Eva Alexanderson was an author and a translator. She wrote the first autobiographical novel in Swedish literature to portray a sexual relationship between two women.
Eva Alexanderson was born in Stockholm in 1911. She came from an extremely bourgeois home where the family finances were often precarious. Some of her books provide an insight into her unhappy and lonely childhood in an emotionless home. In 1930 she gained her school-leaving certificate and then began to study Romance languages at Lund university. Following graduation in 1935 and linguistic study trips abroad she became employed at the Svenska bokförlag publishing house where she proofread dictionaries. Her anti-fascist activism led her to the anti-Nazi magazine NU, where she was active from 1937-1938 and from 1941-1942. Later she also worked at the Utrikespolitiska Institut (foreign policy institute) as an assistant from 1942-1944. She met Rangvald Lundström, one of the institute’s founders, and they married in 1944. It was not a happy marriage and the couple split by 1946.
After the Second World War Eva Alexanderson was employed by Albert Bonnier publishers as a publishing editor and translator. At the company’s expense she travelled to Paris in order to discuss Gunnel Vallquist’s translation of Proust with the translator. This became the start of a lifelong and significant relationship between the two women. Eva Alexanderson made her authorial debut with a travelogue entitled Resa till smältpunkten in 1954. One year later, in 1955, she converted to the Catholic faith, gave up her job at Bonnier and settled in Italy. She then made a living as a freelance translator and continued her writing. She also did a lot of travelling and published various accounts of visits to Mexico, Spain, Italy, and the Middle East.
The majority of Eva Alexanderson’s books are more or less autobiographical. Her debut work, Resa till smältpunkten, recounts how she, following the war and her divorce, travelled to Mexico to reconnect with a man with whom she’d previously had a relationship. Their reunion was no success but her experience of human hardship in that poor country left a strong impact on her and initiated a lifelong activism against injustice and exploitation. Her book called mig som liten är, from 1955, portrays her childhood and youth through brief, impressionistic glimpses. The adult world is solely viewed through a child’s eyes and the narrative voice changes from a childish made-up language to teenaged slang. Her desperate and fruitless attempts to win the love of her beloved but inaccessible mother are particularly poignant. Another theme is the worrying body and its proneness to illness and the questions and worries of a young girl with regard to female bodily functions and human reproduction at a time when these issues were surrounded by an overwhelming shame-induced silence.
Her next book, a portrayal of a marriage called Guldhönan, from 1956 , was Eva Alexanderson’s only entirely fictitious piece of work. According to her it depicted the innate human struggle between good and evil. A charming but emotionless man marries a gifted, empathetic but sickly woman in the hopes of inheriting her wealth. In the end the relationship is turned upside down and the supposedly strong man collapses. In Väckt ur drömmen, from 1958, Eva Alexanderson returns to her own life as a source of inspiration. The lead character is named Mona, just like in mig som liten är. Eva Alexanderson chose the name due to its association with Greek monos, which means alone. Young Mona travels around a Europe marked by conflict and increasing fascism. She experiences the civil war in Spain, visits Italy under Mussolini, and hears of burning synagogues and Jewish persecutions in Nazi Germany. A love story is interwined with penetrating accounts of how dictatorship and ideas of totalitarianism are altering and distorting the minutiae of everyday life and human relations.
Her next book, Fyrtio dagar i öknen, from 1964, is based on her diary entries from a period of convalescence spent at a Norwegian alpine hotel in the mid-1950s. The story tells of an internal settling of guilt feelings and self-denial and, most of all, an account of how she came to believe in God and decided to accept the Catholic faith. Brief memories of her childhood, past love affairs, and her unhappy marriage flash past. Her travelogue, Pilgrimsfärd, from 1967, is based on her year-long stay in Syria, the Lebanon, and Israel, during which she visited a number of different religious communities.
However, Eva Alexanderson’s most well-known and discussed novel is, without doubt, Kontradans, from 1969. In it she portrays, with astonishing honesty, her passionate but intensely conflicted love affair with a younger Italian woman called Claudia. Their faith is of massive importance to both of them – the narrator is a new convert whilst Claudia is preparing to enter a convent. Nevertheless, despite their religious beliefs, the two begin a relationship and their passionate meetings are described with intense but poetic beauty. The women are torn between faith and attraction and the relationship becomes increasingly painful. In the end they have to part. Although the lesbian affair portrayed is an unhappy one the novel’s insistence that all love is of equal worth is absolute.
Kontradans was fairly lukewarmly received by reviewers and many found themselves pondering the religious problem it posited. The novel proved important to its readers, however, which is particularly evident in the many readers’ letters Eva Alexanderson received in which women presented their own stories and how important the book had been to them in their own self-acceptance of their lesbianism. Eva Alexanderson and fellow author Bengt Martin were perhaps the first two known Swedish authors who openly came out as gay in a report by Aftonbladet which was published the same year that Kontradans was released. The negative reviews the book received hit Eva Alexanderson hard and she wrote no further literary works for many years. She continued her activism in the sphere of sexual politics and served as editor for the 1973 opinion piece De homosexuella i församlingen: Dags att ompröva? in which people from different Christian communities argued for a change in perspectives on same-sex love.
It was not until the early 1990s that Eva Alexanderson returned to writing fiction, producing Sparkplats för jungfru: Ett socialmänskligt collage in 1992. Once again the reader is presented with her childhood home but this time the focus lies on the servants, the faithful domestic help and nannies who worked in people’s homes in the early 1900s. She describes their duties, the daily grind, the patience they showed to fractious children and awkward employers. It quickly becomes apparent how important the warmth and attention many of these servants showed Eva Alexandersson as a child was to her. The kitchen became a refuge from the frosty rejection of the formal reception salon.
Eva Alexanderson’s last book, Saga och sanning in Neutralien, from 1994, comprises impressions and situations from Sweden of the Second World War. In this book she describes her wartime work within the telephone censorship service, her visits to the anti-Nazi Tisdagsklubb (Tuesday club), and she also provides insights into her marriage to a charming and exciting but severely alcoholic husband. The text, originally composed during 1949-1950, had been rejected, and the manuscript had been left untouched until her new publisher took an interest in it.
Eva Alexanderson also undertook a lot of translation work, mainly from French and Italian into Swedish. She translated various genres of work, such as thrillers, political opinion pieces, novels, drama, and memoires by various authors including Tomasi di Lampedusa, Nathalie Sarrute, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean Paul Sartre, Violette Leduc, Italo Calvino, Marie-Madeleine de Lafayette, Albert Camus and Umberto Eco. Eva Alexanderson won several prestigious translation prizes, including the Elsa Thulin translation prize in 1969.
Towards the end of the 1960s Eva Alexanderson settled in Rimbo in Uppland. Gunnel Vallquist was already living there and had set up a Catholic conversation group. In the mid-1980s Eva Alexanderson moved to Uppsala and later, for reasons of poor health, she moved into a home for elderly Catholics in Bromma called the Josephina home. Eva Alexanderson died in 1994 after a period of illness. Several posthumous tributes noted the great calm and inner peace she experienced during her final years.