Magnus Nilsson, Prometheusmotivet hos Viktor Rydberg och i den tidiga arbetarlitteraturen.(The Prometheus Motif in Viktor Rydberg’s Poetry and Early Working-Class Literature.)
This essay focuses on the Prometheus motif in Viktor Rydberg’s poetry and in early Swedish working-class literature. Many working-class writers were influenced by Rydberg. But the Prometheus motif undergoes a radical transformation when taken up in their poetry.
Whereas Rydberg’s use of the motif is firmly rooted within a bourgeois (liberal and Christian) world-view, the ‘proletarian Prometheus’ — often referred to as ‘Lucifer’ — is a symbol for atheism and revolutionary socialism. This re-definition of the Prometheus motif is a product of a sub-cultural logic that characterized the early Swedish labour movement — a logic which necessitates an almost total rejection and/or inversion of bourgeois values.
The working-class writers use the Prometheus motif to construct a proletarian, class-conscious writer identity. This is done in dialogue with hegemonic, bourgeois representations of the working class as non-respectable, which they affirm, but re-valorise. Through celebrations of and identification with Prometheus, working-class writers construct an identity based on the negation of bourgeois values. They thus recognize the status of the working class as “the Other”, in analogy with the interpretation of Prometheus as an incarnation of the negation of bourgeois, Christian ideals, yet attribute positive values to this ‘otherness’.
The fact that the ‘proletarian Prometheus’ is characterized by an affirmation of a radical negativity, above all manifested in atheism, results in an almost unbridgeable gap between Rydberg and working-class writers. And this gap corresponds to a more overriding conflict, namely, that between aesthetic idealism and modernist anti-idealism. Even if the workingclass writers weren’t programmatic or self-conscious modernists, this places them within the literary tradition that rebels against aesthetic idealism and paves the way for the emergence of modernism.
Thus the use of the Prometheus-motif in early Swedish working-class literature sheds light, not only on the relationship between this tradition and the political and social conditions in Sweden around the turn of the twentieth century, but also on its relationship to the most important currents in the literary history of that period.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2007. Vol. 128, 110-128 p.