Vilhelm Moberg

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Vilhelm Moberg, 1967.

Karl Artur Vilhelm Moberg (20 August 1898 - 8 August 1973) was a Swedish author, playwright and historian, most commonly associated with his The Emigrants series of novels, about Swedish emigrants moving to the USA in the 19th century; filmed by Jan Troell in the 1970s.

Early life[edit]

Karl Artur Vilhelm Moberg was born on a farm outside of the town Emmaboda in the Parish of Algutsboda in Småland, in southern Sweden. He was the fourth child with six siblings, of whom only three survived into adulthood. His forebears were soldiers and small farmers. He spent the first nine years of his life at the tenement soldier's cottage in Moshultamåla that his father Karl Moberg, a territorial soldier, took over in 1888. In 1907 the family moved to a small farm in the village of Moshultamåla. This had been the family home of his mother Ida Moberg, which was bought back with money from her family in America. Moberg underwent only limited schooling from 1906 until 1912. However, as a child he was an avid reader and was first published at the age of 13.[1]

He worked as a farmer and forest laborer, and later at glassblowing before and between his various studies. In 1916 he nearly emigrated to the United States, following his uncle and aunt, but ultimately decided to remain in Sweden with his parents. Largely self-educated Moberg studied at Kronoberg County Folk High School in Grimslöv from 1916 to 1917 and at Katrineholms Praktiska Skola, a private school in Katrineholm from 1917 to 1918. Moberg became infected with the Spanish Flu in 1918, and was sick for half a year. After his illness, Moberg took a position on the newspaper Vadstena Läns Tidning in Östergötland which published many of his stories between 1919 and 1929.

In 1926, Moberg made his breakthrough as a playwright when his comedy Kassabrist had a successful run in Stockholm. He published his first novel Raskens the following year. Moberg became a full-time writer when the success of Raskens enabled him to devote himself entirely to writing.

Bust of Vilhelm Moberg near the Swedish Emigrant Institute, Växjö


Many of his works have been translated into English, and he is well-recognized in the English-speaking world among those interested in Scandinavian culture and history. In his autobiographical novel A Soldier with a Broken Rifle (Swedish: Soldat med brutet gevär), he speaks to the importance of giving voice to the downtrodden, illiterate classes of his forebears. This viewpoint also formed his History of the Swedish People, I-II (Swedish: Min svenska historia, berättad för folket, I-II), published in 1970-71 in both Swedish and English. The history was meant to have more volumes, but he never finished it.

As a playwright, Moberg has established himself as the author of 38 works for the stage or for radio (1919-1973), some of them has become lighter classics of the Swedish stage and TV (even feature films) and directed by directors like Ingmar Bergman[2] (Lea och Rakel/Leah and Rachel; Malmö City Theatre 1955) and Alf Sjöberg[3] (Domaren/The Judge; 1960).[4]

Social themes[edit]

Moberg had become a member of a young Social Democrats club in 1913. In his works, he often expressed a republican (anti-royalist) point of view, much due to the facts that surfaced in the Kejne affair and Haijby affair, in which Moberg took an active part. Moberg participated from the 1950s in debates about the Swedish monarchy, bureaucracy, and corruption, and devoted much time to help individual citizens that had experienced injustice. Much like his generation of Swedish authors from a working-class background, such as Ivar Lo-Johansson, Harry Martinson and Moa Martinson, Moberg depicted the life of the dispossessed, their traditions, customs, and everyday struggle. His novels are important documents of social history, and trace the influences of various social and political movements in Sweden.[5]

Vilhelm Moberg's grave at Norra in Stockholm

The Emigrants series[edit]

Moberg's most famous work is The Emigrants series of four novels written between 1949 and 1959 that describe one Swedish family's migration from Småland to Chisago County, Minnesota in the mid 19th century. This was a destiny shared by almost one million Swedish people, including several of the author's relatives. These novels have been translated into English: The Emigrants (1951), Unto a Good Land (1954), The Settlers (1961), The Last Letter Home (1961). His literary depiction of the Swedish-American immigrant experience is comparable to O.E. Rolvaag's work depicting the experience of Norwegian-American immigrants.

Films and musical[edit]

Swedish film director Jan Troell 1971-72 turned the books into two major feature films, The Emigrants and The New Land, starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as Karl Oskar and Kristina, and nominated for several Academy Awards and winner of Golden Globe Awards.

The musical Kristina från Duvemåla (English title Kristina) (1995) by ex-ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson is based on Moberg's The Emigrants Series..[6]

Even several of the other works by Moberg have been turned into films and TV series in Sweden over the years.

The Moberg Room[edit]

The Moberg Room at the Swedish Emigrant Institute in Växjö, Sweden displays his original manuscripts, excerpts, notes, and photographs in such a way that visitors get a feeling of meeting Vilhelm Moberg in his workshop. This unique collection of Moberg memorabilia also includes Axel Olsson's sculpture entitled The Emigrants which portrays the main characters featured in The Emigrants Series. The Vilhelm Moberg Society, with headquarter in Swedish Emigrant Institute, has the purpose to promote publications, research and popular interest in Moberg's works.[7]

Later life[edit]

Moberg lived the last years of his life with depression, and eventually he committed suicide[8] by drowning himself in a lake outside his house. He left a note to his wife saying: "The time is twenty past seven; I go to search in the lake for eternal sleep. Forgive me, I could not endure.". Moberg was buried in Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm.[9]

Works in English translation[edit]

The Emigrants Series[edit]




  1. ^ Vilhelm Moberg - Sweden's greatest writer
  2. ^ Ingmar Bergman database; Leah and Rachel
  3. ^ Domaren(The Judge at IMDb
  4. ^ Vilhelm Moberg at IMDb
  5. ^ Books and Writers (Petri Liukkonen & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto. 2008)
  6. ^ Synopsis of Four Novels The Emigrants Series (Jim Colyer Papers by Jim Colyer)
  7. ^ The Moberg Room at the Swedish Emigrant Institute
  8. ^ Hochman, Stanley (1984). McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama (2 ed.). McGraw-Hill. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-07-079169-5. Retrieved 1 June 2009. 
  9. ^ Blekinge Museum


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]