Frans G Bengtsson’s Mother Tongue

While in the south of Sweden, I took the opportunity to visit the town of Lund, founded in the year of 990. Many years ago, I studied at the university in town, and each time I am in Sweden, I always try to go to Lund to walk on the old cobblestone streets and to breathe in the atmosphere of the academic learning that seaps through the walls of the houses and buildings. Many of the university’s departments are located in the old buildings in Lund. When I was studying a short stint of Philosophy, the lectures were held in the so called ‘King’s House’ (seen above), close to the University Building. The ‘King’s House’ got its name from the Swedish king Charles the XII, who was said to have ridden his horse up the wooden stairs to the top floor of the building where he had his quarters during the troubled years against the Danes of 1716 to 1718 – or so the legend goes.

During my visit to Lund, I went into the Cathedral and the University Library (above). The library woke up many happy memories when I was studying subjects that interested me greatly, not always subjects that were on the curriculum of a class, I have to confess. So, for example, I wrote a long essay on the 1912 Olympic rowing event after I found old issues of the Olympic News, which was a sport paper published in English for the Olympic Games in Stockholm.

Arriving to the library last week, I saw that a new exhibit was going to open in the lobby, Skånska är mitt modersmål [‘Scanian* is my mother tongue’], an exhibit about my favourite Swedish author, Frans G Bengtsson (1894-1954), who wrote the novel about the Viking Röde Orm, The Long Ships; a novel that has been translated into thirty languages by now.

This was Wednesday, and two days later, Friday the 17 September, the exhibit officially opened. I was there, and so was half of the population of Lund, it seemed. It was so packed with people that it was hard to see what was in the exhibit cases. I briefly talked to Mr. Jan-Erik Malmquist, chairman of the Frans G Bengtsson Society, which was founded 25 years ago this autumn, and Mr. Mikael Lindgren, who, working at the library, was one of the researchers for the exhibit. When I asked him about a special edition of Bengtsson’s Viking novel, the first edition in English, Red Orm, published in 1943 by Scribner in New York, which I could not see in the exhibit, Mr. Lindgren revealed that the library did not have a copy of this rare title and it could therefore not be in the exhibit. Red Orm was translated by June Barrows Mussey and The Long Ships by Michael Meyer.

As it happens, yours truly has two copies of Red Orm. Next time I go to Lund, I will bring one copy along and donate it to the library, or give it to the Bengtsson Society, so they can store it at the library for those researchers who are writing essays or papers on Bengtsson and his famous novel. While Mussey’s translation is not as good as Meyer’s – and Meyer’s is truly brilliant – Mussey’s is not really bad, or at least not as bad as people think.

Last day for the exhibit will be 27 November 2010.

Here are two links to what two local newspapers wrote about the event, Sydsvenskan and Skånskan.

(*Scanian is the dialect spoken in the province of Scania, Skåne, in the south of Sweden.)

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