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Moberg, Vilhelm

Entry updated 7 October 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1898-1973) Swedish playwright, nonfiction writer and author who published 18 novels, 38 stage or radio plays and 21 nonfiction books, four of them issued posthumously; he is most famous for his historical novels, perhaps primarily for his four-volume series The Emigrants (1949-1959; trans as The Emigrants, Unto a Good Land, The Settlers, and The Last Letter Home 1956-1959), following a group of Swedish emigrants from their decision to leave for America and their arrival in Minnesota in the mid-1800s, carrying the story on for many years. Moberg was one of the most popular as well as highly praised authors in Sweden. He was a staunch defender of individual rights, an outspoken republican and atheist, and favoured far-reaching civil libertarianism, preferring the Swiss system of self-governing local communities to the centralism of Sweden. During the 1940s and 1950s, a growing number of scandals erupted, seeming to demonstrate the political establishment's willingness to go to any lengths in order to preserve its power; Moberg was very active in publicly damning this development, and in 1953 used several actual events as incidents in his only published sf work, a Dystopian Satire along Swiftian lines entitled Det gamla riket ["The Old Realm"] (1953) (see Jonathan Swift); the title is a play on the satirical Det nya riket ["The New Realm"] (1882) by August Strindberg (1849-1912), which accused the Swedish state apparatus of being controlled by conmen supporting and protecting each other.

In Moberg's novel, a Swedish court notary, Urban Secretessius, is given a stipend to spend six months studying the legal system of a European country named Idyllia, ruled by The Party in Power, in turn guided by its two principles: to gain power, and to remain in power. Idyllia is famous for its thousand-year old bill of rights, which grants innumerable rights to each citizen, provided only that none of them happens to be detrimental to government. All unemployment has been abolished due to the immensely complex bureaucracy, which employs one third of the population while a further 18 per cent spends its time waiting to see some bureaucrat and still another 24 per cent is occupied filling in forms. Recent laws, like the "Anti-Scandal Bill", criminalize "the irresponsible and uncontrolled dissemination of facts to the public"; censorship and political favouritism guarantee that the Idyllian press is "the freest in the world". Secretessius is impressed by all this, and by the wisdom of Idyllia's leading legal academic, Adam Haggards, whose philosophy of law has become that of the country: "To secure the interests of the collective, single individuals must be repressed or sacrificed. But why should anyone complain about this, since in the end all individuals belong to the collective?" By the end of his stay in Idyllia, Secretessius is determined to bring to Sweden all those parts of the Idyllian system of government not already implemented in his native land.

In its brutal Satire and obvious outrage, Moberg's novel was one of the harshest attacks aimed at the Swedish welfare state, which had been expanding since the 1930s; among sf writers, its savage ridicule brings to mind Robert Sheckley or Harry Harrison in their most outrageous moods. The book was enthusiastically reviewed in the liberal media, but not even mentioned in any of the papers or magazines supporting the Social Democrat government.

Late in life, Moberg planned two further, similar satirical dystopian novels set in Idyllia. In the first, all of the country's 700,000 civil servants would go on strike to gain various benefits, but that the citizens after a while realize that in fact they do better without the entire state machinery. But Moberg abandoned this idea for another project, a popular and argumentative history of Sweden. Years later, during the fall of 1973, he told a friend that he had instead started making notes for another Idyllia novel, tentatively to be called «Nyrike», a play on words conveying both "The New Realm" and "The Newly Rich". Angered by the suicide of a friend harassed by tax authorities, Moberg planned a novel about a country where the state mercilessly persecutes any citizen who dares actually create anything of value. Moberg planned on writing the novel after finishing the third volume of his Swedish history. But his health was failing, the history book project demanded more research than he was able to perform, and for two months he was unable to write at all. Depressed, twelve days before his 75th birthday, he drowned himself in the sea close to his house on Väddö island in the Stockholm archipelago. [J-HH]

Karl Artur Vilhelm Moberg

born Algutsboda Parish near Emmaboda, Sweden: August 20, 1898

died Väddö, Sweden: 8 August 1973

works (sf only)

  • Det gamla riket ["The Old Realm"] (Stockholm, Sweden: Bonnier, 1953) [hb/]


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