult to get up to “cruising speed” and feel confident of where I am going.

Most satisfying just now is Norstedt’s Sveriges Historia 600-1350 (Swedish History). Some time long ago in the dawn of my Swedish pre-history, I read through a multi-volume of Swedish history. I’ve felt for some time that it was time to repeat this exercise now that I both know Swedish and Sweden much better. The first volume has been very satisfactory as it takes up and evaluates the sources of, for example, the myths around Gamla Uppsala, which I’ve wondered about. And critically analyses the use made of the thin sources to construct a desired history of Sweden based on doubtful assumptions.

I am struggling with Bengali. I have made progress with the alphabet although the joined consonants, the conjuncts, are a sting in the tail which is going to take time to master. I am impatient to get on to the section of the book which is more focused on conversation so that I can string together some of the Bengali words I’ve become familiar with.

And, as a minor project, I am making good progress with the German cult novel Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s Die Insel des zweiten Gesichts. My German is not good enough to read such a complicated novel but I have it in English too “The Island of Second Sight”. If I read a couple of pages in English and then read the German, it works well for me, although I realise that I need to go through the section a third time to make a note of some of the new words. The translation seems good but at times rather free in a way that I don’t always grasp the justification for.

Being in the UK for six weeks has helped me to adjust to a freer existence now that I am fully vaccinated. I am still being careful but now use public transport more and not just very early in the morning. It does feel rather hard to go back to using the commuter (pendel) trains to get to Stockholm after months of luxuriating alone in first class on the regional trains. As I suspected travelling first class rapidly felt like the minimum acceptable standard but I’d better wean myself off this.

Hopefully the small signs of returning normality do mean that we are in the end game of the pandemic although it’s hard to be sure.

 I was pleased to see that Uppsala’s best second hand bookshop “Röda Rummet” has opened for visitors again. I couldn’t resist buying a small pamphlet from 1920 published in German in “Kleine Bibliothek der Russischen Korrespondenz, “Drei Kundgebungen aus dem Jahre 1918” by N. Lenin, including among other things a letter to the US workers and an open letter to Woodrow Wilson. It fascinated me as it was published so early after the Russian Revolution. It uses, for example “N. Lenin”, which was the abbreviated first name that Lenin used when using his “false name”´(this was before he became so well-known that Lenin by itself was enough to identify him). It seems rather odd that the Russian revolutionaries should have used such names not just within the party but when wanting to be clandestine in the wider society as one would think that names like “Stalin” (man of steel), “Molotov” (hammer) and Lenin (leonine???) would attract unwanted attention. Trotsky’s adoption of an ordinary Russian surname seems safer.

At the end of the pamphlet, it advertises other works in the series by Bukharin, Radek and Trotsky, later purged and killed by the stalinists, among others whose fate I am unaware of.

What made the pamphlet even more interesting was that it had been owned and was signed by Signe Sillén, the wife of Hugo Sillén, leader of the pro-Comintern fraction who expelled Karl Kilbom in 1929 (who formed a new party, later called the Socialist Party, and eventually moved back to social democracy). According to some sources, there were serious doubts in the party about Sillén’s capacity as a leading cadre but he couldn’t be dislodged as Stalin favoured him, suspecting that Kilbom would make common cause with Bukharin (the two fractions in the CP had been named after Sillén and Kilbom although Sillén was not actually in a leading position in the party at the time). The pamphlet has probably emerged now as the Silléns had a daughter who lived to a ripe old age (90 something) and died not so many years ago. She had presumably inherited some of the Silléns’ library, which was then sold or donated to Röda Rummet.

I haven’t made notes on words that have come my way with one exception. I became curious about the etymology of the word “hectoring”  which is defined as talking in a bullying way, a hector being a braggart or a bully. The explanation I have seen is that it originates from the name of a youth gang in  late seventeenth century England, who presumably adopted their name (Hectors) from the ancient Greek warrior and went around bullying people and getting Hector a bad name. There seem to be quite a few similar such groups through history both earlier and later. There ware also the Mohocks in the seventeenth century who attacked and mutilated men and sexually assaulted women and the Damned Crew. These groups apparently attracted some young men who were of aristocratic origin. They make “Hooray Henrys” seem benign.

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