- Christina Larsdotter and the Swedish Postcolonial Novel
(Post)colonial Scandinavia and Postcolonial Studies
A number of articles in this issue, in particular Silke Reeploeg's "Women in the Arctic: Gendering Coloniality in Travel Narratives from the Far North, 1907–1930," Carl-Gösta Ojala and Jonas M. Nordin's "Mapping Land and People in the North: Early Modern Colonial Expansion, Exploitation, and Knowledge," Linda Andersson Burnett's "Translating Swedish Colonialism: Johannes Schefferus's Lapponia in Britain c. 1674–1800," and Harald Gaski's "Indigenous Elders' Perspective and Position" do the important work of excavating the various histories of colonialism in Sápmi. This article draws on these articles and also considers Linda Andersson Burnett's, "The 'Lapland Giantess' in Britain: Reading Concurrences in a Victorian Ethnographic Exhibition" (Burnett 2017), and Gunlög Fur's "Colonialism and Swedish History: Unthinkable Connections?" (2013), when exploring Mattias Hagberg's Rekviem för en vanskapt (2012; Requiem for a Deformed). One of the aims of this special issue is to show that the Nordic nations were intimately involved in European colonialism as an economic and material endeavor and as an ideological and intellectual project. This article contributes to this effort by a discussion of Hagberg's novel, a text that addresses the nation's colonial past through its fictionalization of the life of the historical figure Christina Chatarina Larsdotter, a Sámi woman who was exhibited in Sweden and across Europe in the [End Page 238] middle of the nineteenth century. The article shows how Hagberg's novel reveals that Sweden was deeply complicit in the development and practice of the racist scientific paradigms that were essential to the European colonial project. In relation to this, this essay investigates to what extent this particular text pursues the same strategies of rewriting history and critiquing colonial practices and imperialist technologies as those employed in postcolonial novels from other national contexts. To conclude, the article considers what it means that this particular novel, and also the present analysis of the novel, are produced not by members of the Indigenous Sámi, but by White, male writers operating within the boundaries of the Swedish state.
By studying colonialism through literary texts, this essay joins an influential tradition in postcolonial studies. It can be argued that the very field of postcolonial studies emerged out of the study of literature as much as out of history and the social sciences. It was following the publication of novels, short stories, and poetry by such writers as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, and Jamaica Kinkaid that the concept of postcoloniality received global currency and began to enter both public and academic discourse. A number of scholarly literary studies were central to this development, including Achebe's 1976 lecture "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness," Edward Said's seminal Orientalism (1978), and Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, and Helen Tiffin's influential The Empire Writes Back (1989). These all highlight the importance of the novel as a vehicle of material and epistemological (de)colonization. In other words, these texts show how literature helped produce the intellectual climate that allowed colonialism to thrive, but also how it encouraged resistance to colonial rule, and to the legacy of this rule.
In the wake of these influential studies, literary postcolonial studies has emerged as both a legitimate academic field and as a crucial ideological and material project. Indeed, the postcolonial novel and postcolonial theory as developed in literary studies have helped to reshape how what has typically been referred to as "the West" is understood both within this region and globally. In the 1990s, postcolonial studies became established as a field in its own right at many Western universities. In addition to this, it has become an increasingly viable literary pursuit, and postcolonial writers such as J. M. Coetzee, Derek Walcott, Naguib Mahfouz, Salman Rushdie, and Arundhati Roy, to mention a few, have brought postcolonial literature both to a very wide audience and to critical acclaim. [End Page 239]
Until recently, and despite the many colonial ventures that they participated in, the Nordic nations observed this development as if from a vast geographical...