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Eriksson, Leif

Entry updated 31 August 2018. Tagged: Author.

Pseudonym of Swedish author Rütger Essén (1890-1972). The son of chief surveyor Thure Essén and the countess Ellen Wachtmeister, Essén had easy access to the highest strata of Swedish society. He studied at Stockholm College (now Stockholm University), was employed as a secretary by different parliamentary committees from 1916, was a Red Cross delegate in Russia 1916-1917, entered the diplomatic service as Swedish chargé d'affaires in Tokyo 1920-1921 and in 1922 in Siberia. He had already begun writing voluminously, particularly on foreign politics; by the end of the 1920s, Essén was one of the most highly respected and dominant Swedish experts on current world political events. At the same time, his pro-German stand – though not at the time troublesome in Sweden – led him in a direction which would later prove disastrous. He became an early member of the Nationella Arbetsförbundet ["Nationalist Worker's Organization"], a Swedish front organization set up by sympathizers of the German Nationalist Socialists; from its first issue in mid-1932 he also contributed to Vägen Framåt ["The Road Forward"], the official magazine of Riksförbundet Det nya Sverige ["The New Sweden National Organization"] and from 1934 began to take prominent positions in Sveriges Nationella Ungdomsförbund ["The Nationalist Youth Organization of Sweden"], joining the National Swedish-German Organization and becoming a co-President of the Sveriges Nationella Förbund ["Swedish Nationalist Organization"], an openly national socialist political party which existed until 1996 which published the newspaper Dagsposten ["The Daily Mail"], later Fria ord ["Free Words"], until 1989. Essén became the paper's foreign editor in 1945, and from 1958 until 1971 was editor of Fria ord. He had been an influential Swedish intellectual and writer until the end of World War Two, but was thereafter marginalized as an unrepentant Nazi sympathizer and found readers among only the diminishing and factionalized remnants of the once strong Swedish national socialist organizations.

Thus, when Essén in 1937 published his only novel, De släckta metropolerna ["The Darkened Metropolises"] (1937), under the resounding pen name "Leif Eriksson" – historically known, from the Icelandic Saga of Eric the Red and Greenland Saga, both as the seafarer who discovered, named and christened Greenland and as the first European to land in North America around 1000 CE – he did so at the height of his fortunes: a respected intellectual, an acknowledged expert on world affairs, and already one of the most influential national socialists in Sweden. His use of a pen name at all is in fact baffling; putting his own name to his novel would most probably have multiplied its sales and ensured its success. On the other hand, it is quite possible that Essén was unwilling to be publicly associated with the book's clearly stated and even at the time quite outrageous message.

From a purely literary point of view, De släckta metropolerna is an accomplished, well-written and constructed adventure story, similar in tone to boys' juveniles of its time, with an underlying sense of enthusiasm and with recurring depictions of cheerful, action-oriented males and cute, bashful females. Nevertheless, its message is uncompromising and deeply depressing. The reader is soon introduced to US multi-millionaire McFarland, who deplores the American involvement in World War One and feels that Roosevelt's US New Deal has been replaced by "gangster capitalism"; he also deplores the vulgarity of "mass humanity", and, echoing the more extreme Eugenics propaganda of that decade, states that "Humanity quite simply is a misconstruct, an illness of the earth, a blight both to themselves and others [...] A young world saviour [would] immediately dedicate himself to the single goal to kill off mankind, to sweep away the vermin and again make the world pure and beautiful."

McFarland indeed is that young saviour, and with 122 accomplices around the world conspires to release a virulent Poison into the atmosphere worldwide. However, in Stockholm, a handful of individuals survive by chance. We are introduced to the novel's hero, young Erik, who has previously noted that he "would joyfully greet the advent of a new world war". After the Disaster, which kills his wife and children, he meets young Anna Kristina, a simple and pure girl "of Nordic farmer race". Shortly, they also encounter female physician Berit, who joins them. Together they occupy a robust seventeenth-century farmhouse outside Stockholm. The novel turns into a national socialist Utopia, with clear-cut Gender separation, united effort and a non-monetary economy. Gradually, in order to explicate the contrast between national socialism and Marxism (see Politics), Essén introduces a group of surviving Marxists, who are soon exterminated, though their women and children are spared to instead become serfs, who must never learn to read. "They were docile and wished to begin with no better than to be allowed to obey and admire", Essén writes, as De släckta metropolerna turns into a panegyric on the blessedness of a simple life, country air, racial purity, and the hatred of gold, plutocracy, and middle-class comfort. Essén's novel is, indeed, a perhaps unique Nazi utopia; a book depicting the vision of the heroes of Norman Spinrad's Satirical The Iron Dream (1972), but chillingly in complete earnest as a rallying-call for Swedes on the threshold of World War Two. [J-HH]

Rütger Thuresson Essén

born Nyköping, Sweden: 19 March 1890

died Stockholm, Sweden: 21 February 1972

works (selected):


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