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What books and art can we expect to be in Sweden’s future cultural canon?

Sweden's culture minister has not ruled out questions on the planned Swedish cultural canon being included in a future citizenship test. So to give you a head start, here are our bets on the books and artworks that might be included.

What books and art can we expect to be in Sweden's future cultural canon?
The writer Selma Lagerlöf will definitely get into the canon. Photo: SvD/TT

Given the influence of Denmark on the far-right Sweden Democrats, there’s a good chance that the Swedish cultural canon will follow the Danish example, and include architecture, visual arts, design and crafts, film, literature, music, performing arts, and children’s culture.

If the plans go ahead, you can expect vigorous debate in Sweden’s national newspapers on what works should be included and what should be left out, how much emphasis should be put on 19th-century classics, and how much on modern pop culture. 

There’s already a fair amount of consensus on the greats of Swedish literature, not so much so when it comes to paintings and other visual arts. 

Leaving all that aside, here are our suggestions for some of the most obvious works the experts might want to include. 


Fredmans epistlar (Fredman’s Epistles) This collection of 82 songs by Carl Michael Bellman, the 18th century poet, includes many of Sweden’s most beloved songs. Some of those songs, such as Gubben Noach (old man Noah), or Vila vid denna källa, are still sung today when drinking snaps. The songs are purportedly sung by Fredman, the drunken clockmaker who is a character created by Bellman. 

Doktor Glas (Doctor Glass). This diary novel by Hjalmar Söderberg, is a piece of late-19th century existentialism in the vein of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and was in 2002 described by the Canadian writer Margaret Atwood as “as fresh and vivid now as on the day it was published”. It’s a deeply unsettling novel, given the way the protagonist justifies carrying out a murder. 

Röda rummet (the Red Room) or Hemsöborna (The People of Hemsö) These novels by the realist 19th-century writer August Strindberg would be perverse to leave out and are already read by most Swedish teenagers at school.  Röda rummet gives a vivid portrait of bohemian life in late 19th century Stockholm while Hemsöborna brings alive the impoverished life of islanders in the Stockholm archipelago. Failing that, one of the Strindberg’s plays, such as the tragedy Fröken Julie, might be included. 

Gösta Berling’s Saga (The tale of Gösta Berling) or Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils). At least one of these novels by the writer Selma Lagerlöf is certain to make it onto the list. The former is a realist depiction of rural life in Värmland during the 1820s, the latter a fantasy novel about a boy who travels around Sweden from Skåne to Lapland and back on a goose. 

Kris (Crisis). This autobiographical and modernist novel by Karin Boye, written in 1934, follows an existential crisis that tests the narrator’s Christian faith, partly because she falls in love with another female student at her teaching academy. Boye is most famous as a poet, with the poem Ja visst gör det ont arguably her best-known work. Of her novels,the dystopian science fiction novel Kallocain is also a contender for canon status. 

Ångest or Dvärgen. Ångest (Anxiety), is perhaps the most famous poem by Pär Lagerkvist, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1951 (somewhat controversially as he was a member of the awarding body, the Swedish Academy, at the time). The first line, “Anxiety. Anxiety is my inheritance,” is one of the most famous lines of Swedish poetry. The novel Dvärgen (The Dwarf), which takes the form of a diary kept by an evil-minded dwarf at the court of a Prince in Renaissance Italy, is a dark and funny reaction to fascism and totalitarianism in World War II. 

Utvandrarna (the Emigrants). The first book in the four-book series, The Emigrants, brings to life the difficult conditions of small-time farmers in Småland in the late 19th century, explaining through different characters the various reasons why they sought to find a new life in the USA. The books were written by Vilhelm Moberg, who himself grew up in a working-class family in Småland. 

Häxringarna (The Women and the City quartet). This series of historical novels by Kerstin Ekman documents the transformation of the town of Katrineholm from a small railway station to a modern industrial town, using chiefly female main characters to describe Sweden’s industrial development and its impact on ordinary people. 

Roman om ett brott (Novel about a crime). This series of ten crime novels, by the novelist couple Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, pretty much launched Swedish crime literature, and also introduced the detective Martin Beck to the world. The books attempt to realistically depict police work in Sweden, contain social criticism reflecting the couple’s left-wing views, and also began the Scandi Noir tradition of describing detectives’ domestic troubles.  

Mördare utan ansikte (Faceless Killers). This is the first of Henning Mankell’s Wallander series of detective novels. Will Swedish crime make an appearance? It depends on how highbrow the experts decide to be. 

Visual Arts

Girls from Dalarna Having a Bath (c. 1908). 

This is one of the most famous paintings by Anders Zorn, the great Swedish 19th-century artist. You can find it in the National Museum in Stockholm. 

De tio största nr 3 Ynglingaåldern

Hilma av Klimt, from the early 20th century, is currently seeing a revival in interest, with posters of her abstract, spiritual paintings now up on bedroom and living room walls around Sweden. 

Midvinterblot. This was the last monumental work of the 19th-20th century Swedish artist Carl Larsson, and takes up an entire wall of the Swedish Nationalmuseet museum in Stockholm. When it was finished in 1915 it was initially rejected as historically inaccurate, and because it involved the sacrifice of a king. 

Carl Larsson: Midvinterblot.NM 6971

Skända flaggan (Defile the flag). Carl Johan de Geer

This piece of 1960s protest art led to a police raid when it was displayed in Stockholm in 1967, making the name of the artist Carl Johan de Geer. As well as being an artist, de Geer has also been a successful TV producer, publisher, musician, filmmaker, and general cultural figure. If this is included, it would probably be a sign that the Sweden Democrats don’t have too much influence. 

Den vita bron: KG Nilson. The painter and graphic designer K.G Nilson (1942-) is certainly a contender for inclusion in the canon, but it’s hard to pick on a particular work. 


Will the controversial artist Lars Vilks have a place in the canon? You can be sure that once the expert committee has been set up to draw up a list of works, some on the far-Right will begin to propose his inclusion. His provocative drawings of the prophet Mohammed as a roundabout dog made him a target for Islamic extremists from the time they were published in 2007 right up until his death in a car crash in 2021. Before this, he had made his name by illegally building strange wooden structures in the Kulleberg nature reserve in northern Skåne, with Nimis (pictured below), the most famous. 


Till Elfriede Jelinek, Karin Mamma Andersson

Karin Mamma Andersson is probably the Swedish painter who is most famous today, with a recent exhibition in Copenhagen’s Louisiana Art Gallery. We can’t find a picture we can use of Till Elfriede Jelinek, one of her most famous works, but you can see it here

Karin Mamma Andersson is one of Sweden’s most famous painters active today. Photo: Staffan Lšwstedt/SvD/TT

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Abba say ‘no way’ to reuniting on stage for Eurovision next year

The 2024 Eurovision Song Contest will be held in Sweden, 50 years after Abba won the competition. But, sorry fans, it's a no from the group to performing at the event.

Abba say 'no way' to reuniting on stage for Eurovision next year

Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, one half of Abba, downplayed the prospect despite Sweden hosting Eurovision on the 50th anniversary of the band’s win – the country’s first – with their breakthrough hit Waterloo.

The Nordic nation is set to stage the world’s biggest live music event for the seventh time after Swedish singer Loreen won this year’s contest, hosted by Britain on behalf of war-torn Ukraine.

Her victory at the eccentric, much-loved competition in Liverpool this month prompted immediate speculation that Abba could take to the stage next year.

However, in an interview with the BBC’s Newsnight programme, Andersson said there is “no way” the group will make a celebratory performance or even appearance.

“I don’t want to. And if I don’t want to, the others won’t. It’s the same for all four of us. Someone says no – it’s a no,” he explained.

Ulvaeus added: “We can celebrate 50 years of Abba without us being on stage.”

Abba – which also comprised Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and is an acronym of their first names – shot to international fame after their 1974 Eurovision success.

The band went on to sell hundreds of millions of records and top the charts worldwide, including in the United States in 1977 with Dancing Queen – their only stateside number one.

Other global hits include Super Trouper, Money, Money, Money and Knowing Me, Knowing You.

In 1981, the group released what they said would be a final album and split up the following year.

But their success continued, notably with the compilation Abba Gold released in 1992, and in 2021 they made a comeback, releasing their first new album in nearly 40 years.

They also launched a new concert format featuring de-aged digital avatars – dubbed Abbatars – in London who perform their hits and resemble their 1979 selves.

Ulvaeus and Andersson said the show’s success was “surpassing every expectation”.

“We achieved more than we could ever hope for… seeing this happening after four or five years of work… and realising that the audience actually connected to what was on stage,” Andersson told the BBC.

He added that he would like to take the show to Australia in the future.

“It would feel good to go back there and say thank-you to Australians for supporting us from day one.”