Selma Lagerlöf

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Selma Lagerlöf
Selma Lagerlof.jpg
Selma Lagerlöf, 1909
BornSelma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf
(1858-11-20)20 November 1858
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Died16 March 1940(1940-03-16) (aged 81)
Mårbacka, Värmland, Sweden
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature

Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf ( /ˈlɑːɡərlɜːf/ , also US: /-lʌv,-ləv/ , [1] [2] Swedish:  [²sɛlːma ²lɑːɡɛˌɭøːv] ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ); 20 November 1858 – 16 March 1940) was a Swedish author and teacher. She published her first novel, Gösta Berling's Saga , at the age of 33. She was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she was awarded in 1909. Additionally, she was the first female to be granted a membership in The Swedish Academy in 1914. [3]

American English Set of dialects of the English language spoken in the United States

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. American English is considered to be the world's most influential dialect of English.

<i>Gösta Berlings Saga</i> literary work

Gösta Berling's Saga is the debut novel of Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf, published in 1891. It was made into a 1924 silent film directed by Mauritz Stiller starring Greta Garbo, Lars Hanson and Gerda Lundequist. A 1925 opera I cavalieri di Ekebù by Riccardo Zandonai was also based on it.

Nobel Prize in Literature One of the five Nobel Prizes established in 1895 by Alfred Nobel

The Nobel Prize in Literature is a Swedish literature prize that is awarded annually, since 1901, to an author from any country who has, in the words of the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, produced "in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". Though individual works are sometimes cited as being particularly noteworthy, the award is based on an author's body of work as a whole. The Swedish Academy decides who, if anyone, will receive the prize. The academy announces the name of the laureate in early October. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. On some occasions the award has been postponed to the following year, most recently in 2018.


Early life

Anna Ollson, Karlstad: Photograph of future writer Selma Lagerlof, taken in 1881 Selma Lagerlof in 1881.jpg
Anna Ollson, Karlstad: Photograph of future writer Selma Lagerlof, taken in 1881

Born at Mårbacka [4] (now in Sunne Municipality), an estate in Värmland in western Sweden, Lagerlöf was the daughter of Erik Gustaf Lagerlöf, a lieutenant in the Royal Värmland Regiment, and Louise Lagerlöf née Wallroth, whose father was a well-to-do merchant and a foundry owner (brukspatron). [5] Lagerlöf was the couple's fifth child out of six. She was born with a hip injury, which was caused by detachment in the hip joint. At the age of three and a half, a sickness left her lame in both legs, although she later recovered.

Mårbacka working life museum in Sunne Municipality, Sweden

Mårbacka is a mansion in Sunne Municipality in Värmland, Sweden. Author Selma Lagerlöf was born and raised at Mårbacka.

Sunne Municipality Municipality in Värmland County, Sweden

Sunne Municipality is a municipality in Värmland County in west central Sweden. Its seat is located in the town of Sunne.

Värmland Place in Svealand, Sweden

Värmland is a landskap in west-central Sweden. It borders Västergötland, Dalsland, Dalarna, Västmanland, and Närke, and is bounded by Norway in the west. Latin name versions are Varmelandia, Vermelandia, Wermelandia, Værmalandia, Værmolandia, Virmolandia and Vermillandia. Some of the Latinised forms show the origin of the name to come from the large local lake by the name of Värmeln ; others from the river name *Værma, the main outlet of said lake. The province was originally part of Götaland, and became part of Svealand in 1815.

She was a quiet child, more serious than others her age, with a deep love for reading. She was constantly writing poetry as a child, but did not publish anything officially until later in life. Her grandmother helped raise her, often telling stories of fairytales and fantasy. Growing up, she was plain and slightly lame, and an account stated that the cross-country wanderings of the majoress and Elisabet in The Saga of Gosta Berling could be the author's compensatory fantasies. [5]

As many other children of the upper class, the children of the family received their education at home, since the Volksschule system, compulsory education system, was not fully developed yet. Their teacher thus came to Mårbacka and the children received education in English, as well as French. Selma finished reading her first novel at the age of seven. The novel was Osceola by Thomas Mayne Reid. After completing the novel, Selma is said to have decided on becoming an author when she grew up. [6]


The German term Volksschule generally refers to compulsory education, denoting an educational institution every person is required to attend.

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

At the age of 10, 1868, Selma completed reading the Bible. At this time her father was very ill, and she hoped that God would heal her father if she read the Bible from cover to cover. Her father lived for another 17 years. In this manner, Selma Lagerlöf became accustomed to the language of Scripture from an early age.

Bible Collection of religious texts in Judaism and Christianity

The Bible is a collection of sacred texts or scriptures. Varying parts of the Bible are considered to be a product of divine inspiration and a record of the relationship between God and humans by Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and Rastafarians.

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. [7] Her father did not want Selma to continue an education, or remain involved with the women's movement.[ clarification needed ] Later in life, she would buy back her father's estate with the money she received for her Nobel Prize. [8] Lagerlöf lived there for the rest of her life. [9] She also completed her studies at the Royal Seminary to become a teacher the same year as her father died.

Royal Seminary building in Stockholm Municipality, Stockholm County, Sweden

The Royal Seminary, fully the Royal Advanced Female Teachers' Seminary, was a normal school in Stockholm, Sweden. It was active from 1861 until 1943. It was the first public institution of higher academic learning open to women in Sweden.


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, [10] while honing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child. She liked the teaching profession and appreciated her students. She had a talent for capturing the children's attention through telling them stories about the different countries about which they were studying or stories about Jesus and his disciples. During this period of her life, Selma lived with her aunt Lovisa Lagerlöf.

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 in the magazine Idun , and won a publishing contract for the whole book. At first, her writing only received mild reviews from critics. Once a popular male critic, Georg Brandes, gave her positive reviews of the Danish translation, her popularity soared. [11] She received financial support of Fredrika Limnell, who wished to enable her to concentrate on her writing. [12]

Sophie Elkan (right) and Selma Lagerlof (left) Sophie Elkan & Selma Lagerlof.jpg
Sophie Elkan (right) and Selma Lagerlöf (left)

In 1894, she met the Swedish writer Sophie Elkan, who became her friend and companion. [13] Over many years, Elkan and Lagerlöf critiqued each other's work. Lagerlöf wrote that Elkan strongly influenced her work and that she often disagreed sharply with the direction Lagerlöf wanted to take in her books. Selma's letters to Sophie were published in 1993, titled Du lär mig att bli fri (You Teach me to be Free). [11]

Selma Lagerlof receives the Nobel Prize in Literature, illustration from Svenska Dagbladet, 11 December 1909. Selma Lagerlof nobel prize illustration.png
Selma Lagerlöf receives the Nobel Prize in Literature, illustration from Svenska Dagbladet, 11 December 1909.

A visit in 1900 to the American Colony in Jerusalem became the inspiration for Lagerlöf's book by that name. [14] The royal family and the Swedish Academy gave her substantial financial support to continue her passion. [15] Jerusalem was also acclaimed by critics, who began comparing her to Homer and Shakespeare, so that she became a popular figure both in Sweden and abroad. [3] 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. [16] 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.

In 1902, Lagerlöf was asked by the National Teacher's Association to write a geography book for children. She wrote Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige ( The Wonderful Adventures of Nils ), a novel about a boy from the southernmost part of Sweden, who had been shrunk to the size of a thumb and who travelled on the back of a goose across the country. Lagerlöf mixed historical and geographical facts about the provinces of Sweden with the tale of the boy's adventures until he managed to return home and was restored to his normal size. [7] The novel is one of Lagerlöf's most well-known books, and it has been translated into more than 30 languages. [17]

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. [18]

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 last flight from Germany to Sweden, and their lifelong asylum in Stockholm.

Literary adaptations

A street in Jerusalem, named for Lagerlof Selma Lagerlof.jpg
A street in Jerusalem, named for Lagerlöf

In 1919, Lagerlöf sold all the movie rights to all of her as-yet unpublished works to Swedish Cinema Theatre (Swedish : Svenska Biografteatern), 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. [19] 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

Selma Lagerlof on a 1959 postage stamp of the Soviet Union 1959 CPA 2284.jpg
Selma Lagerlöf on a 1959 postage stamp of the Soviet Union

On 10 December 1909, [20] Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination, and spiritual perception that characterize her writings", [21] but the decision was preceded by harsh internal power struggle within the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in literature. [22] 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 who supported her throughout her career. [7] 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. [10] In 1991, she became the first woman to be depicted on a Swedish banknote, when the first 20-kronor note was released. [23]

In 1907, she received the degree of doctor of letters from Uppsala University. [10] 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. [24] 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.

One of her stories, "The Rattrap", was included as a part of the Indian curriculum, for the students of class 12 CBSE in their Flamingo textbook.


Works by Selma Lagerlöf

Original Swedish-language publications are listed primarily. [25] [26]

The vogue for Lagerlöf in the United States was due in part to Velma Swanston Howard, or V.S. Howard (1868–1937, a suffragette and Christian scientist) [27] – who was an early believer in her appeal to Americans and who carefully translated many of her books. [10]

Works about Selma Lagerlöf

See also

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  1. "Lagerlöf". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  2. "Lagerlöf, Selma" (US) and "Lagerlöf, Selma". Oxford Dictionaries . Oxford University Press . Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  3. 1 2 Forsas-Scott, Helena (1997). Swedish Women's Writing 1850-1995. London: The Athlone Press. p. 63. ISBN   0485910039.
  4. H. G. L. (1916), "Miss Lagerlöf at Marbacka", in Henry Goddard Leach (ed.), The American-Scandinavian review, 4, American-Scandinavian Foundation, p. 36
  5. 1 2 Lagerlof, Selma; Schoolfield, George (2009). The Saga of Gosta Berling. New York: Penguin Classics. ISBN   9781101140482.
  6. "Selma Lagerlöf – författaren". Retrieved 18 October 2019.
  7. 1 2 3 "Selma Lagerlöf: Surface and Depth". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  8. "Selma Lagerlof | Swedish author". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  9. "Selma Lagerlöf - Facts -". Retrieved 24 September 2018.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Lagerlof, Ottilia Lovisa Selma"  . Encyclopedia Americana .
  11. 1 2 "Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf (1858–1940)". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  12. Lagerlof, Selma (2013). The Selma Lagerlof Megapack: 31 Classic Novels and Stories. Rockville: Wildside Press LLC. p. 20. ISBN   9781434443441.
  13. Munck, Kerstin (2002), "Lagerlöf, Selma", , archived from the original on 16 November 2007
  14. Zaun-Goshen, Heike (2002), Times of Change, archived from the original on 17 June 2010
  15. "Selma Lagerlöf – Biographical". Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  16. Wikisource-logo.svg Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Lagerlöf, Selma"  . Encyclopædia Britannica (12th ed.). London & New York.
  17. "100 år med Nils Holgersson" (PDF). Lund University Library. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
  18. Hedwall, Barbro (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)
  19. Furhammar, Leif (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.
  20. Lagerlöf, Selma (10 December 1909). "Banquet Speech". Nobel Prize. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  21. "Literature 1909",, retrieved 6 March 2010
  22. "Våldsam debatt i Akademien när Lagerlöf valdes". Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish). 25 September 2009.
  23. 20 Swedish Krona banknote 2008 Selma Lagerlöf. (20 April 2015)
  24. Gunther, Ralph (2003), "The magic zone: sketches of the Nobel Laureates", Scripta Humanistica, 150, p. 36, ISBN   1-882528-40-9
  25. "Selma Lagerlöf – Bibliography",, retrieved 6 March 2010
  26. Liukkonen, Petri. "Selma Lagerlöf". Books and Writers ( Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 26 January 2015.
  27. "Howard, Velma Swanston, 1868–1937". Library of Congress Authorities ( Retrieved 2019-09-30.


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