Selma Lagerlöf

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Selma Lagerlöf
Selma Lagerlöf.jpg
Selma Lagerlöf, 1909
Born Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf
(1858-11-20)20 November 1858
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Died 16 March 1940(1940-03-16) (aged 81)
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Occupation Writer
Nationality Swedish
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature
1909

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (Swedish: [ˈsɛlˈma ˈlɑːɡə(r)ˈløːv]; 20 November 1858 – 16 March 1940) was a Swedish author. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and is best remembered for her children's book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils).

Early life[edit]

Born at Mårbacka[1] (now in Sunne Municipality) an estate in Värmland in western Sweden, Lagerlöf was the daughter of Lieutenant Erik Gustaf Lagerlöf and Louise Lagerlöf née Wallroth, the couple's fifth child out of six. She was born with a hip injury. An early sickness left her lame in both legs, although she later recovered. She was a quiet child, more serious than others her age, with a deep love of reading. She was constantly writing poetry as a child, but did not publish anything officially until later in life. Her grandfather helped raise her, often telling stories of fairytales and fantasy. The sale of Mårbacka following her father's illness in 1884 had a serious impact on her development. Selma's father is said to have been an alcoholic, something she rarely discussed.[2] Her father did not want Selma to continue an education, or remain involved with the woman's movement. She ended up buying back her father's estate with the money she received for her Nobel Prize achievement.[3]

Career[edit]

Lagerlöf was educated at the Högre lärarinneseminariet in Stockholm from 1882 to 1885. She worked as a country schoolteacher at a high school for girls in Landskrona from 1885 to 1895[4] while honing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child. Through her studies at the Royal Women's Superior Training Academy in Stockholm, Lagerlöf reacted against the realism of contemporary Swedish language writers such as August Strindberg. She began her first novel, Gösta Berling's Saga, while working as a teacher in Landskrona. Her first break as a writer came when she submitted the first chapters to a literary contest, and won a publishing contract for the whole book. At first, her writing only received mild reviews from critics. Once a popular male critic, George Brandes, gave her positive reviews of the Danish translation, her popularity skyrocketed.[5] She received financial support of Fredrika Limnell, who wished to enable her to concentrate on her writing.

Selma Lagerlöf receives the Nobel Prize in Literature. Illustration from Svenska Dagbladet, 11 December 1909.

She met Sophie Elkan in 1894. A Swedish writer of Jewish origin, Elkan became her friend and companion and their letters suggest Lagerlöf fell deeply in love with her.[6] She is said to have been a lesbian and was involved with many different women. Over many years, Elkan and Lagerlöf critiqued each other's work. Lagerlöf wrote of Elkan's strong influence on her work, often disagreeing sharply with the direction Lagerlöf wanted to take in her books. Selma's letters to Sophie were published in 1993, titled Du lar mig att bli fri [5]

A visit in 1900 to the American Colony in Jerusalem became the inspiration for Lagerlöf's book by that name.[7] The royal family and the Swedish Academy gave her substantial financial support to continue her passion[8] By 1895, she gave up her teaching to devote herself to her writing. With the help of proceeds from Gösta Berlings Saga and a scholarship and grant, she made two journeys which were largely instrumental in providing material for her next novel. With Elkan, she traveled to Italy, and she also traveled to Palestine and other parts of the East.[9] In Italy, a legend of a Christ Child figure that had been replaced with a false version inspired Lagerlöf's novel Antikrists mirakler (The Miracles of the Antichrist). Set in Sicily, the novel explores the interplay between Christian and socialist moral systems. However, most of Lagerlöf's stories were set in Värmland.

Lagerlof was asked by the National Teacher's Association in 1902 to write a geography book for children. She interestingly combined informative facts of Sweden's geography with a boy named Nils Holgersson. When the boy got in trouble, he traveled to many different provinces, allowing children to learn about Sweden while staying interested.[2]

She moved in 1897 to Falun, and met Valborg Olander, who became her literary assistant and friend, but Elkan's jealousy of Olander was a complication in the relationship. Olander, a teacher, was also active in the growing women's suffrage movement in Sweden. Selma Lagerlöf herself was active as a speaker for the National Association for Women's Suffrage, which was beneficial for the organisation because of the great respect which surrounded Lagerlöf, and she spoke at the International Suffrage Congress in Stockholm in June 1911, where she gave the opening address, as well as at the victory party of the Swedish suffrage movement after women suffrage had been granted in May 1919.[10]

Selma Lagerlöf was a friend of the German-Jewish writer Nelly Sachs. Shortly before her death in 1940, Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure the release of Sachs and Sachs' aged mother from Nazi Germany, on the very last flight from Germany to Sweden, and their lifelong asylum in Stockholm.

Literary adaptations[edit]

A street in Jerusalem, named for Selma Lagerlof

In 1919 Lagerlöf sold all the movie rights to all of her as-yet unpublished works to Swedish Cinema Theatre (Swedish: Svenska Biografteatern), and so over the years many movie versions of her works were made. During the era of Swedish silent cinema her works were used in film by Victor Sjöström, Mauritz Stiller and other Swedish film makers.[11] Sjöström's retelling of Lagerlöf's tales about rural Swedish life, in which his camera recorded the detail of traditional village life and the Swedish landscape, provided the basis of some of the most poetic and memorable products of silent cinema. Jerusalem was adapted in 1996 into an internationally acclaimed film Jerusalem.

Awards and commemoration[edit]

Selma Lagerlöf on a 1959 postage stamp of the Soviet Union.

In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings".[12] But the decision was preceded by harsh internal power struggle within the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in literature.[13] During her acceptance speech, she remained humble and told a fantastic story of her father, as she visited him in heaven. In the story, she asks her father for help with the debt she owes and her father explains the debt is from all the people that supported her throughout her career.[2] In 1904, the Academy had awarded her its great gold medal, and in 1914 she also became a member of the Academy. For both the Academy membership and her Nobel literature prize, she was the first woman to be so honored.[4] She was the first woman to be depicted on a Swedish banknote of 20 Kronor[14]

In 1907 she received the degree of doctor of letters from Uppsala University.[4] In 1928, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Greifswald's Faculty of Arts. At the start of World War II, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and gold medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help raise money to fight the Soviet Union.[15] The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her.

Two hotels are named after her in Östra Ämtervik in Sunne, and her home, Mårbacka, is preserved as a museum. Between 1992 and 2015, her portrait was featured on the Swedish 20 kronor-bill.

Bibliography[edit]

Works by Selma Lagerlöf[edit]

Works published in Swedish with English translations.[16][17]

  • Gösta Berlings saga (1891; novel). Translated as The Story of Gösta Berling (Pauline Bancroft Flach, 1898), Gösta Berling's Saga (Velma Swanston Howard, Lillie Tudeer, 1898), The Story of Gösta Berling (R. Bly, 1962)
  • Osynliga länkar (1894; short stories). Translated as Invisible Links (Pauline Bancroft Flach, (1869–1966) 1899)
  • Antikrists mirakler (1897; novel). Translated as The Miracles of Antichrist (Selma Ahlström Trotz, 1899) and The Miracles of Antichrist (Pauline Bancroft Flach (1869–1966), 1899)
  • Drottningar i Kungahälla (1899; short stories). Translated as The Queens of Kungahälla and Other Sketches From a Swedish Homestead (Jessie Bröchner, 1901; C. Field, 1917)
  • En herrgårdssägen (1899; short stories). Translated as The Tale of a Manor and Other Sketches (C. Field, 1922)
  • Jerusalem : två berättelser. 1, I Dalarne (1901; novel). Translated as Jerusalem (Jessie Bröchner, 1903; V.S. Howard, 1914)
  • Jerusalem : två berättelser. 2, I det heliga landet (1902; novel). Translated as The Holy City : Jerusalem II (V.S. Howard, 1918)
  • Herr Arnes penningar (1903; novel). Translated as Herr Arne's Hoard (Arthur G. Chater, 1923; Philip Brakenridge, 1952) and The Treasure (Arthur G. Chater, 1925). See also 1919 film Sir Arne's Treasure.
  • Kristuslegender (1904; short stories). Translated as Christ Legends and Other Stories (Velma Swanston Howard (1868–1937), 1908)
  • Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (1906–07; novel). Translated as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (Velma Swanston Howard, 1907; Richard E. Oldenburg, 1967) and Further Adventures of Nils (V.S. Howard, 1911)
  • En saga om en saga och andra sagor (1908; short stories). Translated as The Girl from the Marsh Croft (Velma Swanston Howard, 1910) and Girl from the Marsh Croft and Other Stories (edited by Greta Anderson, 1996)
  • Hem och stat: Föredrag vid rösträttskongressen den 13 juni 1911 (1911; non-fiction). Translated as Home and State: Being an Address Delivered at Stockholm at the Sixth Convention of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, June 1911 (C. Ursula Holmstedt, 1912)
  • Liljecronas hem (1911; novel). Translated as Liliecrona's Home (Anna Barwell, 1913)
  • Körkarlen (1912; novel). Translated as Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! (William Frederick Harvey, 1921). Filmed as The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, The Stroke of Midnight.
  • Stormyrtossen: Folkskädespel i 4 akter (1913) with Bernt Fredgren
  • Astrid och andra berättelser (1914; short stories)
  • Kejsarn av Portugallien (1914; novel). Translated as The Emperor of Portugallia (V.S. Howard, 1916)
  • Dunungen: Lustspel i fyra akter (1914; play)
  • Silvergruvan och andra berättelser (1915; short stories)
  • Troll och Människor (1915, 1921; novel). Translated as The Changeling (Lagerlöf novel) (Susanna Stevens, 1992)
  • Bannlyst (1918; novel). Translated as The Outcast (Lagerlöf novel) (W. Worster, 1920/22)
  • Kavaljersnoveller (1918; novel)
  • Zachris Topelius utveckling och mognad (1920; non-fiction), biography of Zachris Topelius.
  • Mårbacka (1922; memoir). Translated as Marbacka: The Story of a Manor (V.S. Howard, 1924) and Memories of Marbacka (Greta Andersen, 1996). See Mårbacka.
  • The Ring trilogy:
  • En Herrgårdssägen: Skådespel i fyra akter (1929; play), based on 1899 work En herrgårdssägen
  • Mors porträtt och andra berättelser (1930; short stories)
  • Ett barns memoarer: Mårbacka (1930; memoir). Translated as Memories of My Childhood (Lagerlöf) Further Years at Mårbacka (V.S. Howard, 1934)
  • Dagbok för Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (1932; memoir). Translated as The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf (V.S. Howard, 1936)
  • Höst (1933; short stories). Translated as Harvest (book) (Florence and Naboth Hedin, 1935)
  • Julberättelser (1936)
  • Gösta Berlings saga: Skådespel i fyra akter med prolog och epilog effer romanen med samma namn (1936)
  • Från skilda tider: Efterlämnade skrifter (1943–45)
  • Dockteaterspel (1959)
  • Madame de Castro: En unglomsdikt (1984)

Her vogue in the United States was in part due to Velma Swanton Howard, who early believed in her appeal to Americans and carefully translated many of her books.[4]

Works about Selma Lagerlöf[edit]

  • Berendsohn, Walter A., Selma Lagerlöf: Her Life and Work (adapted from the German by George F. Timpson) – London : Nicholson & Watson, 1931
  • Vrieze, Folkerdina Stientje de, Fact and Fiction in the Autobiographical Works of Selma Lagerlof – Assen, Netherlands : Van Gorcum, 1958
  • Nelson, Anne Theodora, The Critical Reception of Selma Lagerlöf in France – Evanston, Ill., 1962
  • Olson-Buckner, Elsa, The epic tradition in Gösta Berlings saga – Brooklyn, N.Y. : Theodore Gaus, 1978
  • Edström, Vivi, Selma Lagerlöf (trans. by Barbara Lide) – Boston : Twayne Publishers, 1984
  • Madler, Jennifer Lynn, The Literary Response of German-language Authors to Selma Lagerlöf – Urbana, Ill. : University of Illinois, 1998
  • De Noma, Elizabeth Ann, Multiple Melodrama: the Making and Remaking of Three Selma Lagerlöf Narratives in the Silent Era and the 1940s – Ann Arbor, Mich. : UMI Research Press, cop. 2000
  • Watson, Jennifer, Swedish Novelist Selma Lagerlöf, 1858–1940, and Germany at the Turn of the Century: O du Stern ob meinem Garten – Lewiston, NY : Edwin Mellen Press, 2004
  • Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon, eds. (2002). Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II 2nd ed. Routledge; London. ISBN 0-415-15983-0. 

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ H. G. L. (1916), "Miss Lagerlöf at Marbacka", in Henry Goddard Leach, The American-Scandinavian review 4, American-Scandinavian Foundation, p. 36 
  2. ^ a b c "Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  3. ^ "Selma Lagerlof | Swedish author". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  4. ^ a b c d Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Lagerlof, Ottilia Lovisa Selma". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  5. ^ a b "Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf (1858–1940)". authorscalendar.info. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  6. ^ Munck, Kerstin (2002), "Lagerlöf, Selma", glbtq.com 
  7. ^ Zaun-Goshen, Heike (2002), Times of Change 
  8. ^ "Selma Lagerlöf – Biographical". www.nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2016-03-08. 
  9. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Lagerlöf, Selma". Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York. 
  10. ^ Barbro Hedwall (2011). Susanna Eriksson Lundqvist. red. Vår rättmätiga plats. Om kvinnornas kamp för rösträtt. (Our Rightful Place. About women's struggle for suffrage) Förlag Bonnier. ISBN 978-91-7424-119-8 (Swedish)
  11. ^ Leif Furhammar (2010), "Selma Lagerlöf and Literary Adaptations", Mariah Larsson and Anders Marklund (eds), "Swedish Film: An Introduction and Reader", Lund: Nordic Academic Press, pp. 86-91.
  12. ^ "Literature 1909", NobelPrize.org, retrieved 6 March 2010 
  13. ^ "Våldsam debatt i Akademien när Lagerlöf valdes" (in Swedish). Svenska Dagbladet. 25 September 2009. 
  14. ^ http://www.worldbanknotescoins.com/2015/04/20-swedish-krona-banknote-2008-selma-lagerlof.html
  15. ^ Gunther, Ralph (2003), "The magic zone: sketches of the Nobel Laureates", Scripta Humanistica 150, p. 36, ISBN 1-882528-40-9 
  16. ^ "Selma Lagerlöf – Bibliography", NobelPrize.org, retrieved 6 March 2010 
  17. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Selma Lagerlöf". Books and Writers (kirjasto.sci.fi). Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 10 February 2015. 

External links[edit]

Resources[edit]

Works online[edit]

Cultural offices
Preceded by
Albert Theodor Gellerstedt
Swedish Academy,
Seat No.7

1914-1940
Succeeded by
Hjalmar Gullberg