Authors: Selma Lagerlöf

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Swedish novelist

Identity: Gay or bisexual

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Gösta Berlings saga, 1891 (The Story of Gösta Berling, 1898; also known as Gösta Berling’s Saga, 1918)

Antikrists mirakler, 1897 (The Miracles of Antichrist, 1899)

Jerusalem I: I Dalarne, 1901 (Jerusalem, 1915)

Jerusalem II: I det heliga landet, 1902 (The Holy City: Jerusalem II, 1918)

Herr Arnes penningar, 1904 (The Treasure, 1925)

En saga om en saga, 1908 (The Girl from the Marshcroft, 1910)

Liljecronas hem, 1911 (Liliecrona’s Home, 1914)

Körkarlen, 1912

Kejsaren av Portugallien, 1914 (The Emperor of Portugallia, 1916)

Bannlyst, 1918 (The Outcast, 1922)

Löwensköldska ringen, 1925-1928 (collective title for the following 3 novels; The Ring of the Löwenskölds: A Trilogy, 1928)

Löwensköldska ringen, 1925 (The General’s Ring, 1928)

Charlotte Löwensköld, 1925 (English translation, 1928)

Anna Svärd, 1928 (English translation, 1928)

Höst, 1933 (Harvest, 1935)

Short Fiction:

Osynliga länkar, 1894 (Invisible Links, 1899)

Drottningar i Kungahälla, 1899 (From a Swedish Homestead, 1901; also in The Queens of Kungahälla and Other Sketches, 1917)

Kristuslegender, 1904 (Christ Legends, 1908)

Troll och människor, 1915, 1921 (2 volumes)


Zachris Topelius, 1920

Mårbacka, 1922 (English translation, 1924)

Ett barns memoarner, 1930 (Memories of My Childhood, 1934)

Dagbok, Mårbacka III, 1932 (The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf, 1936)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige, 1906-1907 (2 volumes; The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, 1907, and The Further Adventures of Nils, 1911)


By the last decade of the nineteenth century, Swedish literature was following the lead of the realistic movement. The style and subject matter had been set by Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Émile Zola, and serious artists were seeking ways to express the latest scientific discoveries in literary form. Into this cultural situation came a woman whose sensibility had been shaped by the folk legends of agrarian Sweden and who was not at all concerned with demonstrating scientific truths in literature. With The Story of Gösta Berling, Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf (LAH-gur-lurv) began a long career as Sweden’s leading Romantic novelist.{$I[AN]9810001495}{$I[A]Lagerlöf, Selma}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Lagerlöf, Selma}{$I[geo]SWEDEN;Lagerlöf, Selma}{$I[geo]GAY OR BISEXUAL;Lagerlöf, Selma}{$I[tim]1858;Lagerlöf, Selma}

Selma Lagerlöf

(©The Nobel Foundation)

One of a large family, Selma, born at Mårbacka on November 20, 1858, was a sickly child. At the age of three she was stricken with a disease, possibly poliomyelitis, that left her lame for the rest of her life. Unable to play with the other children, she read all the books on her father’s large estate and absorbed the folk legends of Värmland from her grandmother and the servants. At fifteen she began to write poetry; at twenty-two she went to Stockholm to study for a teaching career. In 1882 she entered the Royal Women’s Superior Training Academy and in 1885 began teaching at a girls’ school at Landskroiva in Skåne.

Thinking about the legends of her Värmland home, in 1890 she began writing The Story of Gösta Berling in her spare time. She reworked the material many times, even experimenting with a poetic version, but finally modeled her style on the Romantic rhetoric of Thomas Carlyle, whose work she admired. When she learned that the literary magazine Idun was holding a competition, she entered her five completed chapters and won first prize. Soon after, the novel was published and had a resounding success; it broke all the rules of realistic writing, but it tapped the interest of the Swedish people in their immediate past. (A film version starring Greta Garbo brought both women a new level of fame.)

Her next book, Invisible Links, was successful enough to allow her to support herself by writing. She left teaching in 1895 and began to travel on a grant arranged for her by King Oscar and Prince Eugene. Lagerlöf toured the Near East in 1900 and in Jerusalem met a group of Dalecarlian peasants who had gone there in order to live like the first Christians. Attracted by their idealism, she wrote Jerusalem, a two-volume novel centering on the conflicts experienced by the members of a religious sect who decide to move from Sweden to Jerusalem. The novel’s sweeping scope and fine characterizations made Lagerlöf world famous.

When the National Teachers’ Association commissioned her to write a group of stories telling of the folklore and geography of the various areas of Sweden, she produced the folk-fantasy known in translation as The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, a textbook that has become an enduring children’s classic. Her trilogy, The Ring of the Löwenskölds, also had a great international success. It is a study of inherited character traits which are destroying a family until the curse is removed by a peasant girl.

Lagerlöf’s own values were firmly rooted in the Värmland earth. A lesbian living in an unaccepting age, she lived most of her life at Mårbacka, the family manor, and cared for the tenant farmers until her death. In 1909 she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and in 1914 the first woman to become a member of the Swedish Academy. The two world wars affected her deeply; she donated her Nobel gold medal to the Finnish defense fund shortly before her death in 1940.

BibliographyBerendsohn, Walter A. Selma Lagerlöf: Her Life and Work. London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1931. An early study still valuable for situating Lagerlöf in her homeland and ancestry. Berendsohn explains the development of Gösta Berling’s Saga and Lagerlöf’s handling of folklore and legend.De Vrieze, F. S. Fact and Fiction in the Autobiographical Works of Selma Lagerlöf. Assen, the Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1958. Greatly illuminates Lagerlöf’s two volumes of autobiography.Edstrom, Vivi. Selma Lagerlöf. Boston: Twayne, 1984. An introductory study offering chapters of “biographical perspective,” discussions of Lagerlöf’s stories and short novels, the novels of the 1910’s, the Löwensköld trilogy, and Lagerlöf and the role of the writer. Includes a chronology, notes, and a bibliography.Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971. Still cited as a classic introduction to Lagerlöf. A wide-ranging discussion.Johannesson, Eric O. “Isak Dinesen and Selma Lagerlöf.” Scandinavian Studies 32 (1960): 18-26. A succinct comparison of two great novelists.Lagerroth, Erland. “The Narrative Art of Selma Lagerlöf: Two Problems.” Scandinavian Studies 33 (1961): 10-17. One of the few discussions in English of Lagerlöf’s narrative technique.Nylander, Lars T. “Psychologism and the Novel: The Case of Selma Lagerlöf’s Gösta Berlings saga.” Scandinavian Studies 67 (Fall, 1995): 407-433. A more recent analysis.Olson-Buckner, Elsa. The Epic Tradition in “Gösta Berling’s Saga.” New York: Theodore Gans, 1979. An in-depth study.Popp, Danie, and E. C. Barksdale. “Selma Lagerlöf: The Taleteller’s Fugues.” Scandinavian Studies 53 (1981): 405-412. A good discussion of structural principles in Lagerlöf’s fiction.Rahn, Suzanne. Rediscoveries in Children’s Literature. New York: Garland, 1995. A study of The Wonderful Adventure of Nils and The Further Adventures of Nils.St. Andrews, Bonnie. Forbidden Fruit: On the Relationship Between Women and Knowledge in Doris Lessing, Selma Lagerlöf, Kate Chopin, and Margaret Atwood. Troy, N.Y.: Whitston, 1986. An analysis of ethics in Lagerlöf’s work as well as in three later twentieth century female novelists.
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