1974 : Eyvind Johnson

1974 : Eyvind Johnson

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“for a narrative art, far-seeing in lands and ages, in the service of freedom”



July 29, 1900

Place of birth


Boden, Norrbotten, Sweden



August 25, 1976

Place of death


Stockholm, Sweden







Notable award(s)


Nobel Prize in Literature 1974

[1/2 of the prize]


Born in Svarbjornsbyn, near Boden, in a modest family (his father, former worker, had a small farm), Eyvind Johnson began working to fourteen years, doing all sorts of odd jobs. After the war, he knows unemployment and poverty that initiate trade unionism and socialist activism. Throughout his life, there will be faithful. From 1921 to 1923, he moved to Berlin and Paris where he lives meager fees from two newspapers Socialists. In 1924 he published a first collection of short stories: The four foreigners then to a novel anti-capitalist accents: Timans and justice in 1925. That same year he returned to France to another long stay. From 1926 to 1930, Johnson lives in Saint-Leu Forest (95320) in a modest building. His son, Tor will become art photographer born in Saint Leu in 1927.Une commemorative plaque is placed at number 2 in the rue de Boissy. He writes novels Dark City in 1927 which mentions his place of birth and letters in 1928 which is set precisely in Paris. From the French period, it detects the influences of Marcel Proust and Andre Gide. Comments on the collapse of a star (1929) betrays him, plus a penchant for James Joyce and his concept of “interior monologue.” The work of Johnson, tempted by the structural and formal experimentation has always wanted to involve the denunciation of the benefits and social injustices at a time of unwavering confidence in the progress and the renewal of the human soul, driven by optimism of conviction man left. His books, his thoughts and reasoning have made him a permanent consciousness awakening to the events of his time. The Bobinack for example, in 1932, attempts to reconcile social criticism inspired utopian and Marxist, and faith in introspection and rejuvenation beneficial saving forces of primitive man: tinted ideals of Freudian and largely inspired by Sherwood Anderson . The Roman with Olof published in one volume in 1945, the author, after two collections of short stories, is dedicated to a more autobiographical kind. Very committed, he took part against dictatorships, all forms of political oppression and supports the independence claims of Finland. Through its Krilon fictional trilogy (1941-1943), openly criticized the policy of “neutrality” in Sweden during the Second World War. Bold and hands-on, the author writes Heureux Ulysses in 1946 that parodie irreverent in a language of Homer’s poem. Romantic Story (1953) and La Marche time (1955) outline a new series of autobiographical stories. With roses and fire, Johnson weaves a narrative history in which he finds connections with contemporary times. The novel, which deals with the “return of the Warrior” (another Homeric theme), echoed the post-war communist and methods as means of witchcraft trials in the seventeenth century. All the earthy and ironic verve of the writer, however, broke his description of tyranny in Europe of Charlemagne with the time of His Grace (1960). In 1973, the author mixes in some step towards silence, several present and past which it derives a reflection on the current time and violence that ensues. Became a popular artist for his commitment and humanism, he was elected to the Swedish Academy in 1957, the No. 11 seat vacated by Nils Ahnlund. In 1974 he finally gets, together with Harry Martinson, the Nobel Prize for literature for his work which has express new aspirations to freedom and to communicate landscapes, cultures and historical times. The reward, however divided opinion and exceeds the intelligentsia Swedish him his proletarian ideology. He died two years later in Stockholm In Swedish, he translated the works of Gustave Flaubert, Anatole France, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre.


Works in Swedish:

  • De fyra framlingarna – Stockholm : Tiden, 1924

  • Timans och rattfardigheten – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1925

  • Stad i morker – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1927

  • Minnas – 1928

  • Stad i ljus : en historia fran Paris – Stockholm : Tiden, 1928

  • Kommentar till ett stjarnfall – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1929

  • Avsked till Hamlet : en historia om en ungdom – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1930

  • Natten ar har : noveller – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1932

  • Bobinack – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1932

  • Regn i gryningen – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1933

  • Nu var det 1914 – Stockholm, 1934 – (Romanen om Olof ; 1)

  • An en gang, kapten! : noveller – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1934

  • Har har du ditt liv! – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1935 – (Romanen om Olof ; 2)

  • Se dig inte om! – ockholm : Bonnier, 1936 – (Romanen om Olof ; 3)

  • Slutspel i ungdomen – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1937 – (Romanen om Olof ; 4)

  • Nattovning – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1938

  • Den trygga varlden : noveller – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1940

  • Soldatens aterkomst – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1940

  • Grupp Krilon – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1941

  • Krilons resa – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1942

  • Krilon sjalv – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1943

  • Warszawa! / Eyvind Johnson, Gunnar Almstedt – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1944

  • Sju liv – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1944

  • Som en av vara egna : ett samtal om norska bocker och svenska / Sigurd Hoel, Eyvind Johnson – Stockholm, 1944

  • Strandernas svall : en roman om det narvarande – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1946

  • Pan mot Sparta : fem noveller med klassiskt motiv – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1946

  • Strandernas svall : ett drama i tre akter och ett antal bilder om den atervandande – Stockholm, 1948

  • Pierre Barrot : ur en kommande roman – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1949

  • Dagbok fran Schweiz, 1947-1949 – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1949

  • Drommar om rosor och eld – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1949

  • Ett vartal 1951 – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1951

  • Lagg undan solen – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1951

  • Romantisk berattelse – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1953

  • Tidens gang : en romantisk berattelse – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1955

  • Vinterresa i Norrbotten – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1955

  • Molnen over Metapontion – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1957

  • Nils Ahnlund : intradestal i Svenska Akademien – Stockholm : Norstedt, 1957

  • Vagar over Metaponto : en resedagbok – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1959

  • Hans nades tid – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1960

  • Spar forbi Kolonos – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1961

  • Till fodelsedagsbarnen Adam Helms och Gosta Netzen den 30 januari 1961 – 1962

  • Livsdagen lang : en roman, berattad i Rom – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1964

  • Stunder, vagor :berattelser fran resor – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1965

  • Favel ensam – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1968

  • Nagra steg mot tystnaden : en roman om fangna – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1973

  • Resa hosten 1921 – Smedjebacken : H. Ericsons bokh., 1973

  • Olibrius och gestalterna : tidiga berattelser / utgivna av Bjorn Gustavsson – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1986

  • Personligt, politiskt, estetiskt / urval och forord av Orjan Lindberger – Stockholm : Bonnier, 1992

  • Tal pa Ovralid 1967 – Motala : Stiftelsen Ovralid, 1992

  • Och sa vill jag prata med dig : brevvaxlingen mellan Eyvind Johnson och Elmer Diktonius / redigering och kommentarer av Orjan Lindberger – Stockholm : Bonnier i samarbete med Eyvind Johnson-sallsk., 1997

  • Herr Clerk var mastare : en gruppering / under redaktion av Orjan Lindberger och med inledning av Ulf Linde – Stockholm : Atlantis, 1998

  • Upplevelse av Norrbotten : en bok till 100-arsminnet av Eyvind Johnsons fodelse / presentation och urval: Ake Leif-Lundgren och Bert Linne – Boden : Kantele, 1999

  • Portratt / Olof Mattsson & Per Anders Wiktorsson (red.) – Stockholm : Eyvind Johnson-sallskapet, 2004

  • Resebrev 1921-1952 / forord & kommentarer: Bjorn Gustavsson ; brev & fotografier: Eyvind Johnson – Stockholm : Modernista, 2006

Translations into English:

  • Return to Ithaca : the Odyssey Retold as a Modern Novel / rendered into English by M.A. Michael – London : Thames & Hudson, 1952

  • The Days of His Grace / translated from the Swedish by Elspeth Harley Schubert – London : Chatto & Windus, 1968

  • 1914 / translated by Mary Sandbach – London : Adam books, 1970

  • Dreams of Roses and Fire / translated from the Swedish by Erik J. Friis – New York : Hippocrene, 1984


1974: Nobel Prize in Literature (shared with Harry Martinson).

Presentation Speech:

Presentation Speech by Karl Ragnar Gierow, of the Swedish Academy.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Eyvind Johnson’s education – that is, the education provided by society at that time – ended when he was thirteen and was imparted to him at a little village school north of the Arctic Circle. The future awaiting the young Harry Martinson opened up to him when, at the age of six, as a so-called child of the parish, he was sold by auction to the lowest bidder – that is, to the person who took charge of the forsaken boy for the smallest payment out of parochial funds. The fact that, with such a start in life, both of them have their places on this platform today, is the visible testimony to a transformation of society, which, step by step, is still going on all over the world. With us it came unusually early; it is perhaps our country’s biggest blessing, perhaps, also, its most remarkable achievement during the last thousand years.

Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson did not come alone, nor first. They are representative of the many proletarian writers or working-class poets who, on a wide front, broke into our literature, not to ravage and plunder, but to enrich it with their fortunes. Their arrival meant an influx of experience and creative energy, the value of which can hardly be exaggerated. To that extent they are representative also of the similar breakthrough that has later occurred in the whole of our cultural world. A new class has conquered Parnassus. But if, by a conqueror, we mean the one who gained most from the outcome, then Parnassus has conquered a new class.

To determine an author and his work against the background of his social origin and political environment is, at present, good form. And what is good form is seldom particularly to the point. “Eyvind Johnson’s literary achievement is one of the most significant and characteristic of a very fruitful period in the whole of Europe.” This last sentence is not mine; it was written thirty years ago by Lucien Maury. Even then, the boy from a primary school in a remote village in the far north of Sweden was an experienced and self-assured European, never forgetful of his origin (of which his autobiographical stories provide a lasting document), but still less bound and inhibited by the environment where he took his first steps. International perspective distinguished Eyvind Johnson’s further writings, and it is matched by an equally wide outlook in time, over the destinies and ages of the human race. The renewal of the historical novel which he has carried out on his own, and perhaps exemplified most clearly in great works like Days of His Grace and Steps Towards Silence, is based not only on extensive research but also on a clear-sightedness which, expressed briefly, sets out to show that everything that happens to us has happened before, and everything that took place once in the world is still taking place, recognizable under changed signs, a constant simultaneity of epochs which may be the only wisdom the past can teach us in our attempts to survey the present and divine an era which we have not yet seen.

If, nevertheless, we are to point to a special phase and one particular mental environment whose traces are ineffaceable in Eyvind Johnson’s work with his pen, it is that very period when Lucien Maury discovered that in this Nordic writer, Europe had one of its important intellectuals. The French time analyst described this epoch as very fruitful. What was it that made it so productive? Not favourable conditions, but the indomitable resistance to the conditions that prevailed. D-day had not yet dawned; Nazism still had a stranglehold on Europe. It was in that predicament that Eyvind Johnson spoke out. His attitude was so passionate that its fervour has never since vanished from what he wrote. He retained his European perspective, but, naturally, it was Scandinavia’s liberty that was dearest to him just then. He endorsed his conviction with a handshake across the border. Together with a co-editor on the Norwegian side he was responsible during the occupation years for a mouthpiece of the new Scandinavianism, called – “A Handshake”. As from today the two publishers of that little paper are both Nobel Prizewinners. The name of Eyvind Johnson’s co-editor on the Norwegian side of the frontier was Willy Brandt.

Both Eyvind Johnson and, still more, Harry Martinson have a lot in common with the oldest, and perhaps, greatest of all proletarian writers, the subtly wise and charming author of ingenious fables, Aesop. Like him, they spin webs, capturing you with beguiling words that always contain other, and more, than what they literally say. But the differences between this year’s two literary prizewinners are greater than the similarities. Beside Eyvind Johnson, whose writing is based so very much on his fiercely defended citizenship in a free society, Harry Martinson may appear to be almost a purely asocial individual, the incorrigible vagrant in our literature. No one has succeeded in putting him under lock and key. The philosophic tramp, Bolle, in The Road is, in many ways, the author’s spokesman, and he is not homeless at the gate. He is homeless only when he gets inside four walls. He is the bearer of asocialism as a wish and a principle that brings good luck; he is a vagabond of his own free will, in agreement with life’s sound instincts and in spontaneous revolt against what is trying to stifle them – that which is governed by calculation and established by force. He already has his home; it is beyond and outside, and he is always on the way towards it. From this starting point, though in a different key, we can also conceive the tragically beautiful vision of Aniara, of the spaceship which heads away from an increasingly hostile existence on a frozen earth and itself loses its rudder, cut off from its home port and with its destination lost.

“I don’t want to have real that most people want to have real”, Bolle remarks. In saying this he has also said quite a lot about Harry Martinson’s writing. Realism is to be found there to the extent that it can be called elemental: it is based on the closest familiarity with the four elements. Harry Martinson got to know earth and air as a tramp on the roads, fire and water as a stoker at sea. Yet the world of imagination is more important and more real to him than that of reality. Where realism plods methodically along, his imagination races with the swallow-winged glide of the skater. However, it is not a flight from truth; on the contrary. “We must learn the essential difference between what is factual and what is truth”, he has said. “We have facts everywhere. They whirl in our eyes like sand.” But it is truth we are concerned with, and that is something else. It is a state in nature and in the receptive human being; it is

the good will with presence and peace of mind

to keep watch and to be.

For Harry Martinson fact and fiction are one, and, without any aphoristic hair-splitting, an entire outlook on life is summed up in these pregnant words. The last two, most emphasized, form the simple verb of mere existence: to be. But existence is only fit for human beings if it gives them pleasure, and for that, good will and vigilance are needed. So, in the end, the truth to which this wanderer’s path has led him is a gratitude, round-eyed as a child’s, for the generous life that has constantly given him trials, riddles and joy in good measure.

After this quickly cut-out silhouette of two remarkable literary profiles, it is my very pleasant duty to express the heartfelt congratulations of the Swedish Academy to Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson and to ask them to receive the emblems of the 1974 Nobel Prize for Literature from the hands of His Majesty, the King.

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