Claes Ahlund, Elias Sehlstedt – en borgerlig modernitetsförnekare (Elias Sehlstedt: a bourgeois denier of modernity)
The essay focuses on the poetry of Elias Sehlstedt (1808–1874) and its relation to modernity. In his own lifetime, Sehlstedt was a widely read poet, much appreciated for his sense of humour and his witty travesties of poets such as Bellman, Franzén, Lenngren, Wallin and Tegnér. During the 20th century, Sehlstedt was dismissed as a poet of bourgeois contentment, and fell into oblivion. Nevertheless, his poetry offers an advantageous starting-point for a discussion of nineteenth century bourgeois mentalities. The object of the essay is to relate this aspect of Sehlstedt’s work not only to the private sphere of the middle class, but also to the market and to the political sphere.
Theoretically, the essay relates to Matei Calinescu’s discussion of the antagonistic relation between the bourgeois idea of modernity and the aesthetic one, to Victor Svanberg’s discussion of Swedish middle-class realism, and to the concept of the structural transformation of the public sphere developed by Jürgen Habermas.
In his poetry, Sehlstedt praises the modest yet comfortable life of the middle-class. He pays tribute to family values and to jovial social life. In both cases, his outlook is strikingly narrow. The current rapid transformation of the Swedish society through industrialization, urbanization and technological progress is made invisible, and can only be perceived indirectly. In addition to the general escapist tendency, the theme of financial worries is an example of this. Sehlstedt’s use of comic punch-lines often serves the same escapist purpose; smoothly obscuring modernity by means of laughter. To the modern reader, they nevertheless point out the very threats of modernity they were supposed to veil.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2010. Vol. 131, 170-194 p.