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||Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911)|
Swedish poet, who was one of the pioneers liberating Swedish verse from traditional patterns. At his death, Gustaf Fröding was celebrated as a national poet against his own will - his contemporary poet Verner von Heidenstam adopted the role more eagerly. Fröding undermined his public image by openly revealing his problems with alcohol and bohemian life style. Love, true or bought with money, was one of Fröding's themes, as in the poem 'En kärleksvisa' from Gralstänk (1898, New and Old Splashes from the Grail):
Jag köpte min kärlek för pengar,
Gustaf Fröding was born in Alsters Farm outside Karlstad in
Värmland. His grandfather, Jan
Fröding, had gathered a considerable property through business affairs,
and invested it in land and Alster Mill. He married Gustava Branzell;
her brother was a former priest, who suffered from alcoholism and
mental illness. Fröding's father, lieutenant Ferdinand Fröding, married
Emilia Agardh, the daughter of the bishop of Karlstad. Ferdinand was
not able to look after the property and was soon in huge debts. The
strong-willed Emilia took care of the family. After recovering from
meningitis (he had chilled his head on a sleigh ride), Ferdinand became
"en främmande man" (a strange man), who
could not stand any voices in the house, and changed his stockings ten
times in a single day.
At the time of Gustaf's birth, his mother had mental problems. She lost contact with reality, was hospitalized, and did not recognize her son any more. Fröding described her in 'Dolores di Colibrados' as an outsider who was ultimately destroyed by her alien, cold surroundings.
At high school, Karlstads Högre allmänna läroverk, Fröding
developed a lifelong friendship with the future journalist and Liberal
party politician Mauritz Hellberg (1859-1947). Fröding did not take
studies, but was more interested in drinking and visiting brothels. Physically
weak, and plagued with feelings of guilt and shame, he spent a lot of
time recovering from the effects of alcohol.
Fröding attended the University of Uppsala in the early 1880s.
wasting his inheritance in a couple of years, he returned to Värmland.
There he fell in love with a local girl but
due to his poor financial condition he could not marry her. In 1885
Fröding left the university
without taking a degree, and lived for a period with his mother,
Emilia. Hellberg managed to get him a job in 1887 as a journalist in
the radical newspaper Karlstads-Tidning, which he later edited.
Fröding's poems and prose pieces written in Värmlandish dialect for the
newspaper were collected in Räggler å paschaser 1-2
From 1889 onwards Fröding was periodically hospitalized for treatment of nervous disorders. When not in hospital or asylum, Fröding was taken care of his sisters, Mathilda or Cecilia. In 1889 Fröding spent some time in Görlitz, Germany, where he read such writers as Goethe, Byron, Burns, and Poe. With two the essays, 'Naturalism and romantik' and 'Om humor', Fröding contributed to the literary debate about naturalism and creative imagination, defending fantasy and Swedish humor.
Gitarr och dragharmonika (1891), Fröding's first collection of poems, was composed in Görlitz's sanatorium. It came out when the poet was in a sanatorium in Lillehammer, Norway. The collection revealed Fröding's unique poetic blend of irony, melancholy, and humor. An immediate success, the book sold 5,000 copies in five years - more than any other collection in Sweden.
Fröding was awarded a stipend by the Swedish Academy in 1892,
donated it to the movement for general voting rights. From Norway
Fröding returned to Karlstad. He had an affair with a waitress, who
inspired the poems 'Flickan i ögat' and 'Det borde varit stjärnor'.
("Var väsignad du, som ej gav tröst / som en nåd från ovan, / men som
kärleksgåvan / från en syndig fatting flickas bröst.") Nya dikter
(1894), which was received with enthusiasm, appeared when Fröding was
in a hospital in Göteborg. He had visions of greatness, believing he
was a superman - just like the German
philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche did before he collapsed mentally and
physically in January 1889 -
his illness was probably of syphilitic origin.
Like all Scandinavian writers at that
time, Fröding knew Nietzsche's work and wrote a pastiche Thus Spoke
Zarathustra (1883-85), which was published in Nya dikter.
Nietzsche also inspited the poems 'Guderne dansa' and 'En flik av
framtiden', included in the collection Stänk och flikar
(1896, Splashes and Spray). It also contains a series of poems of the
Holy Grail, and one of Fröding's most beloved pieces, 'Ett gammalt
bergtroll', about an outsider, a lonely mountain troll, who eats
people. 'En morgondröm' (A Morning Dream), in which two Stone Age
Aryans in the far Aryan
homeland have sex, was called pornographic and led to a court case.
Although Fröding was acquitted, he could not stop his self-accusations.
The collection was half written in a psychotic state.
Eventually Fröding suffered a mental breakdown and managed to
only two small books of poems before a final breakdown. Gralstänk
(1898), born partly as a reaction to Nietzsche's Jenseits von Gut
und Böse, presents a series of religious poems that express a faith
in the divinity of all things. Mattoidens
sånger (Madcap's Songs) was probably composed in 1900. 'Gråbergssång' (Gray Granite Song), an experiment about the o-sound (the letter "å" is pronounced like a long "o"), has been studied in schools in literary classes, generation after generation:
Whereas Erik Axel Karlfeldt (1864-1931) drew on the old Lutheran heritage, which was a source of comfort to him, Fröding sought solace in legends and mystical tradition. In 'The Saga of Grail' Fröding wrote: "Grail is the solace and hope of all being; / Grail is the marvelous gem of renown, / Prophesied whilom by sibyl and soothsayer; / Grail is the philosophers' stone." (North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, edited and translated by Judith Moffett, 2001, p. 157) Some of his confessional poems Fröding wrote in the third person. In later works his alter egos were Clown Clopopisky, who is mocked by his audience, and the poet Wennerbom, who drinks alone in a park.
the last collection published before
final collapse. From 1898 to 1905 Fröding was a patient in Uppsala
hospital for mental illness. Between 1906 and 1907 he was treated in
Svenonii hospital, Stockholm. There he met Signe Trozig, his nurse for
the rest of his life. It has been assumed that Fröding was a
schizophrenic, but according to the Danish psychiatrist Jørgen Ravn,
(1903-1993), he "suffered from an atypical manic-depressive psychosis,
complicated by strong psychopatic characteristics and by alcoholism." ('The Psychic Constitution of Selma Lagerlöf' by Jørgen
Ravn, in Acta Psychiatrica
Scandinavica, September 1959) In 1907 Fröding lived in
Gröndal, Stockholm's Djurgården,
then in Tullinge, and from 1909 again in Gröndal. Along the years, he
developed diabetes. When condition
improved in 1908, he started to work with a new collections of
poems, Reconvalescentia. His financial problems ended. The government voted to pay him an annual pension and the Academy gave him a stipend.
Richard Bergh's portrait of Fröding from 1909 - both heroic and intimate at the same time - presents the poet as a patient, a bearded like an ancient sage or a prophet from the Old Testament, sitting on bed with his arms crossed and looking up. A book, as thick as the Bible, lies on a table. Fröding never finished his final work, which was published posthumously in 1913. Fröding died of pneumonia in Stockholm on February 8, 1911. In Nordic countries, his poems have remained popular. The Finnish composer Jean Sibelius has set to music five of Fröding's poems, among them 'Säf, säf, susa' (reeds, reeds, whisper). "Säf, säf, susa, / våg, våg, slå, / I sängen mig hvar Ingalill / den unga månde gå?"
For further reading: Gustaf Frödings diktning by Frey Svensson (1916); Frödings mystik by Olle Holmberg (1921); Frödingsminnen by Cecilia Fröding (1925); Skapande fantasi och sjuka skalder by Bror Gadelius (1927); Frödings sociala diktning by Axel Munthe (1929); Fröding by Henry Olsson (1951); Fröding och Ida Bäckman by G. Michanek (1955); Gustaf Fröding by John Landquist (1956, rev. edition 1964); Gustaf Fröding by Erland Lindbäck (1957); Så minns vi Gustaf Fröding, ed. by G. Michanek (1960); En morgondröm by G. Michanek (1962); Vinlövsranka och hagtornkrans by Henry Olsson (1970); 'Fröding, Gustaf' by S.A.B. [Sven Arne Bergmann] in Columbia Dictionary of Modern European Literature, edited by Jean-Albert Bédé and William B. Edgerton (1980); Bibliografi, 2 vols., published by Gustaf Fröding-sällskapet (1978-84); Gustaf Fröding (1860-1911): His Life and Poetry: a Short Biography by Paul Britten Austin (1986); Den Svenska Litteraturen, Vol. IV, ed. by Lars Lönnroth and Sven Delblanc (1997); 'Gustaf Fröding, 1860-1911,' in North! To the North!: Five Swedish Poets of the Nineteenth Century, edited and translated by Judith Moffett (2001); Gustaf Fröding in Brunskog and Mangskog by Gustaf Froding and Mike McArthur (2006); Fröding och kvinnorna by Rolf Alsing (2011); Gustaf Fröding - och jag by Rolf Erik Solheim (2017); Gustaf: en roman om Gustaf Fröding by Arne Bergersen (2017) - Suom: Suomeksi Frödingin runoja ovat kääntäneet Larin-Kyösti (Runoja ja murrejuttuja), Valter Juva (Valikoima runoja), Hannes Korpi-Anttila (Värmlannin lauluja), Otto Manninen (Värmnlannin lauluja, 1952) ja Ilpo Tiihonen (Runoilija Vennerbom ja muita runoja).