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Sweden and Visions of Norway

Sweden and Visions of Norway

Politics and Culture 1814-1905

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H. Arnold Barton


Hardcover (Other formats: NLEB)
240 pages, 6 x 9, 33 illustrations


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About the Book

H. Arnold Barton investigates Norwegian political and cultural influences in Sweden during the period of the Swedish-Norwegian dynastic union from 1814 to 1905.

Although closely related in origins, indigenous culture, language, and religion, Sweden and Norway had very different histories, resulting in strongly contrasting societies and forms of government before 1814. After a proud medieval past, Norway had come under the Danish crown in the fourteenth century and had been reduced to virtually a Danish province by the sixteenth.

In 1814, as a spin-off of the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark relinquished Norway, which became a separate kingdom, dynastically united with Sweden with its own government under a constitution independently framed that year. Disputes during the next ninety-one years caused Norway unilaterally to dissolve the tie.

Seeing the union a failure, most historians have concentrated on its conflicts. Barton, however, examines the impact of the union on internal developments, particularly in Sweden. Prior to 1814, Norway, unlike Sweden, had no constitution and only the rudiments of higher culture, yet paradoxically, Norway exerted a greater direct influence on Sweden than vice versa.

Reflecting a society lacking a native nobility, Norway’s 1814 constitution was—with the exception of that of the United States—the most democratic in the world. It became the guiding star of Swedish liberals and radicals striving to reform the antiquated system of representation in their parliament. Norway’s cultural void was filled with a stellar array of artists, writers, and musicians, led by Bjørnsjerne Børnson, Henrik Ibsen, and Edvard Grieg. From the 1850s through the late 1880s, this wave of Norwegian creativity had an immense impact on literature, art, and music in Sweden. By the 1880s, however, August Strindberg led a revolt against an exaggerated “Norvegomania” in Sweden. Barton sees this reaction as a fundamental inspiration to Sweden’s intense search for its own cultural character in the highly creative Swedish National Romanticism of the 1890s and early twentieth century.

Thirty-three illustrations of art and architecture enhance Sweden and Visions of Norway.


H. Arnold Barton is a professor emeritus of history at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. He is the author of Northern Arcadia: Foreign Travelers inScandinavia, 1765–1815; A Folk Divided: Homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans,1840–1940; and The Search for Ancestors: A Swedish-American Family Saga all available from Southern Illinois University Press. In 2000, His Majesty Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden bestowed on Barton the insignia of Commander of the Royal Order of the Polar Star.


“Barton is, I think it is safe to say, the most respected historian concentrating on Scandinavian issues currently active in the United States and . . . [his] breadth of knowledge is on display in the current volume, which focuses on the political and cultural impact of the union between Sweden and Norway. Though Sweden was the politically dominant partner in the union, Barton argues convincingly that for much of the nineteenth century, the cultural influence was primarily in the other direction.”—Rochelle Wright, author of The Visible Wall: Jews and Other Ethnic Outsiders in Swedish Film