"Jag är en riktig människa." Original och avvikare mellan stad och landsbygd i det sena 1800-talets Sydsverige


  • Peter K Andersson


local characters, eccentricity, modernity, folklore, rural culture


This article sets out to study the ways in which reactions and adaptations to modernity and societal change among non-elite communities in late nineteenth- century Sweden are visible in contemporary attitudes to social deviants and nonconformists. In Swedish provincial cultures, narratives about local characters in the oral tradition played a significant part in regional identity formation in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Swedish local characters, commonly termed ‘originals’, and the oral traditions connected with them have much in common with tales of local characters in other countries, as well as the interest in ‘eccentrics’ in the urban cultures of the early nineteenth century, as studied by Miranda Gill and James Gregory. The present investigation makes use of stories held in a folklore archive in the south of Sweden which were collected in the early twentieth century, and which shed light on the mental and identity processes inherent in rural and urban social communities in the late nineteenth century. By looking at the personal characteristics the community noted and how the anecdotes took shape, it is possible to conclude that deviants were instrumental in creating localized identities, but should not be thought to be mere foils to a normal identity, but active constituents in the constant renegotiation of collective identities in response to encroaching modernity. The interest in local characters was therefore not a sign of growing individualism, but of an ambivalence about social change. He or she, in his or her old-fashioned way of life, general uncleanliness, and uncouth language, was made to represent the unmodern and could be used as a scapegoat when explaining the outmoded ways of the village, but also as a mascot, asserting a certain pride in a local identity. However, comparing the local characters in Swedish towns and cities with their rural counterparts, it is apparent that the coarse and dialectal mentality and humour of the provincial narratives thrive in the urban context too. This is an indication that even at the turn of the twentieth century, despite processes of modernization, local popular cultures in Sweden in both town and country were still pervaded by premodern rural sentiments, a point that has hitherto been neglected in the far too teleological portrayal of the history of the modern West.