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Sunday, 16 July 2017
Topic: Literature

In 2005 the Swedish novelist Ernst Brunner published a most peculiar book called Carolus Rex. Was it a novel or was it a biography? In many appearances the author insisted that it was a true version, even the ultimate true story of the life of Charles XII. In some cases he went as far as claiming that nobody knew more about the subject than he did and that he had used "secret, personal sources" which were unknown to everybody else. 

Many reviewers appeared to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the book (more than 800 pages) and the enormous amount of details, names etc., assuming that this meant that Brunner actually had carried out extensive research. Others simply did not listen when Brunner claimed that the book was the truth and went on to review it as a work of fiction.

Since no one else seemed inclined to really analyze Carolus Rex, I took it upon myself to try and determine what Brunner's sources were and if the book could be considered to be the "truth". I rapidly found that Carolus Rex heavily dependent on Anders Fryxell's Berättelser ur svenska historien, published in the 1850's (Fryxell was used heavily by both Strindberg and Heidenstam). In many cases Brunner had simply borrowed paragraphs directly from Fryxell in a way which could be described as plagiarism. 

The author was made aware of my findings and was not too pleased, even going as far as on occasion claiming that the only ones who did not approve of his book were extremists. This tended to make him somewhat of a martyr for the truth. Many years later he revisited the controversy around Carolus Rex in an autobiographical work called Där går han. In this Brunner makes some absolutely fantastic claims, such as writing that his visit to Lund on 30 November 2005 was disrupted by nazis marching in the street carrying banners with swastikas and saluting. He also stated that the head librarian of a major Swedish university library had called him in the middle of the night to discuss certain things Brunner had said on TV. 

Very well, Brunner has subsequently published a book on Anckarström, the man who assassinated Gustav III in 1792. This was however supposed to be a biography and Brunner listed sources, something he had not done in 2005. The only problem was that there were no footnotes, so it was absolutely impossible to check his statements. The list of unpublished sources was even more odd. It simply said "Uppsala University Library, Royal Library" etc. No references to specific manuscripts - just the name of the archive or the library. 

A couple of months ago Ernst Brunner struck again, this time with a book on Swedenborg (some 750 pages). Same type of list of unpublished sources, no footnotes - but according to the publisher "the first biography which starts with Swedenborg, the man" and according to the author the first biography which is objective.

Since Swedenborg was born in 1688 it's inevitable that Charles XII turns up here and there, so I have done some checking. Is the size of the book and the myriad of details really proof of Brunner's expertise (as some reviewers have implied)?

Well, on page 151 Brunner explains the calendars used in 1710. He claims that Sweden used the Julian and Britain the Gregorian. This is of course quite wrong. Britain did not switch until 1752 and Sweden in 1753. In 1710 Sweden used the peculiar Swedish calendar and Britain the Julian.  

On pages 128 and 149 Brunner explains the monetary system. He writes that a student had received a scholarship worth 500 thalers in silver and that this was the equivalent of 1500 Reichsthaler. This is obviously also incorrect. The student had received 1500 thalers in copper, which was roughly 500 thalers in silver and slightly more than 200 Reichsthaler. So the "expert" does not know the calendars and not the exchange rates. But how about Charles XII?

On page 96 Brunner describes how Charles XII learned of the Saxon attack on Riga: on 14 April 1700 Charles left Stockholm to go to Kungsör. There he amused himself with bear hunting and parties. Swedenborg's father Jesper Svedberg turns up and is unhappy. Surely someone can make the King stop? Well, Svedberg takes over mass on Sunday and starts to preach on the subject. Suddenly the church door is thrown open and a messenger from Riga rushes in. The Saxons have attacked!

This is of course utter nonsense. The news reached Stockholm at the beginning of March and Kungsör a couple of days later. The King's journey on 14 April went to Karlskrona, where he wanted to oversee the naval preparations. 

And Brunner still cuts and pastes. For example on page 337 there is a very odd paragraph: "Assessor Swedenborg hade mottagit ett brev från baron Conrad Ribbing, guvernör över Närke och Värmlands gruvdistrikt, i vilket Dylta svavelbruk ingick". What's this? A Swede would not use "guvernör" but "landshövding" and certainly not "gruvdistrikt" - Ribbing was "landshövding över Närke och Värmlands län", pure and simple. 

Well, the explanation can be found in The Letters and Memorials of Emanuel Swedenborg. Alfred Acton writes (vol. 1, page 338): "Accordingly, early in June, Swedenborg received a letter (now lost) from Baron Conrad Ribbing, the Governor of the Nerike and Vermland mining district, within which was situated the highly important sulphur works at Dylta".

Brunner has simply translated Acton's sentence, without adapting it to Swedish. Does this indicate a profound knowledge and extremely deep research? I think not...

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 1:16 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 16 July 2017 1:20 PM MEST
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