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.

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