Cover art (2012) from LibriVox
Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! (Swedish: Körkarlen) is a 1912 novel by the Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf. It was translated into English by William Frederick Harvey in 1921.Lagerlöf was commissioned to write it by a Swedish association as a means of public education about tuberculosis ("consumption"). It has been dramatized for the screen twice in Sweden and once in France, under various English titles of The Phantom Carriage, The Phantom Chariot, The Stroke of Midnight, and Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness.
The novel is set in a small town in Sweden at the beginning of the 20th century. Edith, a young "Slum Sister" (social worker) in the service of the Salvation Army is on her death bed dying of "consumption" (tuberculosis). She requests that before she dies, she would like to again see David Holm, one of her charges. It becomes apparent that the two have a special relationship. A year earlier, he was the first patron of the newly opened social welfare house that Edith had founded. He also had infected her at the time with tuberculosis after she stayed up all night mending his torn and infected coat. Over the next year Edith wanted to help him, but he was a violent alcoholic and always cruelly rejected her. This only increased her resolve and Edith developed a deep love for David. Edith then learned David is married with children, but they had to leave home because David was so violent. Edith persuades David's wife to return home, but they are treated worse than ever by David. This makes Edith feel guilty, as David threatens to deliberately infect his children with TB. On her death bed, Edith now wants to try one last time to put things in order.
Meanwhile, David is sitting in the park with drinking buddies and telling them a horrible story about the coachman of death - as it happens, the last person to die each year is recruited by Death incarnate to travel for the next year picking up the souls of the dead in the Phantom Carriage. David heard this story from his friend George, who died last year on New Year's Eve. After more drinking, David gets into a fight with his companions, is hit in the chest and suffers a hemorrhage (a complication of TB) and falls lifeless to the ground. At the same moment the clock strikes midnight. None other than David's old friend George then appears in the Phantom Carriage. David now has to replace George and serve as the driver for a year of death. When David refuses, Georges binds him and throws him into the death cart.
Now a ghostly apparition, George takes David to see the people that David loved most and whom he has most harmed. First they visit the dying Edith. When David learns that Edith has loved him, he softens and falls to his knees in front of Edith. Edith can now die in peace, and Georges commands her soul from her body. David and Georges then go to a prison in which David's younger brother is incarcerated. The brother had been led astray by David, starting with drinking alcohol and then committing a murder. Now, David's brother is dying of TB. The brother regrets that he his failed to fulfill a promise he once made to a sick child to see the ocean. David vows that he will fulfill his brother's promise, and so David's brother dies in peace. Finally, George and David go to David's wife. She has decided to kill herself and the children, life with David is no longer tolerable and she sees no way out. David feels love for his children for the first time in his life. David pleads with George to allow his soul to return to his body so that he may stop his wife from killing herself and the children. This Georges does and David redeems himself to his wife in a tear filled reunion. Georges will serve another year as driver to the dead. David prays the New Year's prayer that he has learned from George, God, let my soul come to maturity before being harvested.
Selma Lagerlöf was commissioned by a Swedish association to write an essay on tuberculosis ("consumption") and its control. Lagerlöf had a personal interest in the disease; her older sister Anna and their young child had it. Before the invention of antibiotics, tuberculosis was widespread and feared, public education was important. Since Lagerlöf could better express herself in a narrative way, rather than a treatise, she proposed to write the novel Körkarlen.
Lagerlöf built into the structure of the novel lessons on how to avoid contracting the disease. She includes scenes of the consequences of coughing in public, hygiene and sterilization of clothing. More so than in her earlier works, she deals with concrete social ills of the day - alcoholism, domestic violence. Her experiences of social deprivation as a young teacher in the southern Swedish town of Landskrona help inform the novel. However far from a novel of social realism, her characters take on mythic qualities, David Holm is a personification of evil.
In contrast to the concrete social ills is the story of a ghostly carriage of death and its rider. In none of the works of Selma Lagerlöf is the role of the supernatural so dominant as in Körkarlen. In a letter to Sophie Elkan, Selma Lagerlöf wrote that in the evening, when she was alone in her room working on the novel, she sometimes had the feeling that only a thin curtain separated her from the other world. This feeling is a basic motif of Körkarlen.
Edith Irene Södergran was a Swedish-speaking Finnish poet. One of the first modernists within Swedish-language literature, her influences came from French Symbolism, German expressionism, and Russian futurism. At the age of 24 she released her first collection of poetry entitled Dikter ("Poems"). Södergran died at the age of 31, having contracted tuberculosis as a teenager. She did not live to experience the worldwide appreciation of her poetry, which has influenced many lyrical poets. Södergran is considered to have been one of the greatest modern Swedish-language poets, and her work continues to influence Swedish-language poetry and musical lyrics, for example, in the works of Mare Kandre, Gunnar Harding, Eva Runefelt and Eva Dahlgren.
Victor David Sjöström, sometimes known in the United States as Victor Seastrom, was a pioneering Swedish film director, screenwriter, and actor. He began his career in Sweden, before moving to Hollywood in 1924. Sjöström worked primarily in the silent era; his best known films include The Phantom Carriage (1921), He Who Gets Slapped (1924), and The Wind (1928). Sjöström was Sweden's most prominent director in the "Golden Age of Silent Film" in Europe. Later in life, he played the leading role in Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957).
Lillian Gertrud Asplund was one of the last three living survivors of the sinking of RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. She was the last American survivor, and also the last survivor with actual memories of the disaster.
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.
The Phantom Carriage is a 1921 Swedish fantasy film generally considered to be one of the central works in the history of Swedish cinema. Released on New Year's Day 1921, it was directed by and starred Victor Sjöström, alongside Hilda Borgström, Tore Svennberg and Astrid Holm. It is based on the novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!, by Nobel prize-winning Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf.
Anita Björk was a Swedish actress.
Hilda Teresia Borgström was a Swedish stage and film actress.
The Image Makers is a 2000 Swedish television play directed by Ingmar Bergman and written by Per Olov Enquist. The drama is set in the year 1920 at Filmstaden where the film director Victor Sjöström is shooting the film The Phantom Carriage, an adaptation of Selma Lagerlöf's novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! Accompanied by actress Tora Teje and film photographer Julius Jaenzon, he has now invited the book's author to take a first look at some early scenes.
Monica Ingeborg Elisabeth "Mona" Mårtenson was a Swedish film actress. She appeared in 28 films between 1923 and 1949. She was born and died in Stockholm, Sweden.
Julius Jaenzon was a Swedish cinematographer, essential in the early Swedish silent cinema. He is most known for his collaborations with directors Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller, particularly in adaptions of novels by Selma Lagerlöf. Especially the accuracy with which he mastered the double exposure, for example in The Phantom Carriage, was much admired at the time.
The Lass from the Stormy Croft is a 1917 Swedish drama film directed by Victor Sjöström, based on the 1908 novella with the same title by Selma Lagerlöf. It was the first in a series of successful Lagerlöf adaptions by Sjöström, made possible by a deal between Lagerlöf and A-B Svenska Biografteatern to adapt at least one Lagerlöf novel each year. Lagerlöf had for many years denied any proposal to let her novels be adapted for film, but after seeing Sjöström's Terje Vigen she finally decided to give her consent.
Catharina Fredrika Limnell née Forssberg, was a Swedish philanthropist, mecenate, feminist and salonist.
Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf 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.
The Phantom Carriage is a 1958 Swedish horror film directed by Arne Mattsson. It was entered into the 9th Berlin International Film Festival. It is based on the Selma Lagerlöf novel Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! and is a remake of the 1921 film.
Mårbacka is a mansion in Sunne Municipality in Värmland, Sweden. Author Selma Lagerlöf was born and raised at Mårbacka.
The Emperor of Portugallia is a novel by Nobel-laureate Selma Lagerlöf, published in 1914 with drawings by Albert Engström. Lagerlöf called it a "Swedish King Lear". The novel was a success with critics and readers, newspaper reviewers said the novel was at the same level as Lagerlöf's earlier novels Gösta Berling's Saga and the first part of Jerusalem. It has been filmed three times: 1925, 1944 and 1992. An English translation by Velma Swanston Howard was published in 1916.
Jerusalem is a novel by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, published in two parts in 1901 and 1902. The narrative spans several generations in the 19th century, and focuses on several families in Dalarna, Sweden, and a community of Swedish emigrants in Jerusalem. It is loosely based on a real emigration that took place from the parish of Nås in 1896.
Olof Teodor "Tore" Svennberg was a Swedish actor and theatre director whose career spanned more than five decades.
Sophie Elkan, née Salomon, was a Swedish-Jewish writer and translator. A street in Gothenburg, Sophie Elkans gata, is named after her.
Astrid Holm was a Danish theater and film actress whose career began on the stage and in the early silent film era.