(Boye Karin)


Karin (Maria) Boye (1900-1941)

Poet, novelist, and short-story writer, translator of T.S. Eliot, one of the most original trailblazers of Swedish modernism. Boye's poems were written in a confessional tone and reflected her moods of despair and exaltation, and yearn for spiritual freedom. Her work from the 1920s show the influence of Vilhelm Ekelund (1880-1949), an advocate of Nietzschean heroism in Sweden. Boye died at the age of 41 - her death was apparently a suicide.

"Bryt upp, bryt upp! Den nya dage gryr.
Oändlig är vårt stora äventyr."
(from 'I rörelse')
Karin Boye was born in Göteborg. She was brought up in comfortable conditions, her father being a civil engineer. Even as a young girl and student, she began to write and participate in cultural debates, at first from religious standpoint, then rebelling against conservative cultural policy. After receiving a diploma from a teacher's college in 1921, Boye studied from 1921 to 1926 at Uppsala and Stockholm, receiving her M.A. in 1928. As a student in Uppsala she joined the Socialist Clarté organization, founded in France by the novelist Henri Barbusse, and wrote for its magazine. In 1929 Boye was a teacher in Motala. From 1937 to 1938 she worked as a teacher in Viggbyholm.

Between the years 1929 and 1932 Boye was married with her Clarté friend Leif Björck in a kind of friendship union. She broke in 1932 the marriage of the poet Gunnar Ekelf, whose wife Gunner Bergstrm left her husband for her. Later Boye lived with her German friend in Stockholm. After the divorce Boye went to Berlin for psychoanalysis - her works also reflected different ideas in psychoanalytical study of the human mind.

In spite of her depression she was highly esteemed as a teacher, and contributed many periodicals. Boye's early poems were influenced by Buddhism, later by Schopenhauer, and finally by Nietzsche. Her first collection of verse, MOLN (1922), was filled with idealism and showed her technical skills. It was followed by GÖMDA LAND (1924) and HÄRDARNA (1927), her youthful works, whereas in FÖR TRÄDETS SKULL (1935) she changed from the strict classical style to a modernistic, expressionistic style. The symbolic and and tragic poetry was based on her own mental problems, and dealt with the dualism of life, the outer and inner self, the split personality. Boye's novels and short stories also were serious in tone, and dealt with difficult psychological and moral problems.

In 1931 Boye founded with Erik Mesterton and Josef Riwkin the poetry magazine Spektrum, introducing T.S. Eliot and the Surrealists to Swedish readers. Together with the critic Erik Mesterton, she translated Eliot's The Waste Land. Boye also contributed the magazine Arbetet (1932-33). Among her novels are psychoanalytical case history KRIS (1934), where Boye depicted her religious crisis and lesbianism. In the novel superego is represented by the God of the established Lutheran church and by the principal of a teacher's college. The female protagonist manages to overcome both oppressive forces, and leaves the school accepting her own sexuality.

Boye's science fiction story, KALLOCAIN (1940), was a picture of a male-dominated totalitarian society around the year 2000. It was based on her impressions while traveling in Grmany and the Soviet Union. The introspective novel can be seen as a link between Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984. Boye set the story in a totalitarian state which has wiped out all individualism. Leo Kall, invents the eponymous truth drug, 'kallocain', which forces patients to betray their innermost thoughts. Besides its obvious negative uses, Kall realizes after some hesitation, the drug can be employed for good. It breaks down the defenses that prevent human contact. Linda, Leo's wife, reveals her opposition to official policy. Kall suffers then consequences in his own being, but in his tragedy is also a seed for hope. Kallocain reveals Boye's disgust of totalitarianism, the dominating ideology in the central Europe at that time. Although Sweden remained neutral during World War II, and was not ravaged by war, the political developed and outbreak of hostilities had a profound effect on Boye's mental condition.
The posthumously published collection of poetry, DE SJU DÖDSSYNDERNA (1941), about life, death, and destruction, is ofter considered Boye's best work. In 'Vällust' Boye wrote resigned that "human forms and names are perishable / splashed from the stream of ecstasies", but in 'Avslutning' repeated the line 'jag orkar' (I endure). Boye committed suicide in Alingsås on April 24, 1941. Literary association Karin Boye sällskapet has cherished her literary heritage. Boye's importance as a feminist writer has been recognized and her exploration on the male and female role-playing in such works as MERIT VAKNAR (1933) and FÖR LITE (1936) have been studied. In her time Boye had a considerable impact on Scandinavian poets.

Blomma blomma Bitterhet
hur står du nu så full
av guldmogen honung
för all din beskhets skull.
Hur dignar du av skänker,
som ängarnas mandelblomma
väl aldrig kunde bära,
den blidhylta fromma.
Plåga och välsignelse -
var har väl sin.
Inte vet jag livets mått,
men vet att du blev min.
Din kalk var som eld.
Din saft var som galla.
Du bjöd sju bedrövelser,
och jag drack dem alla.
Blomma blomma Bitterhet,
hur blev du sist så rik
på varmgyllne honung,
som är solljuset lik.
Här står jag, matt av sötman
i din klarnade gåva.
Med Adam vill jag jubla.
Med Job vill jag lova.

For further information: Minnen och studier, ed. by M. Abenius and O. Lagercrantz (1942); A History of Swedish Literature by A. Gustafson (1961); Drabbad av renhet by M. Abenius (1965); Introduction to 'Kallocain' by R.B. Vowles (1966); Translator's Note to 'Poems by Karin Boye' by I. Claréus (1980, in Swedish Books, 2,4); Kvinnor och skapande (1983); I oss är en mångfald levande by Gunilla Domellöf (1986); Upprorets tradition by Claes-Göran Holmberg (1987); Guide to Women's Literature throughout the World, ed. by Claire Buck (1992); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999, vol. 1)

eXTReMe Tracker