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André Bellessort's book "Sweden" depicts the French author's journey through Sweden in the early years of the 20th century - a Sweden that looked very different. The book has now been republished by Cultura Aetatis.
In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
These winged words by Benjamin Franklin in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Le Roy, 1789. To that quote I can add for us Swedes the winter darknessand the question "What is really Swedish?". You hear it regularly today, and in my reading of old texts I know that it was also asked well over 100 years ago in this country.
There can be various reasons why such a question is asked in the first place; lack of history, low self-esteem, self-mutilation, political ideology, often it is a combination. However, we have had the answer to this question for a long time, for well over 100 years, and we got it from a Frenchman in the book "Sweden".
In this book, the French writer André Bellessort (1866-1942) describes his journey through Sweden in the early years of the 20th century. It is a story about Sweden's history, people, nature and culture - or rather cultures. This is how the book is introduced by the editor, Boris Benulic, who also wrote the foreword:
There is an envious image of the Sweden that existed in the past as a gray-stone kingdom. A country with a bitter, uneducated population where you couldn't tell one sour note from another. I am writing today about a newly published book that rejects that image and lets us meet a nation that was made up of a multitude of small, strong local cultures. Perhaps we are losing that kind of multicultural society on a national basis, in favour of something that is multicultural in name only?
About the Frenchman's travelogue writes Boris in the preface:
In this work we encounter a country characterised by constant change. Everything is constantly changing. The landscape. The people. The dialects, which sometimes resemble different languages. The mentality.
But people are united by their ability to work, create and support themselves. Because this happens under such different conditions, a nation is thus produced, composed of a multitude of small local strong cultures.
"...a variety of small, strong local cultures". Boris is referring, of course, to Skåne, Småland, Jämtland, Gutland, West Bothnia, and even more local cultures. From parish to parish, dialect and culture could differ. A teeming, organically evolved mosaic with a thousand shades of Swedish culture. A diversity of dialects, cultures, legends and tales worth passing on to our descendants.
Something else worth holding on to, indeed something to be proud of, is the view of what is right and proper, our ancestors' striving to stand on their own two feet, their morality for work and life as united Swedes across parish and county borders. Values that are in fact crucial to the future of this country.
Mr Benulic therefore concludes the preface with a hope:
"My hope is that through this new edition many readers will discover the richness and diversity of the concept of 'Swedish', and realise that this real diversity is in danger of being lost."
You can buy the book "Sweden" here.
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