Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Lagerlöf was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature (1909) and the first woman to be elected to the Swedish Academy (1914). During her lifetime, she was loved throughout the world because of both her gift for storytelling and her idealism, which was a welcome change from the pessimistic realism dominating her period. Since her death, she also has been increasingly recognized as a preserver of the folkways and traditions of rural Sweden.
Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf was born at Mårbacka in rural Värmland, Sweden, on November 20, 1858, the fourth of five children. Her father, a navy officer, and her mother often read to the children, old sagas, for example, and the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen. From travelers, from workmen, from an old housekeeper, from an aunt, and above all, from her grandmother, Lagerlöf heard folktales and legends told with such convincing detail that the children could not deny their truth.
When she was three, Lagerlöf was paralyzed, evidently by an attack of infantile paralysis. Although she later became able to walk again, she was lame throughout her life. In an attempt to find a cure, she was sent for two winters to relatives in Stockholm. There she saw the world of power and fashion, so unlike Mårbacka; there, too, in her uncle’s library, she discovered the great romantic writer Sir Walter Scott, whose fascination...
(The entire section is 2337 words.)
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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.
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...
(The entire section is 622 words.)
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf was born on November 20, 1858, at Mårbacka in Värmland, Sweden. Her parents, both members of aristocratic families, had moved to the estate of Mårbacka after Selma’s father, Lieutenant Erik Gustav Lagerlöf, had failed to inherit the important post of Regimental Paymaster from his father. Lieutenant Lagerlöf became a gentleman farmer with many progressive ideas, few of which proved practical. Lack of success at farming seemed relatively unimportant to the Lieutenant, who, according to various memoirs, was a true son of the gay-hearted Värmland gentry. Among other celebrations held at Mårbacka, Lieutenant Lagerlöf’s annual birthday party, enlivened by pageants, theatricals, poetry recitations, dancing, and singing, became a social affair famous throughout the province. Adolph Noreen, later a noted philologist, attended some of these holiday affairs at Mårbacka and remembers how Lieutenant Lagerlöf, in his office as host, made everyone feel “what an unspeakable happiness [it was] just to live!” Selma herself, as her fiction widely attests, shared this exuberant perspective. Her father’s character plays a part in her creation of the cavaliers in Gösta Berling’s Saga.
As a child, the future writer was more aware of such doings than other children because she was more observer than participant. At the age of four, the little girl had been stricken by a paralysis that left her lame, although she...
(The entire section is 905 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf (LAH-gur-lurv) was born at Mårbacka in Värmland, Sweden, on November 20, 1858, the daughter of Lieutenant Erik Gustav Lagerlöf, member of a landed family, and Louisa Wallroth Lagerlöf, whose father was a well-off ironmonger. Selma was the fourth of five children. The large Lagerlöf household also included an aunt and a beloved grandmother, who was always telling stories to the children gathered around her. Although Selma was only five when her grandmother died, she was to write of that loss as the profoundest sorrow of her life.
At three, Selma was struck by what was probably infantile paralysis. For some months, she was unable to walk, and despite two periods of therapy in Stockholm, she was permanently lame.
In most respects, however, Selma’s childhood was a happy one. She had the affection of her parents, the companionship of her brothers and sisters, and the friendship of an appealing young governess. Encouraged by her father, Selma spent a good deal of time reading. She also liked to wander around the estate, responding to its natural beauty, learning about country life and country people, and hearing the legends of Värmland which were to inspire her works.
At the age of seven, Selma announced her intention of becoming an author. Before long, she was telling stories to others, just as...
(The entire section is 875 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Selma Lagerlöf broke free of the literary conventions of her era to write works that she believed reflected country life as she knew it. Her rural characters may depend for their survival on hard work in the everyday world, but they are keenly aware of the power of the unseen, the supernatural, the spiritual.The lasting popularity of Lagerlöf can be attributed in part to her skill as a storyteller, as seen in her accuracy in the minutest matters, in her adeptness in plotting, and in her ability to develop vivid characters. Her works are also valued because of their underlying optimism. When many writers lament that life is meaningless, it is refreshing to read about human beings who, despite their shortcomings, can be transformed and redeemed through the efforts of a merciful God.
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Lagerlöf was born on November 20, 1858, on her family’s farm estate, Mårbacka, in the province of Värmland, Sweden. She was tutored at home, where she also heard many legends and folk tales from her family—most notably her paternal grandmother. An avid reader, Lagerlöf also composed her own poetry, which she read at community events. At a wedding in 1881, Eva Fryxell, a well-known feminist, heard one of Lagerlöf’s verses and encouraged the young writer to dedicate her talent to women’s causes. As a result, Lagerlöf attended the Royal Women’s Superior Training College in Stockholm, Sweden, where she studied teaching. In 1885, her father died, leaving many debts, so Lagerlöf’s beloved Mårbacka was sold. The same year, she began teaching secondary school for girls, devoting her free time to many social causes, while writing at night.
In 1891, Lagerlöf published her first novel, Gösta Berlings Saga. The book did not receive much attention until it was translated into Danish the following year, at which point an influential Danish critic helped to make it both a critical and popular success. To this day, it remains one of her most acclaimed works. In 1894, she published her first collection of short stories, Osynliga Länkar— translated into English as Invisible Links (1899). She received writing grants from both the Swedish royal family and the Swedish Academy and left teaching to become a full-time writer. During...
(The entire section is 499 words.)