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Literary Impressionisms

Camilla Storskog

Part III: Fictional impressionists

1. Introduction: the impressionist as a literary character

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1In an attempt to complete the discussion of the writers’ awareness of impressionism, we will in this last section turn to the representation of the impressionist as a literary character in Swedish fiction. I will examine a body of four little-known texts written at the close of the nineteenth century, casting the impressionist in the role of protagonist or minor character: Gustaf af Geijerstam’s tale Utan pängar (Moneyless) from the collection Fattigt folk (Poor People), II, 1889 (Geijerstam 1889)1; Mathilda Roos’s novel Familjen Verle. En skildring (The Verles. A Tale), also published in 1889 (Roos 1889)2; Georg Nordensvan’s short story Aja, first published as a feuilleton in the review Idun in 18943 (Nordensvan 1894b) and later that same year printed, with a few changes in the text, in his Tre små romaner (Nordensvan 1894a; Three Little Novels); and, lastly, K.A. Tavaststjerna’s Impressionisten (The Impressionist), included in his volume of short stories Unga år (Youth), 1892.

  • 4   Besides the above mentioned tales, which will be more closely examined in the following paragraph (...)

2Conny Svensson’s mapping of the artist novel of the 1880s (Svensson 1985) offers an excellent inventory of the artists populating Swedish fiction in this decade, and also charts the rare impressionist painters that appear in the genre4. While Svensson’s monograph has significantly facilitated the singling out of the texts central to the issue investigated here, I also wish – in an effort to frame the fictional impressionist while remaining true to the spirit of the present study, which sets out to present resonances and modes of impressionism in literature – to consider a tale articulating concern over the fact that impressionism is not merely about modern subjects in painting and new artistic techniques. As we have seen, literary impressionism cannot be reduced to verbal pictorialism and pictorial methods emulated in writing only: accordingly, the painter is not the sole impressionist character to whom we should direct our attention. The hypersensitive protagonist featuring in the fourth text dealt with in this part of the study, K.A. Tavaststjerna’s Impressionisten, is in fact not an artist, nor is the writer striving to find a verbal equivalent to the visual art of the impressionists in his prose. At first glance, the interest in the novella lies in the choice of title, which, all the more, foreshadows a story true to the very heart of impressionism in revealing a protagonist with a firm belief in the primacy of sensory perception. It is my conviction that this short story then offers us the possibility of exploring the ‘phenomenological impressionist’ and the essence of impressionism as a perceptive experience.


1   Also available at Accessed 25 January 2018.

2   Also available at Accessed 25 January 2018.

3   The 1894 issues of the review are available online at Accessed 25 January 2018.

4   Besides the above mentioned tales, which will be more closely examined in the following paragraphs, Svensson points to only one more possible, though implausible, nineteenth-century contribution to Swedish fiction featuring a discourse on impressionist art, namely a short story by Ernst Ahlgren entitled Kritik (Criticism). According to Sten Linder, as Svensson points out, this short story testifies to Ahlgren/Benedictsson’s sympathy for «den impressionistiska opponentkonsten» (Svensson 1985: 210; «the impressionist art of the opponents»). Assuming that this comment draws on a single episode in the text (the dialogue in the boat), during which the art of the opponents is casually brought up in conversation, Svensson judges Linder’s interpretation highly unlikely since expressions of the author’s sympathy for the avant-garde is nowhere else to be found (211).


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