Maj Lorents was a translator who also worked at the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. She translated English and Italian literary works into Swedish.
Maj Lorents was born Clara Maria Heloisa Almqvist, but was known simply as Maj, in Stockholm in 1896. Her father was Viktor Almqvist, director-in-chief and head of Fångvårdsstyrelsen (Swedish prison and probation board) and her mother was Fanny Almqvist (née Grafström). The family also included an older sister named Fanny and a younger brother, Carl. Many of her relatives were active within Sweden’s academic and cultural spheres. Her father published poetry collections under the pseudonym of Hans Vik. He also served as chair of Samfundet De Nio (the Nine Society), and he wrote articles for Nordisk familjebok. Well-known individuals such as Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and Artur Hazelius figured amongst the extended family.
Maj Lorents began to take an interest in international affairs and contemporary politics when she was quite young and she learnt to speak several languages. She attended Djursholm coeducational school, which at the time was located at Djursholm castle. There was also a French governess at home. The family travelled often and regularly visited London and Paris. At the age of 17 Maj Lorents wrote a letter to Winston Churchill, then a British parliamentarian, who responded to her in writing, welcoming her to Great Britain.
In 1918 Maj Lorents married Yngve Lorents, a historian and journalist. He was one of the founding members of Utrikespolitiska Institutet (Swedish institute of international affairs). During the interwar years the couple travelled frequently, spending long periods of time in Rome and Athens, where Yngve Lorents worked for the Swedish Institute. Maj Lorents learned both the Italian and Greek languages.
Her first translation work was Songs and Tales of the Irish Bards, published in 1925. Quite some time passed before she began working on Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, a translation of over 1,000 pages, which was published in 1937.
During the Second World War Maj Lorents became involved in Svensk-Engelska Föreningen (Swedish-Anglo society) and in Fritt forum. The Lorents couple were both members of the anti-Nazi Tisdagsklubben (Tuesday club), established in 1940 by Amelie Posse. The membership of the secret club included many journalists, authors, and other intellectuals, such as Vilhelm Moberg, Pär Lagerkvist, and Marika Stiernstedt.
In the spring of 1940 Maj Lorents was persuaded by Amelie Posse and Ture Nerman to travel to war-time Great Britain in order to gather material for articles. One of the things she did was interview Anthony Eden, then foreign minister in Winston Churchill’s government, as well as interview ordinary people. Following several failed attempts to travel home the vessel Patricia finally embarked, escorted by four gunships, for Gothenburg. Once safely back in Sweden Maj Lorents penned a book entitled England i krig, printed in several editions to fairly positive reviews. She also wrote a series of articles for the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. Ten years after the battle of El Alamein she was sent to Egypt, as that newspaper’s “special correspondent”, to report on the contemporary situation.
During the post-war period she gave talks on her experiences in Great Britain, but also on her husband’s visits to the Sudan, Kenya, Egypt, and other countries. These talks were given to non-profit organisations, such as Sällskapet Nya Idun, and Yrkeskvinnornas Klubb (the Professional Women’s Club). In 1955 she returned to her translation work. Her next efforts included Cecil Woodham-Smith’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Gavin Maxwell’s God Protect Me from My Friends, followed by Philip Magnus’ work Gladstone: a biography, published in 1958.
Maj Lorents also translated several travelogues. The Lost World of the Kalahari, by Laurens van der Post, was released in 1959, followed the next year by Wilfred Thesiger’s Arabian Sands and Dom Morae’s Gone Away. Her interest in contemporary politics was reflected in her translations of Mikis Theodorakis’ Conquistare la Libertà, a work comprising political speeches, appeals, and articles. The British author Iris Murdoch was a politically controversial figure of the late 1960s but this did not deter Maj Lorents from translating four of her novels, An Unofficial Rose, The Unicorn, Time of the Angels , and The Nice and the Good.
In the early 1960s Maj Lorents and her husband moved to Västanvik, near Leksand. Maj Lorents was awarded Sveriges författarfond’s prize, commending contributions of literary merit in 1967. In 1970 she translated the humorous book, Flashman: from the Flashman Papers by George MacDonald Fraser, but in her final publication she returned to serious matters, translating A Happy Day by the political activist Edita Morris.
May Lorents died in November 1998, aged 102. Her remains lie at Leksand cemetery.