An Invisible Swedish Romance

How romantic are Swedish people? What does love look like in the cold climate of this Nordic culture?

There are two possible planes of reality to consider in this regard: ideal and real (Karandashev, 2022a). The first one concerns how love is presented as a cultural idea in literature, art, cinema, and other social media, which create cultural love models.

The second one concerns how love is really experienced by people in their daily lives.

This article considers the first plane of love in how romantic love is represented in literary genres of Swedish literature and what popular romance looks like in a Swedish cultural context. According to Maria Nilson and Helene Ehriander, the scholars at Linneaus University’s center for research in popular culture in Sweden, popular romance has been a challenging genre in Swedish literature for many years (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).

Why Literary Romance in Sweden Was Invisible?

In Sweden, there is a strong literary tradition of realistic novels. Occasional romantic fiction was written and published but attracted little interest among Swedish readers. did not attract much readability. Popular romances were rarely discussed in public. The genre was generally invisible in scholarship as well as in the cultural arena. For many years, Swedish literature has had a poor tradition in the romantic love genre. Until recently, few romance titles appeared in the Swedish book market. Romance has been and continues to be viewed as a static genre comprised of poorly written books that are strikingly similar and simplistic in plots and characters. Generally, popular romance in the country is a genre with a “bad reputation.” Romantic writing has been seen as being an endless repetition of essentially the same plots, as old-fashioned as it gets. Authors and readers of romantic novels have been largely women. Some consider the romantic genre as literature that strengthens old patriarchal norms and ideals.

Some may theorize that the traditional unpopularity of romance in Sweden could be related to the cold climate of the country or the reserved character of people in Swedish culture. In any case, this can be related to the culturally normative ways in which Nordic people experience and express emotions.

The range of fiction commonly read in Swedish schools and universities is traditional. The same selection of classics, as it was in the 1980s, is still in the curriculum. Popular romance novels are not covered in the “main” literature course. The romance genre is frequently considered as old-fashioned, patriarchal, or subversive (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).

The Origins of Nordic Romance Novels in “Chick Lit”

The Nordic genre of “chick lit” is related in some ways to the genre of romance. It is a sort of “subgenre” of popular romance. The “chick lit” genre was also associated with “women’s fiction” in the 1970s by Erica Jong and Marilyn French.

Chick lit came to Sweden with Bridget Jones’s Diary by Fielding. After the success of this romantic novel, several other books were translated into Swedish. Then, several Swedish writers also began writing Swedish chick lit with the conflicting desires that characterize this genre. Nordic chick lit novels have typically featured conflicting desires, a distinct writing style with distinct presentations of speech and thought, and distinct tones and settings.

The Swedish welfare state has had a significant influence on Swedish chick lit. The “non-western” novels of chick lit in Nordic cultures have shifted their genre. These books changed and developed the genre, rather than just mimicking American bestsellers. The heroes of Swedish chick lit embodied so-called “modern men” who have no problem with washing up the dishes or changing diapers. The chick lit heroines in Swedish authors’ novels are more concerned with their love interests, female friends, and careers than with their families. The classic chick-lit themes are reimagined in terms of Nordic social conditions, gender roles, and cultural contexts.

The Rise of Swedish Interest in “Popular Romance” In recent years, the genre of “popular romance” has gradually appeared in public view and in the Swedish cultural context. Simona Ahrnstedt is a bestselling author who has extensively written her books as romances. She started out by writing historical romances. Yet, her big breakthrough was the love novel En enda natt (All In). She actively promoted this genre in Sweden (Nilson & Ehriander, December 21, 2020).