Dutch Literature in Sweden

At Stockholm University there is a long-standing tradition of conducting research on the transfer of literature from the Low Countries to Sweden. In 1997 Ingrid Wikén Bonde, Associate Professor Dutch, published her doctoral thesis on the reception of Dutch language literature in Swedish translation between 1830 and 1995: Was hat und dieser Gast wohl zu erzählen oder Die Jagd nach dem Nobelpreis. Zur Rezeption nederländischer Literatur in Sweden. The first of its kind in Sweden dealing with Dutch language literature in translation. This monumental work also contains a bibliography of all translated Dutch language literature (including children’s literature, non-fiction, texts in anthologies and magazines) from the forementioned years. According to Wikén Bonde, the first texts translated into Swedish were Reinaerts Historie in 1621 under the title Reyncke Vosz and two texts of Jacob Cats in 1730 and in 1759, the latter an adaption from Houwelick. Wikén Bonde explains that older texts are usually some kind of adaption and not what we today consider translation. Furthermore, Wikén Bonde states that during the second part of the 20th century a shift occurs to ‘quality’ literature in what is being translated and there is also more interest in Flemish authors in Sweden. One of the explanations for this shift in literary translation, stated by Wikén Bonde, concerns the possibility to promote potential Nobel Prize candidates from the Low Countries, for instance Louis Paul Boon and Hugo Claus.

One of the students at the Dutch section at Stockholm University, Lisbeth Jonsson, has in her bachelor thesis, Literatuur uit de Lage Landen in Zweedse vertaling tussen 1995-2019: Cultuuroverdracht tussen twee perifere talen (2020), undertaken the task of further completing the bibliography of Wikén Bonde with the years 1995-2019. However, Jonsson has excluded children’s literature from her bibliography. Through the years, many more students have written their bachelor or master theses on the reception of a particular Dutch or Flemish author translated into Swedish, supervised by the senior lecturers at the Dutch section.

In 2010 Sara Van Meerbergen completed her doctoral thesis on the Swedish translation of children’s literature from Flanders and the Netherlands between 1995 and 2006. In the thesis she specifically focusses on picture books as the largest portion of translated titles concerns this subgenre. The thesis is written from a translation sociological approach and starts of with a bibliographical study analyzing subgenres, authorships, publishers and translators involved in the transfer process in a quantitative and qualitative way. The most translated author/illustrator, counted in number of titles translated, in the period that was studied is Dutch picture book artist Dick Bruna followed closely by Dutch picture book artist Max Velthuijs. From Flanders we can notice picture book artists Guido Van Genechten and Linne Bie as leading names when it comes to the number of translated titles. In order to study the translation process of picturebooks more closely, the second part of the thesis contains a qualitative translation analysis of Dick Bruna’s picture books in Swedish translation. As meaning is created through both words and images in the picturebook text, multimodal discourse analysis is used in order to analyze the Swedish translations of three books about the world-famous picture book character Nijntje, Miffy in Swedish and in English, by Bruna. The analyses show, amongst other things, that this character partly represents different child images in the Dutch and Swedish versions of the books. While Miffy is depicted as a very polite and responsible ‘model child’ in the Dutch versions, originally written in the 1950s and 1960s, she is liberated from these burdens in the Swedish translations in which focus is more on Miffy’s fantasy and her play. These changes in the translations correlate well with the new spirit within Swedish children’s literature at the time of the first Swedish translations in the 1960’s, a period marked by great authors such as Astrid Lindgren, Lennart Hellsing and Tove Jansson.

A highlight for Dutch language literature in Sweden occurred when the Netherlands and Flanders were the guest of honour at the book fair in Gothenburg in 1997. The Göteborg book fair is the most important literary event in Sweden. The translations from Dutch into Swedish peaked and Swedish literary magazines translated less well-known Dutch and Flemish authorships in Sweden at the time. The literary magazine Allt om böcker (Everything about books), nr. 4/5 1997, published extracts by post-colonial authors from Surinam and the former Antilles. This special issue contains a translated extract from Astrid Roemer’s book De wereld heeft gezicht verloren (translated by Annika Johansson) as well as one from Tip Marugg’s De morgen loeit weer (translated by Joakim Sundström). Furthermore, the special issue holds an interview with Astrid Roemer and an article titled Voices from Curaçao in which the journalist Karin van Dijk portrays the authors Frank Martinus Arion, Boeli van Leeuwen and Tip Marugg. Interestingly, none of these authors have since been translated into Swedish. Moreover, the literary magazines Lyrikvännen and 90-tal also published work by Dutch and Flemish authors to promote Dutch language literature with regard to the Göteborg book fair.

This is merely a short overview of research on the history of literature from the Low Countries in Swedish translation. For further information on this topic, the titles mentioned above (except Wikén Bonde's doctoral thesis) are published as open access:





Annika Johansson & Sara Van Meerbergen
Associate Professors Dutch Language and Literature at Stockholm University