Burman, Carina

Burman, Carina
   A Swedish literary scholar and novelist, Burman is a skilful practitioner of the pastiche, and her work appeals strongly to an audience that shares some of her historical knowledge. Educated at Uppsala University, where she studied comparative literature, classics, and English, she wrote her doctoral dissertation on the oratorical practice of the Swedish writer Johan Henric Kellgren. Her biographical and historical studies for her dissertation laid the groundwork for her first novel. Min salig bror Jean Hendrich (1993; My Dear Departed Brother Jean Hendrich) is a clever mixture of fact and fiction. Supposedly containing two extended obituaries of Kellgren—one written by his brother and the other by his mistress—there is also an explanatory introduction, supposedly penned by the secretary of the Swedish Academy, as well as an epilogue in which Burman pretends to be the editor of these papers. This is an old trick of novelists, but it seems to work as well in postmodernism as it did for such writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Søren Kierkegaard.
   Burman also did scholarly work on the Swedish writer Fredrika Bremer and followed it up with the novel Den tionde sanggudinnan (1996; The Tenth Muse). During a prologue in heaven—there are shades of Goethe's Faust here—its protagonist, the literary scholar Elisabet Gran, makes a bet with another literature professor named Georg Schlippenbach, a caricature of the high theory in the 1980s, that historical-biographical research can still be fruitful. In order to win the wager, Gran chooses to hunt for letters from Sophia Elisabeth Brenner (1659-1730), Sweden's first serious woman poet. The main text of the novel parodies both the epistolary novel and the diary novel, and it is also a pastiche on letters of a bygone era, as fictitious letters from Brenner are reproduced in the context of Gran's correspondence with two collaborators as well as in her own diary. Like the academic novels of the British writer David Lodge and, even more so, a philosophical epistolary "novel" such as Jacques Derrida's work La carte postal (1980), the book contains numerous allusions that are perhaps best appreciated by insiders.
   A visit to Great Britain became the occasion for Burman's next novel, Cromwells huvud: Antropologisk komedi (1998; Cromwell's Head: An Anthropological Comedy). The story is centered on a fictitious college at Cambridge University, where a Swedish au pair named Malin gets involved with a couple of different men and where academic infighting, espionage, and even murder make an appearance. A postmodern mixture of high and low, new and old, it features an old-fashioned narrator who offers a commentary on the creative process itself. The letters of Burman's earlier works have been replaced by the e-mails that pass between one of the characters, the Swedish anthropologist G. G. Bondeson, and his estranged wife.
   The novel Islandet (2001; The Ice Land), which includes the events narrated in an earlier short story, "Hammaren" (1999; The Hammer), is set in Uppsala during the heyday of Swedish romanticism. Its cast includes mostly historical persons, but there is also the fictitious character Fransiska B***, who appears in the novel Gran-narne (1837; tr. The Neighbors, 1842), by Fredrika Bremer.
   The novel Babylons gator (2004; The Streets of Babylon) takes place in London in 1851 and features a Bremer-like character named Euthanasia Bondeson. A detective novel with strong echoes from Arthur Conan Doyle's stories about Sherlock Holmes, the plot of Babylons gator centers on Euthanasia's search for her young companion, Agnes, who has mysteriously disappeared. The book takes its title from Benjamin Disraeli's novel Tancred (1847), in which London is characterized as a modern Babylon, and Euthanasia becomes thoroughly acquainted with the city's seamy side. Burman may be indebted to Oscar Wilde's novel The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) for the depiction of some of London's more sordid locales. But Euthanasia also moves in polite society and is introduced to some of the luminaries of British literature at the time, such as George Eliot and Charles Dickens.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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