Sara Danius-a Eulogy

Sara Danius at the Nobel Banquet 2018

Sara Danius, the former head of the Swedish Academy died in October 2019.

In 2018, Sara Danius was forced out from the Swedish Academy during a #MeToo scandal inside the Academy concerning the so called “cultural profile” Jean-Claude Arnault in efforts to make dirty doings transparent.

Här promenerar hon i väg med Akademiledamoten Sara Stridsberg. Foto: Jonas Ekströmer

When leaving the academy, she wore her signature “knytblus”, a tied blouse. Sweden answered with a protest movement women and men backing her up and wearing tied blouses under #backasara.


During the Nobel banquet 2018 she wore a regal and colorful dress, breaking all codes especially in Sweden, were “Jantelagen”, the protestant code of conduct of “do not stick out” still prevails.

With a passion for fashion, she ignited a nationwide movement and entered the most important social event in Sweden and the global literary world in a gown not to be overlooked, an action that cannot be seen in other ways than as performance art.

Who was Sara Danius? She was the first woman to be chair of the Swedish Academy. The Swedish Academy is the organ that awards the Nobel Prize of Literature. She was a distinguished scholar and an eloquent writer.

In her collection of essays “Husmoderns Död.” ( The Death of the housewife”), she writes about the cultural influences of modernist literature, her area of expertise. But not only. Very close to writings of Roland Barthes (whom she also writes about) and Susan Sontag, she proves to be a cultural theorist in her own right, writing about photography ( Sander, Penn, Weston) and media theory (Horckheimer, Adorno, McLuhan, Virilio). With swift and elegant prose, she discusses the great Swedish poets and writers ( Ekelöf, Martinsson, Strindberg, Tranströmer ) and the important modernist women writers ( Sand, de Beauvoir, Woolf, Austen, Barnes, Sarraute ). The essays seem like a catalog of modernist thinking, her distinct esprit enlightens crucial points that may not have been discussed as such before.She also brings in the personal touch, which enriches her writing and leads the reader into a narrative he/she partakes in. As for example “Kosmos in Folkungagatan, Tomas Tranströmer”, where she walks us through the streets of Stockholm that the poet Tranströmer inhabited, asking the current residents if they remember him, (which they don’t).Finally finding people familiar with Tranströmer first in the Newsagents then in a bookstore. The essay is beautifully illustrated with a street map of Stockholm and photos.Most of the essays have been published in Dagens Nyheter.

Danius combines skilfully two of her life interests in the essay “On Life and Death: Fashion in Literature” and provides us with the key to understanding the phenomenon of the tied blouse.

Proust is being examined here:” Fashion is a read thread in “In Search of Lost Time” (1913-1927) Proust has an extraordinary eye for the symbolic social value of the dress.(…) He also sees fashion as a means for the individual to express himself.(…) But what characterizes Proust is that he additionally treats clothing as art.Everything that is about skill and craftsmanship is art, and clothing is no exception.(…) One fashion star is shining brighter than any other in Proust’s world and it is Fortuny, the designer that created plisseed silk fabrics and velvet brocades in the beginning of the 1900s and who sketched dresses after Venetian patterns.Fortuny is to Proust what the polar star is to the starry sky.(…) The novel’s best dresses woman, madame de Guermantes possesses an entire Fortuny wardrobe.(…) Her way of dressing is an art form in itself.But is is not here that one finds the red thread, but in the narrative about Albertine, the subject of the narrators unrequited love.If you pull the thread, you see how the stitches travel through the entire novel. When she (Albertine) hears about Madame de Guermantes creations by Fortuny, she is filled with longing.The narrator decides to surprise his fiancée with an order.(…) Barely have the dresses arrived that the decline begins.When Albertine parades in her prison, dressed in a sumptuous Fortuny-creation in blue and gold, she ceases to be who she is. She is transformed to an image.(…) Fashion is certainly a prop. But a prop on life or death.”

Sara Danius, Husmoderns död, pa liv och död:Mode i litteraturen


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