Sanja Nivesjö is a Swedish Research Council postdoctoral researcher at Uppsala University, Sweden and University of Salford, UK. Her research interests focus on Southern African literatures and questions of sexuality, gender, race, space, and temporality. In her current project she examines the portrayal of interracial love in South African and Zimbabwean literature, 1900-1950. Together with Heidi Barends she has edited a symposium on Schreiner’s novel From Man to Man (1926) with the Journal of Commonwealth Literature.
‘The Reception of Olive Schreiner in Swedish Press, 1890-1920’
This chapter explores the reception of Olive Schreiner and her work in Swedish press from 1890 until 1920. It aims to answer the question of what the reception of her work was like in the Swedish mainstream press and in the Swedish feminist press in Schreiner’s own time. The chapter also seeks to uncover the influence of Schreiner on Swedish turn-of-the-century feminism, particularly through the early twentieth-century Swedish feminist Elin Wägner.
While Schreiner had no apparent connection to Sweden, her work was well known in Sweden around the turn of the last century and was frequently debated and published in newspapers and magazines. All her major literary texts except for From Man to Man were translated into Swedish only a few years after they first appeared in English. Woman and Labour was translated and published immediately in 1911, and it serves as the focal point for early twentieth-century Swedish feminists’ interest in Schreiner.
Key women’s rights and socialist women’s magazines, like Rösträtt för kvinnor (Voting Rights for Women, all translations from Swedish are mine), Morgonbris (Morning Breeze), and Dagny all reviewed and discussed Schreiner’s work. Prominent Swedish feminist Elin Wägner wrote a multipart study of Woman and Labour in 1913 for the suffragette magazine Rösträtt för kvinnor. Wägner praised Schreiner for her expansive view of the woman’s rights question. She identified Schreiner together with Swedish feminist Ellen Keys and Austrian author Rosa Mayreder as a trio that had done thorough groundwork that helped untangled and clarify fundamental aspects of women’s rights issues of the day. Wägner also placed Schreiner’s thought in a Swedish context. She noted that colonialism and industrialisation have had a difference to women’s position in society in England compared to a still largely rural society like Sweden, and that Schreiner’s ideas needed to be adjusted accordingly. Wägner goes on to identify the benefits and issues with Schreiner’s arguments for a Swedish women’s rights context.
Despite the feminist press’ focus on Woman and Labour, Schreiner was well known in Sweden prior to that text’s publication, chiefly through the translations of Story of an African Farm and Dreams. Mainstream Swedish press, from national newspapers to local and specialist ones, carried adverts for her texts in Swedish translation, published translations of shorter pieces and excerpts of longer ones, reviewed her writings, and discussed her importance to and opinions on a number of issues, not least the South African War of 1899-1902. She was portrayed as someone in the vanguard of modern ideas to do with feminism, colonialism, South African affairs, and British imperial culture. In a well-circulated advertisement for the translation of Dreams, she was described as “the modern Idealism’s priestess” (“den moderna Idealismens prestinna”). So well-recognised was Schreiner in the Swedish public debate that Sydsvenska Dagbladet (The South Swedish Daily) in speaking of the approaching South African War in 1899 introduced her only as “the familiar to us Olive Schreiner” (“den bekante Olive Schreiner”). Schreiner’s thoughts held an important place in Swedish public debate around England, South Africa, colonial relations, and women’s rights around the turn of the last century.