The Swedish Translation of Anne of Green Gables and Its Lasting Influence
In 1909, Sweden became the first country in the world to publish a translation of Anne of Green Gables. The Swedish translation, Anne på Grönkulla (Anne on Green Hill) by Karin Lindforss Jensen, was published by C.W.K. Gleerup. As Åsa Warnqvist has discovered, the initiative for publishing Anne of Green Gables in Sweden this early came from Seved Ribbing, one of the board members of the C.W.K. Gleerup publishing house, who may have discovered the book through a British advertisement or review. All of the Anne books were translated into Swedish in the series Gleerups ungdomsböcker (Gleerup’s juvenile books).
In Sweden, Montgomery’s books were placed in the domain of children’s literature, which was a facet of the publishing industry that evolved after the Second World War. Research shows that all the translations originally published by Gleerup are somewhat abridged since they target an audience of younger readers than Montgomery’s original. 1 Elements like nature descriptions, spiritual qualities, intertextual references, and gender-role-breaking elements were cut or edited.
Jensen’s Swedish translation of Anne of Green Gables was popular from the start and has remained in print to this day. The language of the translation was revised in 1955 by Britt G. Hallqvist and in 1991 and 2018 by Christina Westman, but none of the deleted passages were restored. In addition to Jensen’s translation, Sweden has also seen two other, highly abridged retranslations of Anne of Green Gables, one by Aslög Davidson in 1941 and another by Margareta Sjögren-Olsson in 1962, from different publishers. These plot-oriented translations lost some of the complexity of Montgomery’s character and story, and thus never reached the popularity of the original translation and its revised versions.
In addition to its continuous popularity in Sweden, the first Swedish translation has had significant influence in Poland as well as in the other Nordic countries of Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. The second ever translation of Anne of Green Gables was the Polish Ania z Zielonego Wzgórza (Ania of Green Hill) from 1911 by Rozalia Bernsteinowa, which was based on Jensen’s Swedish translation. Some years later, inspired by the Swedish success, both Norway and Denmark published an early translation of the book. In 1918, the Norwegian publisher H. Aschehoug & Co. published Anne fra Birkely (Anne from Birch Hill) translated by Elise Horn. In the same year, Aschehoug’s Danish branch published Anna fra Grønnebrink (Anne from Green Hill), which is a highly abridged translation by Anna Erslev and Dagmar Gade. The fact that the Norwegian and Danish translations, just like the Polish translation, replicate the Swedish title replacing Green Gables with Green Hill or Birch Hill shows that the Swedish translation was used as a source text, as Montgomery’s original text never explicitly discusses Green Gables’ location on a hill.
In 1920, the Swedish influence extended to Finland as Annan nuoruusvuodet (Anna’s Juvenile Years; translated by Hilja Vesala) was published by Werner Söderström Oy (WSOY). The surprisingly generic Finnish title is very different from the titles used in the other Nordic countries, but the Finnish name for Green Gables is Vihervaara (Green Hill), making “hill” a recurring element in all the Nordic translations. In 1961, the Finnish translation of Anne of Green Gables was revised and further abridged, presumably by WSOY’s children’s book editor Inka Makkonen, and the Swedish translation was again used as a source text for the revision. This revised translation is still in print.
Iceland was the last Nordic country to publish a translation of Anne of Green Gables in 1933 with the title Anna í Grænuhlíð (Anna in Green Hill), translated by Axel Guðmundsson and published by Ólafur Erlingsson. The Swedish influence extended indirectly also to this abridged and simplified translation, which seems to have been based on the Danish translation and was reprinted several times throughout the 20th century.
The Nordic Publishing Community
The widespread influence of the first Swedish translation is a symptom of the close-knit ties and collaboration of the Nordic children’s book publishing industry in the 20th century. In general, it was fairly common that Nordic publishers based translations of children’s books on other Scandinavian translations rather than on the English originals because more translators were skilled in Scandinavian languages, and books from neighbouring countries were easier to access.
Unlike the continuously popular Swedish and Finnish translation, the first Norwegian and Danish translations from 1918 were not successful. The Norwegian translation was reprinted only once and the Danish not at all. However, in 1941, Aschehoug published a Norwegian retranslation called Anne fra Bjørkely (Anne from Birch Hill) by Mimi Svedrup Lunden, which has remained in print. According to Susan Erdmann and Barbara Gawrońska Pettersson, Lunden’s translation is a highly abridged translation with a feminist and socialist agenda that tones down Montgomery’s romantic and spiritual elements.
Denmark did not catch up until 1987 when the publisher Høst & Søn, encouraged by the popularity of the Anne of Green Gables miniseries (1985) by Sullivan Entertainment, published an unabridged Anne of Green Gables with the title Anne fra Grønnebakken (Anne from Green Hill), retranslated by Gitte Nordbo.
In recent years, there have been an abundance of Nordic retranslations mainly by small publishers. Unabridged retranslations of Anne of Green Gables have been published in Norway by a book club in 1982 and by Transit in 2014, and in Iceland by Ástríki in 2012. In Sweden and Finland, no unabridged translations have been published yet, but the small publisher Aglaktuq has commissioned a Swedish retranslation to be published in 2022. The number of retranslations speak about the lasting popularity of Anne of Green Gables in the Nordic countries.
The continuous popularity of Montgomery and Anne of Green Gables in Sweden was confirmed in Åsa Warnqvist’s collection of reading experiences, Besläktade själar (Kindred Spirits 2009). Her collection was inspired by Suvi Ahola and Satu Koskimies’ Uuden Kuun ja Vihervaaran tytöt (The Girls of New Moon and Green Gables 2005), a similar collection of Finnish reader reflections.
Both collections show that generations of Swedish and Finnish girls and women have enjoyed and loved Anne of Green Gables and Montgomery’s other books. The books are often passed down from mother to daughter. Readers testify that the books have had great influence on their lives. Anne is seen as a role model who inspires personal growth and influences teaching and writing career ambitions and even the choice of Gilbert-like partners.
Nordic readers have a strong emotional connection to Anne and often identify with her and describe her as a Kindred Spirit. Montgomery’s books taught many readers to love and creatively engage with nature. Readers find the landscape of P.E.I. familiar since Canadian and Nordic landscapes are similar, and the Swedish and thus also the Finnish translations domesticate many unfamiliar cultural references.
The status of Montgomery in Nordic countries is also reflected in the research she has inspired. Sweden was a forerunner in Montgomery scholarship, with a Ph.D. thesis by Gabriella Åhmansson in 1991, but Finland also caught on with the first Ph.D. thesis on Montgomery by Vappu Kannas in 2015. To date, Montgomery scholarship has been conducted in all Nordic countries.
Most remarkably, the books accompany many readers throughout their lives through rereading. Montgomery’s books are a means for readers to reflect on their own lives as they discover different things in her texts.