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 woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which she was awarded in 1909. Additionally, she was the first woman to be granted a membership in the Swedish Academy in 1914.
Born at Mårbacka 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). Lagerlöf was the couple's fifth child out of six.
She was a really 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. In 1868, at the age of 10, 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. 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.
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, while honing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child.
In 1894, she met the Swedish writer Sophie Elkan, who became her friend and companion. 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).
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.
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.
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.
Books by Selma Lagerlof
The Story of Gosta Berling
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...
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (orig. Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige; literally Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey across Sweden) is a work of fiction by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf, the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize...
Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness!
Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness! 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...
From a Swedish Homestead
It is the story of how a young orphan girl, Ingrid, is the instrument of saving the student Gunnar Hede, who has lost his wits and memory by a terrible experience, trying to save his home, his Country House, and who wanders the roads as a Pedlar, bu...
Invisible Links (Osynliga länkar) is a collection of short stories with an underlying theme about the links that influence and guide people’s actions and lives. It was first published in 1894 and the English translation in 1895. The stories are ofte...
The Emperor of Portugallia
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...
It tells the story of a young man named Gösta Berling who, after being fired from his job as a pastor, finds himself embroiled in a series of adventures and misadventures that ultimately lead him to discover a great treasure. Set in the rural countr...