Selma Lagerlöf – Nobel Prize winner of 1909
More than 120 years after her debut novel The Saga of Gösta Berling (1891), Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940) continues to fascinate and amaze. Not only was she a famous author, who’s works were read worldwide – she was also the first woman to win the Noble Prize of Literature (1909), to become a member of the Swedish Academy (1914) and to be promoted as a doctor of honour at a Swedish University (Uppsala University 1907).
At the age of 32, Lagerlöf’s novel The Saga of Gösta Berling was published. It was set in the region of Värmland and established a new romantic way of writing in Sweden. The book favoured fantasy and beauty in contrast to realism that dominated literature in the 1880ies. Not an instant success, it was eventually praised by the Georg Brandes, the leading critic of Scandinavia. Lagerlöf’s breakthrough at large though was her collection of short stories, Osynliga länkar (1894). It was followed up by The Miracles of Antichrist (1897), a politically oriented novel set in Sicily, and the short novel A Tale of a Manor (1899), which through a complicated love story posed questions of creativity and insanity.
The epic story Jerusalem (1901–1902) was maybe Lagerlöf’s greatest success. It depicted the rise of a religious movement in the region of Dalarna. Under the spell of a charismatic leader a group of peasants break out of society and emigrated to Jerusalem.
Still read in schools today, the gothic crime novel The Treasure was published in 1904, and in 1906–1907 The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, Lagerlöf’s groundbreaking geography schoolbook, came out. After receiving the Noble Prize in 1909, Lagerlöf kept up the pace. She published seven more novels, among them the ghost story Thy Soul Shall Bear Witness (1912); a touching novel about a let down father –The Emperor of Portugallia (1914) – and the trilogy of the Löwensköld family (1925–1928), again set in Värmland. In the thirties the last part of Lagerlöf’s autobiography was published.
Lagerlöf’s works have been translated to more than 50 languages and were early transformed into theatre, opera and film – for instance the world famous silent movie The Phantom Carriage (1921) and Gösta Berling’s Saga (1924), starring Greta Garbo.
Selma Lagerlöf was raised at the farm Mårbacka in Värmland. When her father went bankrupt, the farm was sold. In time Lagerlöf was able to buy Mårbacka back. She moved there, kept running the farm and even owned a gas station.
Lagerlöf was interested in politics and was a voice for peace all her life. She was active as a local politician, as well as in the women's rights movement. When Swedish women got the right to vote in 1919, Lagerlöf gave the official speech.
Selma Lagerlöf died at Mårbacka the 16th of March, 1940. Through new translations and different kinds of media and art forms, her work is still spread today. New research about the authorship is performed continuously and at the moment a digital Selma Lagerlöf archive, which includes a scholarly edition of her works, is under construction.
Selma Lagerlöf-sällskapet (The Selma Lagerlöf Society)Selma Lagerlöf-sällskapet was established in 1958, a 100 years after the birth of the author. It’s purpose is to promote research about Selma Lagerlöf and publish writings,which shred light over her life and authorship. Several publications have been published throughout the years. The number of members is at the moment (2012) about 800.
Recently Selma Lagerlöf-sällskapet has made efforts to increase the knowledge of Selma Lagerlöf to new readers by offering talks to different movements, arranging local activities, participating in book fares, restructuring the webpage and so on.
Of great importance is the ongoing project to create a digital, open access Selma Lagerlöf archive, which was initiated by Selma Lagerlöf-sällskapet. The archive will contain manuscripts, letters, reviews, photographs, press material, and, not least, a scholarly edition of Selma Lagerlöf’s works.