A prince of the people?

Some traditionalists in Sweden were irked when Crown Princess Victoria announced she was marrying a commoner. But her choice of Daniel Westling is very much in line with her European royal contemporaries, writes The Local's royal correspondent, Juan Navas.

A prince of the people?

On the morning of February 24, 2009 telephones around the country started ringing. News agencies, newspapers, television and radio stations as well as magazines were calling all their best sources to find out if the rumours were true. Was the Royal Court going to announce the engagement of Crown Princess Victoria to Daniel Westling? Shortly after lunch a communiqué came from the Palace and the rumors were confirmed. The interest was so great that the Palace’s homepage crashed.  

It was not the actual engagement that came as surprise, only the timing. After all, the couple had been together for some years. The couple’s relationship, and engagement, was not without criticism though. Whispers that Daniel Westling was not an appropriate spouse for the future Queen of Sweden were heard around the country. He was neither a royal nor from the upper classes aristocracy.

Conservative commentator Dick Erixon put voice to the objections. He argued that marrying into an “ordinary Swedish family from Ockelbo” meant that the royal family “immediately and undoubtedly destroyed all possibility of maintaining a special position.”

Erixon’s is a minority view, but he is far from alone. Yet what those who object to the marriage seem to have forgotten is that Sweden’s present Queen was not born into royalty either. And taking a glance around the European continent you see a similar pattern. In Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain and even Britain none of the country’s heirs to the throne married a fellow royal – in most cases they didn’t even choose spouses from the aristocracy. All of them married commoners and all of them married for love.  

Some royals are born, and others are made. When Norwegian Crown Prince Haakon announced his engagement to Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby was a controversial choice. Not only was she a commoner, but she also had a son from a previous relationship. Many Norwegians voiced their disapproval, but on their wedding day the streets of Oslo were packed with onlookers and well wishers. Nearly ten years later Crown Princess Mette-Marit is as popular as the rest of the royal family. Like her counterparts around Europe, including Crown Princess Mary of Denmark and Crown Princess Maxima of the Netherlands, she has eased into her role with grace and professionalism.  

Daniel Westling, like all royal consorts, will be taught and trained in the ways of royal life and the duties that come with it. According to the Royal Court the future Duke of Västergötland is currently taking part in an introductory program that will help guide him into his new role. The most interesting part of this program is not that he will be getting to know the workings of the Royal Court, but that the program includes “studies in political science, the work of the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) and government, state and municipal administration, Swedish history, as well as activities linked to Swedish cultural life.” These educational foundations will help to build the new prince. 

Besides this official introductory program he also has the benefit of observing and learning from his new family. The King and the Crown Princess will be of invaluable assistance in helping Daniel Westling ease into his new position. Queen Silvia will also be of great help. If anyone understands what it is like to take on a new and demanding role it is Sweden’s queen.  

Like any new job it will take time to learn and get acquainted with his new situation. Daniel Westling is however already tackling his new fulltime job of prince consort head on. Most recently he attended the traditional birthday celebrations of the King, and before that the 70th birthday of Denmark’s Queen Margrethe. For his efforts he has also already gotten very positive reviews, from both the press and the public.

Prince Daniel, the Duke of Västergötland, will undoubtedly be a great asset to his wife as well as the Royal Family. He is a man of the people, and with that brings a different understanding and insight into the country and its people.  

Juan Navas, a journalist and former information secretary at the Royal Court, is writing a series of articles about Swedish royalty in the run up to the royal wedding on June 19th. He is also blogging about the wedding for The Local


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‘Lost’ manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

A book by one of France's most celebrated and controversial literary figures arrives in bookstores this week, 78 years after the manuscript disappeared

'Lost' manuscript of pro-Nazi French author published 78 years later

It is a rare thing when the story of a book’s publication is even more mysterious than the plot of the novel itself.

But that might be said of Guerre (War) by one of France’s most celebrated and controversial literary figures, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, which arrives in bookstores on Thursday, some 78 years after its manuscript disappeared.

Celine’s reputation has somehow survived the fact that he was one of France’s most eager collaborators with the Nazis.

Already a superstar thanks to his debut novel Journey to the End of the Night (1932), Celine became one of the most ardent anti-Semitic propagandists even before France’s occupation.

In June 1944, with the Allies advancing on Paris, the writer abandoned a pile of his manuscripts in his Montmartre apartment.

Celine feared rough treatment from authorities in liberated France, having spent the war carousing with the Gestapo, and giving up Jews and foreigners to the Nazi regime and publishing racist pamphlets about Jewish world conspiracies.

For decades, no one knew what happened to his papers, and he accused resistance fighters of burning them. But at some point in the 2000s, they ended up with retired journalist Jean-Pierre Thibaudat, who passed them – completely out of the blue – to Celine’s heirs last summer.

‘A miracle’
Despite the author’s history, reviews of the 150-page novel, published by Gallimard, have been unanimous in their praise.

“The end of a mystery, the discovery of a great text,” writes Le Point; a “miracle,” says Le Monde; “breathtaking,” gushes Journal du Dimanche.

Gallimard has yet to say whether the novel will be translated.

Like much of Celine’s work, Guerre is deeply autobiographical, recounting his experiences during World War I.

It opens with 20-year-old Brigadier Ferdinand finding himself miraculously alive after waking up on a Belgian battlefield, follows his treatment and hasty departure for England – all based on Celine’s real experiences.

His time across the Channel is the subject of another newly discovered novel, Londres (London), to be published this autumn.

If French reviewers seem reluctant to focus on Celine’s rampant World War II anti-Semitism, it is partly because his early writings (Guerre is thought to date from 1934) show little sign of it.

Journey to the End of the Night was a hit among progressives for its anti-war message, as well as a raw, slang-filled style that stuck two fingers up at bourgeois sensibilities.

Celine’s attitude to the Jews only revealed itself in 1937 with the publication of a pamphlet, Trifles for a Massacre, which set him on a new path of racial hatred and conspiracy-mongering.

He never back-tracked. After the war, he launched a campaign of Holocaust-denial and sought to muddy the waters around his own war-time exploits – allowing him to worm his way back into France without repercussions.

‘Divine surprise’
Many in the French literary scene seem keen to separate early and late Celine.

“These manuscripts come at the right time – they are a divine surprise – for Celine to become a writer again: the one who matters, from 1932 to 1936,” literary historian Philippe Roussin told AFP.

Other critics say the early Celine was just hiding his true feelings.

They highlight a quote that may explain the gap between his progressive novels and reactionary feelings: “Knowing what the reader wants, following fashions like a shopgirl, is the job of any writer who is very financially constrained,” Celine wrote to a friend.

Despite his descent into Nazism, he was one of the great chroniclers of the trauma of World War I and the malaise of the inter-war years.

An exhibition about the discovery of the manuscripts opens on Thursday at the Gallimard Gallery and includes the original, hand-written sheets of Guerre.

They end with a line that is typical of Celine: “I caught the war in my head. It is locked in my head.”

In the final years before his death in 1961, Celine endlessly bemoaned the loss of his manuscripts.

The exhibition has a quote from him on the wall: “They burned them, almost three manuscripts, the pest-purging vigilantes!”

This was one occasion – not the only one – where he was proved wrong.