Marika Stiernstedt

I first learnt about Marika Stiernstedt (1875-1954) through her Uppsala novel “Slätten” (Elise). But there is much more to her than this comparatively minor novel in her oeuvre. I was intrigued by her life, the daughter of a lieutenant-general and a Polish countess, close to Branting, the first social-democrat prime minister of Sweden, who wrote early on about the Armenian massacres and became an anti-fascist and reputedly a communist (I don’t know whether that took any organisational form apart from her books). I’d also like to know more about her thoughts on Ellen Key (whom I know far too little about). According to https://nordicwomensliterature,net “Her main theme continues to be the erotic emancipation of the modern woman as a contrast to male double moral standards”. The same article describes her as “a leading name among twentieth century women writers of novels of disillusion”. This is perhaps an accepted term but it doesn’t seem to me to fully capture her spirit, it’s too passive and negative, while she continued to struggle to chisel out a life that was compatible with her feelings, regardless of convention; that as an initial reaction as I haven’t read enough by her. The same article does state “What good is freedom to the new woman if the new man turns out to be a cross between a hypocritical patriarch and a helpless child despite assurances of an egalitarian companiate marriage” (à propos Stiernstedt’s book on her second marriage “Kring ett äktenskap (1953); About a marriage, which I also want to read).

I’ve ordered a number of her novels on Bokbörsen. They are all old (I must check whether and how often her works have been reprinted and if they have been translated).

I was happy when I unwrapped one package and saw the finely bound copy of “Spegling i en skärva” (1936) It became more complicated when I saw that the book had a library stamp from Brunnsviks Bokstuga. I found an article in Dagens Arbete, the industrial workers trade union’s journal (February 2020) describing how LO, the central trade union organisation had closed its course facility at Brunnsvik seven years earlier and how “the unique collection of books in the library was thrown (slung) into containers”, elsewhere how the books were put “insensitively into containers”. It sounded as if the books were roughly chucked into containers and in immediate danger of being pulped along with piles of ads on cheap cheese from the local co-op. My initial reaction was to feel that I had to contact the librarian to restore the book to the library. However, further reading indicates that the containers were donated to the local municipality (Ludvika) and the library has now been resurrected (this doesn’t soften any criticism of LO for not looking after its cultural capital but possibly indicates an overenthusiastic use of the purple pen when writing the article).

There is, however, still the issue of how the book came to be on sale on the secondhand book site Bokbörsen. Did the book slip away from the container before the books were restored? Or was there a purge of old books when they restored the library and, if so, why did they purge such a fine (and still very relevant) writer as Marika Stiernstedt. I need to don my trench coat and dark glasses and take my business card (special investigator into crimes against books) to go on a study visit to the library, to compare their catalogues at the time of closure and currently, and to be able to interrogate suspects. For the time being (until and if I’ve established that the new management are fit to be trusted), I will keep the book, aware of parallels with the British Museum’s arguments on the Elgin Marbles.

Apart from Stiernstedtiana, I plucked up my courage to collect a book from the local post office where the sender was stated on the advice as “esc.xml inol,parameterMap.sender”. I suspected that this was spam. the package perhaps containing codes that would transform my computer into a whirling dervish with an invoice for some unreasonable amount rapidly following receipt of collection. I had more or less decided to let the post office send the packet back uncollected.

Fortunately, I caught sight of the very low weight of the packet and realised that this was the cedar wood moth balls that I’d ordered, the weird sender being computer babble from the Post Office in a miserably failed attempt to reproduce the not so uncommon company name.

I’m glad I solved that mystery (although the moths probably have a different attitude to this matter) or it would have taken up mental space pondering about the packet at the post office and I need that space as I struggle to get back into work mode after being in France and with my children over  yuletide.


My project of learning more about Stockholm’s buildings has rather taken a back seat since moving to Uppsala and the pandemic. But my enthusiasm has been whetted by sleeping in a flat directly opposite one of Stockholm’s architectural icons, Industricentralen, which is the first thing I see in the morning.

The architect, Ragnar Östberg was also responsible for Stockholm’s famous City Hall and the National Maritime Museum, both buildings reflecting Östberg’s resistance to the growing influence of functionalism and modernism in Sweden. Industricentralen with its honest brick and lack of decoration, is a couple of steps in that direction although Ragnar Östberg never fully embraced modernism.

It originally housed a number of industries inspired by German and American models (as was the brick). The industrial appearance is strictly protected although it now contains offices, and is popular for art galleries and architects (one called Aix architects which pleases me).

On the pavement outside the building, there is also a small statue “Arbetaren” (the worker), by Mikael Katz, given as artistic embellishment by the industrialists who developed the property. Mikael Katz was originally Russian and studied to become an architect in Kazan and St Petersburg before the revolution. I would like to find out more about his life from the time of the revolution until 1926 when he came to Sweden (and was here until the 1950s). In later life, he was active at the Art Academy in Sofia in Bulgaria and became Professor there in 1963, according to Wiki. The statue is very much in the spirit of socialist realism and has been copied at a couple of other locations in Sweden. It’s curious to think of the industrialists choosing just this statue as embellishment of their premises (I wouldn’t have been so surprised if it had been used to decorate a building used by the trade unions or social democrats).

26 December

Boxing Day aka St Stephen’s Day or Wren’s Day; St Stephen being the first Christian martyr according to the Act of Apostles stoned to death after being accused of blasphemy. He is also the patron saint of bricklayers and stonemasons (and has stones among his attributes), which I wouldn’t have been too pleased about had I been St Stephen. Wren or Wren’s Day, according to Wiki, comes from an old custom, prevalent in Ireland (Lá an Dreollin) of “hunting” and putting a wren on top of a decorated pole. a custom, also celebrated on the  Isle of Man. According to, “the wren (is) ..considered a harbinger of spring and rebirth”, “a symbol of the arts, because of its association with songwriters, musicians and anyone who writes or crafts written works”. Until now, my associations with wrens have not developed since the demise of the farthing, the quarter penny, in 1956, which depicted the smallest British bird on the smallest denomination coin.

Otherwise I have learnt a number of words and expressions from Donald White’s vigorous translation of Albert Vigoleis Thelen’s The Island of Second Sight. A kitty corner is a mainly American expression for something that is diagonally opposite (for example) seen from a window, prestidigitation is a conjuring trick performed as entertainment. A pandect is the complete body of the laws of a country and parthenogenesis, reproduction from an ovum without fertilisation from the Greek (virgin) and genesis (creation).

I’ve tried to read Thelen’s novel in German and in English, skimming through the English before I tackled the German. It worked reasonably well as a crutch for my inadequate German but was frustratingly slow. So now I’ve let myself get drunk on the novel and am racing ahead with the English. But I will reuse this technique on a book less rich in association and lower on quirkiness.

I have encountered a slew of interesting new words in Per Vikstrand’s doctoral thesis on Gudarnas Platser, Förkristna sakrala namn i Mälarlandskapen (The place of the gods. Pre-Christian sacral place names in central Sweden), I was expecting to have to explore new ground at Carolina Rediviva to find this thesis but a couple of clicks brought me to Acta Academiae Regiae Gustavi Adolphi and a few days later I had this fascinating book in my mailbox. thanks to the more prosaically named distributor Eddys. It won’t answer all my questions about place names in Uppland but undoubtedly fulfils its aim of providing a platform for more systematic discussion (I will nibble at this and admire it from afar, hopefully acquiring a few crumbs of comprehension). From this thesis, I have learnt metathetic (metatetisk in Swedish), interchangeable, communicable, among other meanings, according to,  chtonic,  relating to or inhabiting the underworld. And “noanamn” (noa name), a word that replaces a taboo word, an import from Polynesia. And the figure of speech metonymy, in which a thing or concept is referred to by the name of something closely connected with it, synecdoche (part of something to represent the whole), metalepsis (a word or phrase from figurative speech used in a new context), the currently fashionable prefix meta being beyond, more comprehensive, transcending.

All these figures of speech I’ve probably come across before looked up and then forgotten, my adolescent ease of acquisition of metaphor and simile a distant memory.

homonym, each of two or more words having the same pronunciation or spelling but different meanings was more familiar, hovering on the verge of acceptance into my vocabulary (egregious I’m pleased to say has now successfully completed its admission process after a long struggle). But new were hyponym and hypernym, a hyponym being a word or phrase that is more specific than its hypernym, thus “hobble”, “stride”, could be hyponyms and their hypernym walk.

And onomatiscon, a bit like lexicon (dictionary) but where the words are arranged by theme and not alphabetically.

And verroterie (glass jewellery) and cloisonné, ancient technique for decorating metalwork with coloured material,

And just this morning macaronic, a song sung in several languages, for example, Irish and English or Latin and a vernacular language.

All useful to know but I doubt it will make me better at Scrabble.

Post France

After a few moments of confusion when waking up, I’m back in my own flat, cat less but still ready for a burst of crepuscular activity, my head still in Lyon and Aix-en-Provence; Lyon where I left an unwilling friend by the roadside fifty years ago, spurred on by the urge to be alone and burdened by the memory of having acted shabbily and pointlessly, and the cold night I spent alone a few kilometres on the road to Paris beside a sign telling me that I had arrived in Mâcon; Lyon a blur in the night, scattered references from A-level European history about the history of the workers’ movement and gastronomy.

And I have learnt that, while you can’t change the past, you can lighten its burden, alleviate the sting of remorse, by linking it to new memories; to replace the strange onward hasty rush of the tourism of my twenties with more satisfying associations, richer and deeper.

And Lyon is now the confluence of two mighty rivers, the Rhone and Saône, where we walk to the very tip of Presqu’île, metres away from the rushing waters, the patrician dignity of the upmarket area where my relatives live, the old town in an air bnb, topped by its grateful basilica, thanking Maria for saving the city from the invading Prussians (and perhaps also like Sacré Coeur in Paris, a golden thanks and sigh of relief by the not so worthy burgesses celebrating the temporary laying to  rest of the old mole of the revolution after the bloody end of the Paris Commune in 1871).

And the fascinating history of the canuts, the struggles of the silk workers with associations to Saint Simon and utopian socialism, where the working class emerges from the vestiges of mediaeval confusion to act on its own behalf, reminding me of my recent visit to the Cotswolds and the earlier little meisters in Sheffield and making me want to re-read E.P. Thompson’s “The History of the English Working Class”.

A bit disappointed by my pile of largely unread books about the canuts, my staying power when reading French being less than the fluency of my hopeful imagination. But I shall get to grips with them, buoyed up by help to read Jean Giono’s complicated imagery as my TGV made its way through Alsace.

The canut museum is fine, much better than the Gadagne museum of the history of Lyon, which felt savaged by the rush from chronology to trends. I want to understand “thinking about museums” better and shall make myself a reading list for 2022. The old-style museum with its piles of objects, perhaps more focused on the researcher than the casual visitor, clearly had its problems, as did the museum as an instrument of propaganda, celebrating the onward march of a people to the glorious present. But the stripping away of historical context in favour of trends leaves me with a sense of loss, no longer able to let my imagination wander from one ancient object to another, to let the past touch me with its slender fingers but instead having my elbow jostled at every turn by the visibly flashy but poor narration of another’s imagination, which often feels shallow.

And the broader question, can a museum provide a people with history or perspective worthy of its name in our society?

It’s also the festival of light in Lyon where buildings are lit up by appealing stories and patterns of light. I’m apprehensive of the crowds in these plagued times, but we were well guided and it was a good experience.

And then to Aix-en-Provence, a city whose warm stone and eighteenth-century buildings have great appeal. Some museums are new for me – the museum of old Aix, the reopened Granet and the tapestry museum and return visits to Cezanne’s atelier on the northern edge, the few visitors and milder day making up for the shock of winter cold on arrival. And I learn about Mirabeau whose mellifluous name shades a dubious life. We even escape the north on a fine day trip walking along the seafront in Cascais near Marseille, a memory to dream about during the sombre days to come.

And not the least Provençal, where Librairie Le Blason is still going strong and I buy Nobel prize winner Frédéric Mistral’s long bilingual poem Mirèio/Mireille. I am feeling more and more at home in Provençal, its literature, Daudet, Bosco, Pagnol and Giono, as well as, of course, Mistral, and language. But there is still much to learn about the complicated relationships between Spanish, Catalan, Gascon, Provençal, the ways of classifying French dialects and the intermediary slew between France and Italy in Provence and old Savoy. It ‘s a dabble but a sensuous, satisfying dabble where the physical beauty of much of Provence blends with my own attachment to the West Country, enabling me to think about location and bonds in a broader context and not just as eccentric personal history.

And now back to my Swedish base, buoyed up by being able to make an outline plan for 2022 as my TGV and ICE trains made their way to Frankfurt and Hamburg (luckily completed before time slowed to a crawl in Denmark).