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Selma Lagerlöf

Selma Lagerlöf, 1909
Born 20 November 1858(1858-11-20)
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Died 16 March 1940 (aged 81)
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Occupation Writer
Nationality Swedish
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (Swedish pronunciation: [ˈsɛlma ʊˈtiːlɪa lʊˈviːsa ˈlɑːɡərˌløːv]  ( listen); 20 November 1858–16 March 1940) was a Swedish author. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and most widely known for her children's book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils).



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 fourth child, 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. The sale of Mårbacka following her father's illness in 1884 had a deep impact on her development.

Lagerlöf worked as a country schoolteacher in Landskrona for nearly 10 years 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. She received financial suport of Fredrika Limnell, who wished to enable her to concentrate on her writing.

Selma Lagerlöf receives the Nobel Prize in Literature

In 1894 she met Sophie Elkan, also a writer, who became her friend and companion, and, judging from the letters between them that survive, with whom she fell deeply in love.[2] 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.

By 1895, she gave up her teaching to devote herself to her writing. She and Elkan, with the help of proceeds from Gösta Berlings Saga and a scholarship and grant, traveled to Italy. There, a legend of a Christ Child figure that had been replaced with a false version inspired Lagerlöf's novel, Antikrists mirakler, where she explored the interplay between Christian and socialist moral systems.

She moved in 1897 to Falun, and there met Valborg Olander, who became her literary assistant, friend, and associate. Elkan's jealousy of Olander was a complication in the relationship. Olander, a teacher, was also active in the growing woman suffrage movement in Sweden.

In 1900, Lagerlof visited the American Colony in Jerusalem, which became the inspiration for her book by that name.[3]

Literary inspiration

Most of her stories were set in Värmland, though a trip through continental Europe inspired such works as her The Miracles of the Antichrist, set in Sicily. Jerusalem was adapted in 1996 into an internationally acclaimed motion picture. Stories from this book and from her other works were used in film much earlier by Victor Sjöström, the great Swedish cinema pioneer. 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 early silent cinema.

Awards and commemoration

In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings".[4] In 1914 she also became a member of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize. 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.[5] The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her. In 1928, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Greifswald's Faculty of Arts.

Two hotels are named after her in Östra Ämtervik in Sunne, and her home, Mårbacka, is preserved as a museum. Since 1992, her portrait has been featured on the Swedish 20 krona banknote.



Works by Selma Lagerlöf

Works published in Swedish with English translations.[6][7]

  • Gösta Berlings saga (1891). Translated as The Story of Gösta Berling (Pauline Bancroft Flach, 1898), Gösta Berling's Saga (Lillie Tudeer, 1898), The Story of Gösta Berling (R. Bly, 1962)
  • Osynliga länkar (1894; short stories). Translated as Invisible Links (Pauline Bancroft Flach, 1899)
  • Antikrists mirakler (1897). Translated as The Miracles of Antichrist (Selma Ahlström Trotz, 1899) and The Miracles of Antichrist (Pauline Bancroft Flach, 1899)
  • En herrgårdssägen (1899; short stories). Translated as From a Swedish Homestead (Jessie Bröchner, 1901)
  • Drottningar i Kungahälla (1899). Translated as Queens of Kungahälla and Other Sketches (C. Field, 1917)
  • Jerusalem : två berättelser. 1, I Dalarne (1901). Translated as Jerusalem (V.S. Howard, 1914; Jessie Bröchner, 1970)
  • Jerusalem : två berättelser. 2, I det heliga landet (1902). Translated as The Holy City : Jerusalem II (V.S. Howard, 1918)
  • Herr Arnes penningar (1904). Translated as Herr Arne's Hoard (Arthur G. Chater, 1923; Philip Brakenridge, 1952) and The Treasure (Arthur G. Chater, 1925)
  • Kristuslegender (1904; short stories). Translated as Christ Legends and Other Stories (Velma Swanston Howard, 1908)
  • Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (1906-07). Translated as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (Velma Swanston Howard, 1907; Richard E. Oldenburg, 1967) and Further Adventures of Nils (V.S. Howard, 1911)
  • Tosen fran stormyrtorpet (1907; 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)
  • En saga om en saga och andra sagor (1908)
  • Meli (1909; short stories)
  • Liljecronas hem (1911). Translated as Liliecrona's Home (Anna Barwell, 1914)
  • Körkarlen (1912). Translated as Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! (William Frederick Harvey, 1921). Filmed as The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, The Stroke of Midnight.
  • Astrid och andra berättelser (1914; short stories)
  • Dunungen (1914; play)
  • Stenen i sjön Rottnen (1914; short stories)
  • Kejs arn av Portugallien (1914). Translated 1916 as The Emperor of Portugallia (V.S. Howard, 1916)
  • Silvergruvan och andra berättelser (1915; short stories)
  • Troll och Människor (1915-21). Translated as The Changeling (Susanna Stevens, 1992)
  • Bannlyst (1918). Translated as The Outcast (W. Worster, 1922)
  • Ingmarssönerna (1918; short stories)
  • Kavaljersnoveller (1918)
  • Zachris Topelius (1920; biography of Zachris Topelius)
  • Mårbacka (1922; short stories). Translated as Marbacka: The Story of a Manor (V.S. Howard, 1924) and Memories of Marbacka (Greta Andersen, 1996).
  • The Ring trilogy:
    • Löwensköldska ringen (1925). Translated as The General's Ring (Francesca Martin, 1928) and The Lövensköld Ring (Linda Schenck, 1991)
    • Charlotte Löwensköld (1925). Translated as Charlotte Löwenskölds (V.S. Howard)
    • Anna Svärd (1928).
  • Mors porträtt och andra berättelser (1930)
  • Ett barns memoarer (1930; memoir). Translated as Memories of My Childhood (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 (Florence and Naboth Hedin, 1935)
  • Julberättelser (1936)
  • Från skilda tider: efterlämnade skrifter (1943-45).

Works about Selma Lagerlöf

  • 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

See also


  1. ^ H. G. L. (1916), "Miss Lagerlöf at Marbacka", in Henry Goddard Leach, The American-Scandinavian review, 4, American-Scandinavian Foundation, p. 36 
  2. ^ Munck, Kerstin (2002), "Lagerlöf, Selma",, 
  3. ^ Zaun-Goshen, Heike (2002), Times of Change, 
  4. ^ "Literature 1909",,, retrieved 6 March 2010 
  5. ^ Gunther, Ralph (2003), "The magic zone: sketches of the Nobel Laureates", Scripta Humanistica 150: 36, ISBN 1882528409 
  6. ^ "Selma Lagerlöf - Bibliography",,, retrieved 6 March 2010 
  7. ^ "Selma Lagerlöf", Books and Writers,, retrieved 6 March 2010 


  • Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History from Antiquity to World War II. Routledge; London. 2002. ISBN 0-415-15983-0. 

External links


Works online

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

Succeeded by
Hjalmar Gullberg


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