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Carl Arthur Vilhelm Moberg (1898-1973)


Swedish novelist and dramatist, best known for his four volume story (1949-1959) of Småland peasants, who leave famine-stricken Sweden for America, and build a homestead in Minnesota. Moberg was one of the most frequently performed radio playwrights. His dramas - among them Änkeman Jarl (1939), Vår ofödde son (1945), Domaren (1957) - were televised in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia. Other plays, such as Ride This Night! (1942) and Man's Woman (1943), were made into movies in the 1940s.

"Jag tänkte rätt mycket på döden i ungdomen. Då ville jag inte bli äldre än trettio, högst trettiofem år: Hellre dö än att gli gubbe. Så blev jag gubbe, och ändå lever jag. Och nu vill jag inte dö för aldrig det. Nu vill jag leva, leva hur länge som helst. Inte därför att jag är räddare för döden nu än i ungdomen. Men därför att jag inte längre har kvar någon ängslan för livet." (from Brudarnas källa, 1946)

Vilhelm Moberg was born in Algutsboda, Småland, in southern Sweden, the fourth child out of seven. His forebears were soldiers and small farmers. Largely self-educated Moberg studied at a Folk Academy i Grimslöv (1916-17) and at a private school in Katrineholm (1917-18). He then supported himself as a farm and forest worker, and in the glassblowing industry. His first play, Kärlek och pengar (1919), was a musical comedy. It was performed only once, at a benefit for starving children in Vienna. From 1919 to 1927 Moberg worked as a journalist for various local paper before becoming a full-time writer.

Moberg's breakthrough novel, Raskens (1927), was set in the author's home province, Småland. The carefully documented chronicle of a vanishing way of life was based on family tradition and depicted the daily life of a farmhand and soldier, Rask, and his faithful wife, Ida, in the late-19th century. The success of the novel enabled Moberg to devote himself entirely to writing.

Moberg's Ulvaskog cycle, Långt från landsvägen (1929, Far from the highway) and its sequel, De knutna händerna (1930, Clenched fists) dealt with the conflict between rural society and technological progress. A. P. Rosell, bankdirektör  (1932) studied life in a small city. The story drew on Moberg's experiences as a journalist. Mans kvinna (1933), about forbidden love between a young marrid woman and her poor neighbour, was compared to D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover

In the 1930s Moberg published the autobiographical Knut Toring trilogy (1935-39), in which the protagonist is unable to find happiness in the country or in Stockholm, where he feels cut off from his roots. The trilogy is often viewed as a continuation of the Ulvaskog cycle. In the novel Soldat med brutet gevär (1944, When I Was a Child) Moberg returned again to his own life, and focused on the political radicalism and the breakthrough of the Social Democrat Party, following rapid industrialization in the early 1900s. The protagonist is Valter Stäng, Moberg's alter ego. He doesn't accept political compromises and in the end of the story leaves a social democrat newspaper to fight for his Socialist ideals and write a novel.

During WW II Moberg published a novel attacking tyranny and oppression,  Rid i natt! (1941, Ride This Night!). It used an episode from Queen Christina's reign (1644-1654), when German noblemen were brought to Sweden to rule over independent farmers. They brought with them feudal practices which are opposed by Ragnar Svedje, who becomes an outlaw. Ride This Night became a bestseller, and was filmed by Gustaf Molander, but its real target did not go unnoticed by the Nazis. It was seen as a thinly veiled criticism of the policy of the Swedish government during World War II: during the war Sweden was neutral but continued trade with Germany. Later Moberg said, that when Ride This Night was confiscated by the Nazi regime, he regarded it as the greatest reward he ever gor for any book. Moberg himself advocated strong military forces. Due to his views, he had had difficulties in finding publishers for his works. 

After the lyrical collection of stories, Brudarnas källa (1946), Moberg started to write his immigrant saga, which preoccupied him much of the 1950s. While traveling in the United States, he met in Hollywood John Ford, who expressed interest in his work. At that time the first two parts of the tetralogy had been translated into English, but it is not known, whether the director really took the time to read the books.

The first part, Utvandrarna (1949) examines reasons for leaving Sweden and hardships of the journey across Atlantic. In Invandrarna (1952) the small group of seasick passengers arrives in the promised land and continues from New York to Minnesota. Nybyggarna (1956) focuses mainly on the energetic Karl Oskar Nilsson and his wife, Kristina, who build a new life. Another important character is the romatic dreamer Robert, whose dreams are broken down in California. Sista brevet till Sverige (1959) is partly set during the years of the American Civil War, but also deals Indian wars. Through the letters of the immigrants to home Moberg shows how their ties to old country gradually loosen - their language become a mixture of Swedish and English. To emphasize the factual basis of the historical details, Moberg included in the work a long list of sources, such as A History of the Swedish-Americans of Minnesota by A.E. Strand (1910), On the Trail of the Immigrant by Edward A Steiner (1906) and The Old Farmers Almanac. He had also unpublished manuscripts and memoirs. The tetralogy inspired Jan Troell's highly successful films Emigrants (1970) and The Settlers (1972). Also a short-lived TV series was made on the story.

Moberg participated from the 1950s in debates about the Swedish bureaucracy, monarchy, and corruption, and devoted much time to help individual citizens that have experienced injustice. He was an outspoken atheist and republican, who supported the separation of church and state and called for the abolition of monachy. He also became engaged in a scandal, the Haijby affair, which involved high-ranking officials, and Kurt Haijby, who claimed that he had been the lover of the Swedish King Gustav V. Moberg believed that there is a conspiracy going on. When Haijby was sent to an asylum, Moberg visited him there a couple of times.

In Det gamla riket (1953), written in the spirit of Gullivers resor, Moberg took a satirical look at Sweden, which is called as "Idyllia". In the 1970s Moberg began to write a four-volume history, Min svenska historia 1-2, which looks at history from the viewpoint of the peasants and illiterate classes. The work was left unfinished - the author managed to write two first parts before his death. Moberg committed suicide apparently by drowning in Väddö on August 8, 1973.

Like other working-class writers of his generation, such as Ivar Lo-Johansson and Moa Martinson, Moberg depicted the life of the dispossessed, their traditions, customs, and everyday struggle. Although Moberg grew up in a narrow-minded rural environment, from which he early escaped, and never resettled in Småland, he later came to see the value in its close ties with the natural world. His novels are important documents of social history, and trace the influences of various social and political movements in Sweden. Moberg also wrote over thirty plays, from folk comedies to serious dramas.

For further reading:  Vilhelm Moberg by Sigvard Mårtensson (1956); Vilhelm Moberg. En bildbiografi by Sigvard Mårtensson (1963); Perspektiv på utvandrarromanen, ed. by Erland and Ulla-Britta Lagerroth  (1971); Vilhelm Mobergs emigrantepos by Gunnar Eidevall (1974);  Berättaren Vilhelm Moberg by Gunnar Eidevall (1974); Den unge Vilhelm Moberg by Magnus von Platen (1978); Moberg's Emigrant Novels and the Journal of Andrew Peterson by Roger McKnight (1979); Vilhem Moberg by Philip Holmes (1980, in English); A History of Swedish Literature, ed. by Lars G. Warme (1996, pp. 335-39); Vilhelm Moberg, sanningen och friheten, ed. by Otto von Friesen (1998); Vilhelm Moberg: en introduktion till hans författarskap by Philip Holmes (2001); Av och om Vilhelm Moberg, ed. by Stig Tornehed (2005); The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, edited by Michael Sollars (2008); Mobergland: personligt och politiskt i Vilhelm Mobergs utvandrarserie by Jens Liljestrand (2009); Drömmen om Ebba: tankar kring ett kärleksbrev från Vilhelm Moberg med stigar in mot vår tid by Anders Johansson (2011); I Vilhelm Mobergs sällskap by Anders Johansson (2011) - See also: Sven Delblanc's emigration series starting with Samuels bok (1981).  In Finland Kalle Päätalo 's autobiographical novels have gained the same historical and documentary status as Moberg's works in Sweden.

Selected works:

  • Kärlek och pengar, 1919 (written under the pseudonym Ville i Momåla)
  • I vapenrock och linnebyxor: en krigsmans intryck och upplevelser, 1921 (as Ville i Momåla)
  • Prinsessan på Solklinten, 1922 (as Ville i Momåla)
  • Inom Baggemosa ägogränser: bygdehistorier, 1923 (as Ville i Momåla)
  • Kassabrist, 1926 (play)
    - Kassavaillinki (suom. Hilkka Kivimaa, 1941)
    - film: Kärlek och kassabrist, 1932, prod. Film AB Minerva, dir. by Gustaf Molander, starring Sigurd Wallén, Tutta Rolf, Edvin Adolphson
  • Raskens: en soldatfamiljs historia, 1927 [The Rask Family]
    - Raskin perhe (suom. Eino Palola, 1937)
    - TV mini-series 1976, prod. Sveriges Radio, dir. Per Sjöstrand, starring Sven Wollter, Gurie Nordwall and Ulla Akselson
  • Hustrun, 1928 (play)
  • Långt från landsvägen, 1929 [Far from the Highway]
  • Marknadsafton: folkkomedi i en akt, 1930 (play)
    -  films: 1948, dir. Ivar Johansson, starring Adolf Jahr, Emy Hagman and Sigge Fürst; TV film 1967, dir. Per Sjöstrand, starring Olof Bergström, Karl Erik Flens and Marianne Stjernqvist; TV film 1982, dir. Bengt Lagerkvist, starring Tommy Johnson, Mona Malm,  Jan-Olof Strandberg, Lena Söderblom
  • De knutna händerna, 1930 [The Clenched Fists]
    - Suojelevat kädet (suom. Hilkka Kivimaa, 1941)
  • Smålandspojken som gjorde trägubbar och blev världsberömd, 1931
  • A.P. Rosell, bankdirektör, 1932
    - TV film 1976, prod. Sveriges Television (SVT), dir. Hans Abramson
  • Mans kvinna, 1933 (staged in 1943)
    - Fulfilment: A Play in Five Acts (translated by M. Hreron, 1953)
    - Mies ja hänen naisensa (suom. Mikko Taipale, 1944) / Miehen nainen (suom. Hilkka Kivimaa, 1944) 
    - film 1945, prod. Svensk Filmindustri (SF), dir. Gunnar Skoglund, starring Edvin Adolphson, Birgit Tengroth and Holger Löwenadler
  • Bönder emellan: folkkomedi i en akt, 1933 (play)
  • Niklas får julfrämmande, 1933
  • Våld: skådespel i fyra akter, 1933 (play)
    - TV film 1960, prod. Sveriges Radio, dir. Hans Abramson, starring John Elfström and Isa Quensel
  • En brevkomedi: I två tablåer, 1934 (play)
  • Femtioårsdagen: komedi i en akt, 1934 (play)
  • Sänkt sedebetyg, 1935 (Knut Toring trilogy)
    - Memory of Youth (translated by Edwin Björkman, 1937)
    - Käytös alennettu (suom. V. Hämeen-Anttila, 1937)
    - film: Gläd dig i din ungdom, 1939, dir. Per Lindberg, screenplay by Vilhelm Moberg, starring Birgit Tengroth, Peter Höglund and Carl Ström
  • Försvunnen: komedi i en akt, 1935 (play)
  • Lördagskväll: folklustspel i en akt, 1935 (play)
  • Sömnlös, 1937 (Knut Toring trilogy)
    - Sleepless Nights (translated by  Edwin Björkman, 1940)
    - Uneton (suom. V. Hämeen-Anttila, 1937)
  • Kyskhet: ett spel för teatern om den älskande människan i prolog och fem akter, 1937 (play)
  • Änkeman Jarl, 1937 (play)
    - Leskimies Jarl (suom. Hilkka Kivimaa, 1943)
    - films: 1945, dir. by Sigurd Wallén, starring Sigurd Wallén, Dagmar Ebbesen, Arthur Fischer; TV film 1971, dir. Per Sjöstrand, starring Olof Bergström, Berta Hall, Tore Lindwall; Leskimies Jarl, TV film 1968, dir. Ritva Nuutinen, starring Ossi Elstelä, Asta Backman and Katriina Rinne; TV film 1994, dir. Rune Formare, starring Gunnar Öhlund, Betty Tuvén, Halvar Björk
  • Jungfrukammare: lustspel i fyra akter, 1938 (play)
    - Neitsytkammio (suom. Hilkka Kivimaa, 1939)
  • Giv oss jorden!, 1939 (Knut Toring trilogy)
    - The Earth Is Ours: A Novel (contains Memory of Youth, Sleepless Nights, The Earth is Ours; translated by Edwin Björkman, 1940)
    - Anna meille maa! (suom. V. Hämeen-Anttila, 1940)
    - film: Rejoice While You're Young, 1939, dir. by Per Lindberg, starring Birgit Tengroth, Peter Höglund, Carl Ström
  • En löskekarl: skådespel i en akt, 1941 (play)
    - films: TV film 1960, dir. Rolf Husberg, starring Tor Isedal, Doris Svedlund and Brita Öberg; TV film 1985, dir. Rune Formare
  • Svensk strävan, 1941
  • Sanningen kryper fram: fyra inlägg för dagen, 1943
  • Rid i natt!, 1941
    - Ride This Night! (translated by Henry Alexander, 1943)
    - Ratsasta tänä yönä!: romaani Värendistä vuodelta 1650 (suom. Arvi Nuormaa, 1943)
    - films: 1942, dir. by Gustaf Molander, starring Oscar Ljung, Gerd Hagman, Eva Dahlbeck; TV mini-series 1985, prod. Sveriges Television (SVT), dir. Per Sjöstrand
  • Rid i natt!: skådespel i 3 akter, 1942 (play)
  • Mans kvinna: skådespel i fem akter, 1943 (play)
  • Soldat med brutet gevär: en människa ur det förgångna, rannsakad och hörd om sina levnadsomständigheter, 1944
    - When I Was a Child (partial Eng. tr. by Gustaf Lannestock, 1956)
    - Sotilas, joka vihasi kivääriä: eräs menneisyyden ihminen elämänolojensa valossa tutkittuna ja kuultuna (suom. Arvi Nuormaa, 1945)
  • Vår ofödde son: skådespel i fyra akter, 1945 (play)
    - TV film 1959, dir. Hans Abramson, starring Olga Appellöf, Märta Dorff and Axel Düberg, John Elfström, Mona Malm, Ingrid Thulin
  • Segerstedtstriden, 1945
  • Brudarnas källa, 1946
    - Morsianten lähde: legenda pysyvästi asuvista (suom. Arvi Nuormaa, 1947)
  • Hatets och kärlekens diktare: Ragnar Jändel, 1946
  • Utvandrarna, 1949 (Romanen om utvandrarna)
    - The Emigrants (translated by Gustaf Lannestock, 1951)
    - Maastamuuttajat (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1975)
  • Den okända släkten, 1950 (rev. ed. 1968)
    - The Unknown Swedes (translated by Roger McKnight, 1988)
  • Fallet Krukmakaregatan: de försvunna polispapperens gåta, 1951
  • Invandrarna, 1952 (Romanen om utvandrarna)
    - Unto a Good Land (translated by Gustaf Lannestock, 1954)
    - Uuteen maahan (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1959)
    - film: Utvandrarna / The Emigrants, 1970, prod. Svensk Filmindustri (SF), dir. by Jan Troell, starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, based on Utvandrarna and Invandrarna
  • Att övervaka överheten, 1953
  • Det gamla riket, 1953 [The Ancient Kingdom]
  • Lea och Rakel: ett kvinnodrama, 1954 (play)
  • Gudens hustru: en hednisk kultkomedi för radio, 1954 (radio play)
  • Därför är jag republikan, 1955
  • Nybyggarna, 1956 (Romanen om utvandrarna)
    - Settlers (translated by Gustaf Lannestock, 1978)
    - Raivaajat (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1960)
    - film: Nybyggarna, 1972, prod. Svensk Filmindustri (SF), dir. Jan Troell, starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg, Pierre Lindstedt
  • Komplotterna: affärerna Unman och Selling, 1956
  • Vilhelm Mobergs dramatik: kvinnodramer, 1957 (plays: Vår ofödde son; Lea och Rakel)
  • Vilhelm Mobergs dramatik: lustspel och enaktare, 1957 (plays: Kassabrist; Marknadsafton; En löskekarl; Änkeman Jarl; Jungfrukammare)
  • Vilhelm Mobergs dramatik: äktenskapsdramer, 1957 (plays: Hustrun; Våld; Mans kvinna)
  • Domaren: en tragisk komedi i sex scener, 1958 (play)
    - Tuomari (suom. Sirkka Rapola, 1964)
    - films: 1960, dir. by Alf Sjöberg, starring Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Hellström, Per Myrberg; TV film 1974, dir. Pi Lind, starring Kent Andersson, Margita Ahlin, Sven Wollter,  
  • Sista brevet till Sverige, 1959 (Romanen om utvandrarna)
    - The Last Letter Home (two last volumes of the series, translated by Gustaf Lannestock, 1961)
    - Maastamuutajat 7. Viimeinen kirje Ruotsiin (suom. Sinikka Kallio, 1975)
    - The New Land, 1972, dir. by Jan Troell, starring Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Eddie Axberg; based on Nybyggarna and Sista brevet till Sverige
  • Nattkyparen: skådespel , 1961 (play)
  • Sagoprinsen: lustspel, 1962 (play)
  •  Din stund på jorden, 1963 (transformation from novel to drama was done with the backing of Ingmar Bergman)
    - Ei kotia maan päällä (suom. Soili Nordgren, 1965)
    - A Time on Earth (translated by Naomi Walford, 1965)
    - TV mini-series 1973, dir. Per Sjöstrand, starring Georg Funkquist, Mats Sturesson, Oscar Ljung, Marianne Stjernqvist, Olof Bergström, Lena-Pia Bernhardsson
  • Hundra gånger gifta: komedi, 1965 (play)
    - Sata kertaa naimisissa (suom. Helvi Erjakka, 1959)
  • Bondeåret: en krönika, 1966
  • Förrädarland, 1967
    - Rajamaa (suom. Kyllikki Hämäläinen, 1970)
  • Berättelser ur min levnad, 1968
  • Min svenska historia, berättad för folket, I-II, 1970-71
    - A History of the Swedish People: From Odin to Engelbrekt (translated by Paul Britten Austin, 1972); A History of the Swedish People: From Engelbrekt to Dacke (translated from the Swedish by Paul Britten Austin, 1973) / A History of the Swedish People. Vol. 1: From Prehistory to the Renaissance (foreword by Gunnar Myrdal; translated by Paul Britten Austin, 2005); A History of the Swedish People. Vol. 2: From Renaissance to Revolution (translated by Paul Britten Austin, 2005)
  • Otrons artiklar, 1973
  • Vilhelm Moberg - berättaren, 1979 (ed. by Staffan Andræ)   
  • I egen sak, 1984
  • The Unknown Swedes, 1988 (ed. by Roger McKnight)
  • Vårplöjning och andra berättelser, 1990 (ed. by Gunnar Eidevall)
  • Att upptäcka Amerika: 1948-1949, 1995 (ed. by Gunnar Eidevall)
  • I det ofria ordets tid, 1996 (ed. by Anna-Karin Carlstoft)
  • Att stå det onda emot: om kriget och friheten, 2002 (ed. by Otto von Friesen)
  • Broder Ville, Käre snälle Sven: 26 växlade brev mellan Vilhelm Moberg och Sven Delblanc: samt texter med anknytning till ett seminarium på Väddö folkhögskola, 2006 (ed. by Lars Ahlbom, Ingrid Nettervik)
  • "Om Gud vill och hälsan varar": Vilhelm Mobergs brev 1918-1949, 2007 (ed. by Jens Liljestrand)
  • "Du tror väl att jag är död": Vilhelm Mobergs brev 1950-1973, 2008 (ed. by Jens Liljestrand)
  • Vilhelm Moberg i fejd med hembygden: en spännande brevväxling, 2008 (ed. by Ingrid Nettervik)
  • Den riktiga jultomten: och andra berättelser, 2010 (ed. by  Carl Hyltén-Cavallius)
  • I sanningens och fantasins namn: talaren Vilhelm Moberg, 2011 (ed. by Anna-Karin Carlstoft Bramell)

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