Selma Lagerlöf

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Selma Lagerlöf, painting by Carl Larsson , 1908Selma Lagerlöf signature.svg
Sculpture in Sunne

Audio file / audio sample Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf ? / i (bornNovember 20, 1858on GutMårbackain today'sSunnemunicipality,Värmland,Sweden; † March 16, 1940 there) was aSwedish writer. She is one of the most famous writers in the country; their works are part ofworld literature. In 1909 she was the first woman to receive theNobel Prize in Literatureand in 1914 she was the first woman to be admitted to theSwedish Academy. She wrote sacred, imaginative and native works as well as children's books. 1906/1907The wonderful journey of little Nils Holgersson with the wild geese was published, one of Selma Lagerlöf's most popular books.


Childhood and youth

Selma Lagerlöf was born in 1858 as the daughter of the landowner Lieutenant Erik Gustaf Lagerlöf. Her mother Louise Lagerlöf, née Wallroth, came from a wealthy family of merchants from Filipstad . Selma Lagerlöf's paternal grandparents, Daniel Lagerlöf, regimental clerk and estate manager, and Lisa Maja Lagerlöf, née Wennerwik, both came from pastor families. The Lisa Maja Lagerlöfs family also owned the Mårbacka estate, which had been passed on to the daughters of the family, who had all married a pastor ( parish conservation ), for three generations before the grandmother . Selma Lagerlöf's grandmother was the first not to become a pastor's wife. Selma Lagerlöf told the story of her paternal grandparents in Liljecrona's home .

Lagerlöf was the second youngest of six siblings. The oldest brother, Daniel, later became a doctor in Kungälv , the oldest sister Johanna Maria died before her third birthday, the second oldest brother, Johan, emigrated to America . Her parents' fourth child was Anna, who died young of tuberculosis - Selma Lagerlöf later dealt with tuberculosis in Nils Holgersson and Der Fuhrmann des Todes . Selma Lagerlöf also had a sister, Gerda, who was four years her junior and who was closest to her of all siblings. The sisters did not go to school like their brothers, but were tutored at home by governesses.

Lagerlöf was born with a hip problem that is described in various places as being of varying severity. On the one hand, in her autobiographical work From My Childhood , she describes how she pleaded in vain to her father not to have to go to the ball in Sunne because she could not dance. On the other hand, there have been statements from her that she was looking forward to a ball, and according to other testimonies she was hardly affected when playing with other children. When she was three years old, her legs were completely paralyzed after an illness, but later the paralysis disappeared again (an episode that she describes in Mårbacka ). When she was nine and then again when she was fourteen, Selma Lagerlöf received physiotherapy from Herman Sätherberg in Stockholm . A slight limp remained. Selma Lagerlöf consciously stylized her (slight) physical handicap in her autobiography: It was precisely her fate as an outsider - outsiders play an important role in Selma Lagerlöf's work, Jan i Skrolycka in The Emperor of Portugal - seemed to predestine her for the profession of a writer.

When the economic situation in Värmland deteriorated in the 1860s, the family estate was also affected. In the 1870s the situation got worse. Lagerlöf experienced this as a teenager, and she later processed the fear of losing her home in many plants. In 1890, after the death of her father and when Selma Lagerlöf no longer lived there, Mårbacka had to be sold because of debts.

Even as a young girl, Lagerlöf loved to read and was interested in the legends and stories of her homeland that she had heard from her father and grandmother. In the attic she liked to put on puppet plays that she had written herself. On the other hand, she showed no interest in housework and what was seen as suitable occupation for girls.

Education and employment

Against her father's wishes, Lagerlöf went to Stockholm in 1881 and attended a girls' high school until 1882. From 1882 to 1885 she trained as an elementary school teacher at the Royal College of Teachers in Stockholm. In 1885 the father died. In the same year, Lagerlöf took up a position as a primary school teacher in Landskrona . She carried out this activity until 1895.

During her time in Landskrona she wrote her first novel, Gösta Berling . The book was based on stories about the people of her homeland that she had heard as a child. In 1890 Lagerlöf won five chapters from the emerging novel in a short story competition organized by Idun magazine . The finished novel was finally published in 1891. However, it initially received mostly negative reviews and sold poorly. Contrary to Lagerlöf's original expectation, the income from the book was nowhere near enough to give up the teaching profession. It was only after an extremely positive review by the well-known Danish literary critic Georg Brandes in 1893 that Gösta Berling gradually gained acceptance in Sweden as well; today it is one of the most widely read Swedish books.

Freelance writer

Selma Lagerlöf, 1906. Photographer Anton Blomberg (1862–1936)

In 1895 Selma Lagerlöf gave up her job as a teacher and first made a long journey through southern Europe until 1896. The result of this journey was the novel The Miracles of the Antichrist . In 1897 Selma Lagerlöf moved to Falun in Dalarna , on the one hand because her sister Gerda asked her to do so, and on the other because Dalarna was considered the center of Swedish customs and folk culture. In the municipality of Nås near Falun, a group of farmers emigrated to Jerusalem in 1896 as a result of a religious revival to join an American sect. This made Selma Lagerlöf the subject of her novel Jerusalem  - next to Vilhelm Moberg's emigrant novels, the second great emigrant epic in Swedish literature. Immediately after its publication, the first volume of Jerusalem was a great success with both critics and audiences and marked Selma Lagerlöf's final breakthrough as a writer.

Selma Lagerlöf wrote her best-known book in 1906: Little Nils Holgersson's wonderful journey with the wild geese . This novel was commissioned by the Swedish Association of Elementary School Teachers and should be used as a reading book in schools. Nils Holgersson is the fantastic story of a fourteen-year-old boy who is turned into a pixie as a punishment for his viciousness - especially towards animals - and who travels with the wild geese all over Sweden, getting caught up in all kinds of moral conflicts. Nils Holgersson is an educational and development novel as well as a loving portrait of Sweden. The individual landscapes are presented, often in the form of legends and fairy tales, with current information from the time, for example about the economic and social development of Sweden, being interspersed . Nils Holgersson has been translated into more than 30 languages. The novel also gained importance when the new Swedish spelling was used for the first time in a literary work.

In 1907 Selma Lagerlöf was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy from Uppsala University . On December 10, 1909, Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, "on the basis of the noble idealism, the wealth of imagination and the soulful representation that characterize her poetry," as the reason stated. In 1914 Selma Lagerlöf was elected the first female member of the Swedish Academy . In 1928 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Greifswald .


Mårbacka, 2006
Selma Lagerlöf, 1909

On New Year's Day in 1908, Selma Lagerlöf bought the Mårbacka manor back. In 1910 she was able to buy back the land with the Nobel Prize money, and in 1914 she was finally able to double the land through new acquisitions.

Selma Lagerlöf ran agriculture and a factory for the production of oatmeal in Mårbacka and devoted a lot of time, energy and, last but not least, money to her estate. At the same time, however, the center of her life continued to be in Falun, where she had bought a small villa. After a minor renovation, which was completed in 1909, Selma Lagerlöf Mårbacka finally had it converted from 1921 to 1923 into a representative mansion in the historicizing style, which no longer had much in common with the modest red wooden house it had been before. Since then, Selma Lagerlöf has lived on Mårbacka all year round.

Selma Lagerlöf also published important novels after the Nobel Prize, including Liljecrona's Home in 1911 and The Emperor of Portugal in 1914 , two works in which she tells of her homeland and its people. Her last major novel project was the trilogy Die Löwenskölds published in 1925–1928 , which can be read as a story of a fateful curse and as a clairvoyant analysis of the narcissism of the central figure. A planned fourth volume never came about.

In her later years she wrote a three-part autobiography: Mårbacka , From my childhood days and Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf's diary , her last completed work. The autobiography is not a description of her own life in the conventional sense, but consists of stories from her childhood that serve a specific purpose: to present the background of her literary work.

Selma Lagerlöf became close friends with Sophie Elkan from 1884 , which lasted until her death in 1924. Around 1899 she met the schoolteacher Valborg Olander in Falun , from which a lifelong love relationship developed. Lagerlöf's letters to Elkan were published in 1990; In 2006 a collection of letters to Valborg Olander followed. Lagerlöf assures both friends of her love ("kärlek"), but while Elkan demands "hands off" before a meeting, Lagerlöf repeatedly speaks openly to Olander of her longing for physical tenderness, is happy about their "love letters" ("kärleksbrev") ) and calls her friend, who also helped her with editing manuscripts and taking care of correspondence, a “real writer's wife” (“en riktig författarhustru”). It is clear from both collections of letters that Elkan and Olander reacted jealously to each other. The editor of the letters to Olander, the literary scholar Ying Toijer-Nilsson, interprets them in her comment as an expression of a passionate love triangle that only ended with Elkan's death.

Selma Lagerlöf was asked in 1907 to take in a six-year-old boy named Nils Holgersson, whereby the coincidental name equality with Lagerlöf's novel hero was the reason that she was turned to. She was very committed to her foster son, even if her plans to raise him to be an intellectually educated person and a potential heir to Mårbacka failed. Nils Holgersson eventually became a construction worker, emigrated to America and was involved in the construction of many skyscrapers in Chicago .

Social and political engagement

Selma Lagerlöf 1914, portrait by Carl Larsson (1853–1919)

Selma Lagerlöf was particularly committed to women's issues. In 1911 she gave the highly acclaimed speech Hem och stat (“Home and State”) at an international women's congress in Stockholm , in which she described the “female” creation of the home, in which peace and security prevail, the “male” creation of power and Juxtaposed with a violent state. The fact that a world-famous woman, Nobel Prize laureate and landowner spoke who was denied the elementary civil right, namely the right to vote (women's suffrage was only introduced in Sweden in 1921), made the speech particularly explosive.

In 1922, Selma Lagerlöf donated signed copies of her books as a prize for a beauty contest at Stockholm's Dagblad . This photo competition was initiated by Herman Lundborg, who founded the Uppsala Racial Hygiene Institute in 1921/1922 and later sympathized with National Socialism. With this photo material Lundborg wanted to create an exhibition on the Swedish-Germanic image of man, but it never came about. Since there is no further evidence of contact between Lagerlöf and Lundborg after 1922, it is very questionable to what extent she sympathized with his political views.

In 1933 Selma Lagerlöf took part in a committee to rescue Jewish refugees from Germany. In 1940 she helped the German-Jewish writer Nelly Sachs to flee to Sweden and thus saved their lives. In her home parish Östra Ämtervik, she sat on the local council and was a member of the poor administration. Due to her popularity, Selma Lagerlöf received countless letters of petition and begging from home and abroad. She helped as best she could and often sent sums of money. Even during the crisis years in the Great Depression dismissed any workers, but put in Mårbacka even new one, to alleviate the plight of the people.

In order to support Finland financially during the Winter War of 1939, Selma Lagerlöf donated her golden Nobel Prize medal. In the midst of her efforts to help the war-torn people of Finland, Selma Lagerlöf died of a stroke in her home on March 16, 1940. She found her final resting place in Östra Ämtervik, Sunne municipality , Värmland .

Literary meaning


Selma Lagerlöf is often seen primarily as a writer who describes her homeland in Värmland. In fact, the portrayal of her homeland plays  a major role in her work - for example in Gösta Berling , Liljecronas Heim and Der Kaiser von Portugallien . Selma Lagerlöf saw it as a life's work to portray the way of life in her homeland and on the estate of her parents and thus preserve it for future generations.

The range of topics dealt with by Selma Lagerlöf goes far beyond that: A recurring motif in her work is the need to atone for guilt on the one hand and the reconciling and redeeming power of love on the other. Selma Lagerlöf was also very interested in human psychology and the description of mental states.

An important topic for Selma Lagerlöf is the home and the security and security it provides. In the novel Liljecrona's Home , this is already clear in the title. The model here, as in other works, is the parental estate Mårbacka, which is celebrated and consciously idealized as a model of a home. In Nils Holgersson you can also find a loving description of the estate on which Selma Lagerlöf grew up (in the chapter En liten herrgård ). In connection with the home, the threat to the home and the fear of losing the home are often discussed. In Gosta Berling this is addressed in several ways: Via the major's wife says she was not the only one who had experience of a loved home loss, and the horrors in the home will be sold at auction, are in Chapter Auctions på Björne described . The auction of the home court is also impressively presented in Jerusalem .

Another common theme is the female-male confrontation, archetypal, for example, in Mr. Arne's treasure . The soft, devoted, loving Elsalill encounters the cruel, vicious and devious Sir Archie and perishes here. At Selma Lagerlöf, it is often strong, capable and self-confident women who have to assert themselves against weak and incompetent men: from the majoress in Gösta Berling to Micaela Palmeri in The Miracles of the Antichrist and Karin Ingmarsdotter in Jerusalem to Charlotte Löwensköld and Anna Svärd This constellation recurs again and again in the Löwensköld trilogy.

Another frequently recurring theme is the problematic father-daughter relationship: Melchior Sinclaire and Marianne Sinclaire in Gösta Berling , Cavaliere Palmeri and Micaela Palmeri in The Miracles of the Antichrist , Pastors Lyselius and Maja Lisa Lyselius in Liljecronas Heim and Jan i Skrolycka and Klara Gulla in The Emperor of Portugal : These relationships are always characterized by intimate love, but also by serious conflicts.

Selma Lagerlöf also likes to deal with current events and developments at the time: In The Miracles of the Antichrist she tries to reconcile Christianity and socialism , in Jerusalem she deals with the decline of the authority of the Lutheran Swedish state church and the emergence of new popular movements, the holy life is a poignant pacifist Plea given the horrors of the First World War .


At first glance, Selma Lagerlöf's novels and stories appear naive and appear to be written in an ancient oral storytelling tradition. Her novels consist of individual chapters, each of which represents self-contained episodes. The introductory chapter of Jerusalem I, for example, Ingmarssönerna ("The Ingmar sons"), originally even functioned as an independent novella. Due to this style, Lagerlöf was often dismissed as "sagotant" (fairy tale aunt) and critics accused her of remaining too limited to regional themes and subjects.

It was only in the course of time that literary studies revealed how consciously Selma Lagerlöf worked with sophisticated narrative methods. This can be seen, for example, in the demanding construction of Jerusalem , where it combines seemingly disjointed individual chapters into a complex building, the basic structure of which is only gradually revealed, or in the clever change of narrative perspective in The Emperor of Portugal .

Behind the processing of myths and the emergence of supernatural powers one can see the attempt to fathom the complexity of the human psyche , which suggests an image of man that was entirely in keeping with Freud's time . In their sub- text, many of Lagerlöf's works deal with social upheavals and, in their questioning of the traditional gender relationship, are a precondition for contemporary social reality, so that Lagerlöf is now counted among the modern writers.

In Gösta Berling , Selma Lagerlöf writes in a lofty, exuberant, empathic tone, often with direct calls to the reader (example: O sena tiders barn!  - O children of later times!) In later works she changes her style and maintains a laconic, simple one , writing style reminiscent of the Icelandic saga.

A comparison of her literature with her private statements, for example in letters in which she writes naturally and informally, shows how artful her language is. “It is tough to be simple,” she once wrote. Selma Lagerlöf managed to create tension without stretching and to hold it out from the first to the last page.

In addition to novels, she has also written short stories , short stories and legends all her life . Once she ventured even a poem in Alexandrians , Slåtterkarlar på Ekolsund of Troll och människor I . The dramatic form, however, did not suit her. She herself edited her stories Dunungen and Mr. Arnes Schatz for the theater. Both plays were a failure with audiences and critics.


Statue of Nils Holgersson in Karlskrona , a work by Ralf Borselius
  • Gosta Berlings saga . Novel. 1891 ( Gösta Berling , 1896)
  • Osynliga länkar , short stories, 1894 (Invisible Gang)
  • Antikrists mirakler . Novel. 1897 (The Miracles of the Antichrist)
  • En herrgårdssägen. Novel. 1899 (a manor story)
  • Drottningar i Kungahälla. 1899 ( The Queens of Kungahälla . Novellas)
  • Jerusalem . Novel. 2 vols., 1901 and 1902 ( Jerusalem , 1902/03)
  • Mr. Arnes penningar . Narrative. 1904 (Mr. Arne's treasure)
  • Crystal legend. Stories. 1904 (Christ legends)
  • Nils Holgersson's underbara resa genom Sverige . Novel. 1906–1907 (The wonderful journey of little Nils Holgersson with the wild geese)
  • Liljecronas hem . Novel. 1911 (Liljecrona's homeland)
  • Körkarlen . Novel. 1912 ( Der Fuhrmann , published in German under the title Der Fuhrmann des Todes )
  • Kejsarn av Portugal . Novel. 1914 (The Emperor of Portugal)
  • Troll och masculine. Stories. 1915–21 (stories of trolls and humans)
  • Bannlyst . Novel. 1918 ( outlawed , published in German under the title Das heilige Leben )
  • Mårbacka . Memoirs. 1922 ( Mårbacka , 1923)
  • Romantic trilogy:
  • Ett barns memoarer . Memoirs. 1930 ( Memoirs of a Child , published in German under the title From my childhood days )
  • Dagbok for Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf . Memoirs. 1932 (Diary of Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf)
  • Höst. 1933 (autumn)
  • Från skilda tider. 1943-45, posthumously

Since January 1, 2011, the works (original Swedish texts) have been in the public domain .

Audio books

Film adaptations


“O children of later times! I have nothing new to tell you, only what is old and almost forgotten. I have had a say from the children's room, where the little ones sat on low stools around the storyteller with the white hair, or from the wood fire in the hut, where the male and female servants sat and talked while the steam seeped from their damp clothes and while they were Pulled knives from the leather sheath hung around the neck to smear butter on thick, soft bread, or from halls where old gentlemen sat in rocking chairs and, animated by the steaming punch, spoke of times gone by. "

- From: Gösta Berling


  • Angelika Nixel: The child of the century in the century of the child: on the origin of the fantastic story in Swedish children's literature (= Rombach Sciences. Nordica . Volume 3). Rombach, Freiburg im Breisgau 2002, ISBN 3-7930-9310-7 (dissertation University of Freiburg im Breisgau 2000).
  • Barbara Thoma: Selma Lagerlöf. Of wild geese and wild cavaliers. Römerhof Verlag, Zurich 2013, ISBN 978-3-905894-24-0 .
  • Claudia Eberhard-Metzger: I am a listener, a reteller. In: Charlotte Kerner (ed.): Madame Curie and her sisters. Women who got the Nobel Prize. Volume II . Beltz, Weinheim 1997, ISBN 3-407-80845-3 .
  • Göran Hägg: Den svenska literaturhistorien. Stockholm 1996 (in Swedish).
  • Holger Wolandt: Selma Lagerlöf. Värmland and the world. A biography. Urachhaus, Stuttgart 2015, ISBN 978-3-8251-7913-7 .
  • Janin Pisarek: Fantasy & Reality. Selma Lagerlöf for her hundred and sixtyth . In: fairytale mirror. Journal for international fairy tale research and fairy tale care, volume 30, issue 4/2018, pp. 30–44.
  • Rejo Rüster, Lars Westmann: Selma på Mårbacka. Stockholm 1996 (in Swedish).
  • Sibylle Schweitzer: Selma Lagerlöf. A bibliography . (= Writings of the Marburg University Library. Volume 51). Marburg University Library, Marburg 1990, ISBN 3-8185-0076-2 .
  • Vivi Edström: Selma Lagerlöf. Stockholm 2003, ISBN 91-27-09481-2 . (First edition 1984, Swedish).
  • Ying Toijer-Nilsson: En Riktig Författarhustru: Selma Lagerlöf Skriver Till Valborg Olander. Bonnier 2006.

Web links

Commons : Selma Lagerlöf  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Selma Lagerlöf  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Eva Helen Ulvros: Selma Lagerlof. In: Popular Historia. 12/2006. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  2. Maria Larsson Bergom: Selma + Valborg = sant? In: Aftonbladet . August 20, 2006. Retrieved January 13, 2011.
  3. Bosses Schön: Selma Lagerlöf sponsrade rasbiologisk skönhetstävling. ( Memento from March 5, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) (on Selma Lagerlöf's sympathies for "racial hygiene measures"; Swedish)
  4. Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf (1858–1940). ( Memento from January 26, 2015 in the Internet Archive )
  5. The grave of Selma Lagerlöf
  6. Annegret Heitmann: The breakthrough in modernity. In: Jürg Glauser (Hrsg.): Scandinavian literary history . JB Metzler, 2006, ISBN 3-476-01973-X .
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 9, 2006 .