In 1909 Swedish novelist Selma Lagerlöf became the first female Nobel Laureate for Literature. We examine this remarkable women’s life and work.
Novelist Selma Lagerlöf, who in 1909 became the first woman and first Swedish writer to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature, enjoyed telling stories. Drawing richly from life in her native Värmland and inspired by her beloved Nordic legends, her work was the romantic answer to the dominant Swedish realism of her time. Lagerlöf’s internationally best-known book is the story of restless Nils Holgersson, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, a geography book for school children that conquered the hearts of adventurers of all ages.
Lagerlöf was born and raised in the family home of Mårbacka, in the vast province of Värmland in southern Sweden, the fifth child of Erik Gustav Lagerlöf, a retired army officer and Louise Wallroth, who came from a family of clergymen. Lagerlöf’s disciplined and spiritual upbringing gave her a strong sense of ethos, but it was her paternal grandmother’s fairy tales and stories that had the biggest effect on young Selma. Growing up in her grandmother’s care, Lagerlöf’s imagination was nurtured by local legends and stories about the glorious past of her homeland, which was the setting of many historical battles and a world of powerful musical and literary traditions.
Lagerlöf, who had been writing poetry ever since she was a child, left the family estate in 1880 to pursue higher learning at the Royal Women’s Superior Training Academy in Stockholm. She graduated as a teacher in 1882 and worked for several years at a girl’s school in the coastal city of Landskrona.
Lagerlöf had a strong political conscience and was deeply saddened by the atrocities of World War I. She helped Jewish writer Nelly Sachs escape Nazi persecution and travel to Sweden. She also donated her Nobel medal to support the Finnish fight against the Soviet Union.
Lagerlöf’s family house in Mårbacka was transformed, according to her wish, into a memorial estate open to the public for guided visits, where you can learn all about the author and her lifetime of achievements.
By Margarita Akritidou
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