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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 700

When Dagbok for Selma Lagerlöf was published in 1932, it was supposed by many to be a juvenile work of the famous author, composed week by week during the period from January to May of 1873, as the careful dating of the passages suggests. The naive tone, the simple diction, and the frequent use of the present tense, alternating with an immediate past, all strengthened this impression. Critics who were familiar with her novels, however, sensed that in this autobiographical work the seventy-four-year-old Selma Lagerlöf was simply adopting the persona of her past self, as in her novels she had frequently adopted the persona of a young and innocent fictional character. While the characters of The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf were real and the events of the book had actually taken place sixty years before, the author was not publishing a long-lost book but instead writing a book of recollections, which she had chosen to cast in this form.

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In order to write The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf, Lagerlöf had to do more than merely recall the events which began two months after her fourteenth birthday; in a sense, she had to become the person she had been so many years ago, with the same hopes and fears, the same certainties and uncertainties. The period which she recorded was a significant one in her life, for during these months Selma ventured forth from the security of the family estate, Mrbacka, to assess her character and her imagination while she was living in a distant city away from her immediate family.

Admittedly, this was not Selma’s first period away from home. Five years before, she had been sent to Stockholm for some months so that she could be treated for the same handicap which took her to Stockholm in 1873. The problem had developed in her childhood. When she was three, she had become partially paralyzed, and although eventually she improved enough so that she could walk, she was still lame. Her parents hoped that this second visit to the therapists in Stockholm might accomplish what her previous stay had not. Unfortunately, the daily treatments were not successful, and after four months, Selma returned to Mrbacka unimproved.

Although the 1873 trip to Stockholm was no more successful from a medical standpoint than the earlier visit, it evidently was far more significant in personal terms. For an adolescent girl, it was, if not a time of recovery, a time of discovery. Removed from quiet, secure Mrbacka, where little changed but the seasons, and thrust into the excitement of Stockholm, with its kaleidoscope of new scenes and new faces, young Selma acted, reacted, listened, observed, and reflected. By the time she left Stockholm, she had formulated a personal philosophy which was to guide her throughout life, and she had found the themes which were to be the basis for all of her later literary works.

The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf is organized into fourteen chapters. In the first chapter, Selma mentions her acquisition of a diary and promptly begins to use it, presenting a detailed account of her train ride to Stockholm, with her brother Daniel in charge. In this section, she sets up the conflicts to which she will refer throughout the book and even introduces a handsome young medical student, her brother’s friend, who will unknowingly provide the love interest throughout her entire account. In the eleven chapters of various lengths which follow, each of which treats one or two weeks, Lagerlöf subtly traces the conflicts which she has established, while seeming simply to narrate the events which are of particular interest to the diarist. The last two chapters are titled, in translation, “The Trip to Uppsala” and “A Messenger from Mrbacka.” The first, one of the two longest chapters in the book, describes a trip to the university town of Uppsala, where the girl’s infatuation, which has been fueled by her writer’s imagination, is abruptly ended. Finally, in the very brief concluding chapter, an aunt arrives from Mrbacka, almost like a messenger from Paradise, bringing with her the implicit reminder that in an ever-changing world, Selma can always return to her unchanging sanctuary.

Bibliography

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 100

Danielson, Larry W. “The Uses of Demonic Folk Tradition in Selma Lagerlöf’s Gosta Berlings saga,” in Western Folklore. XXXIV (July 3, 1975), pp. 187-199.

Edstrom, Vivi. Selma Lagerlöf, 1984. Translated by Barbara Lide.

Gustafson, Alrik. Six Scandinavian Novelists, 1940.

Johannesson, Eric O. “Isak Dinesen and Selma Lagerlöf,” in Scandinavian Studies. XXXII (February, 1960), pp. 18-26.

Pehrson, Elsa. “Glimpses from the Hidden Workshop of Selma Lagerlöf,” in The American Scandinavian Review. XXXIII (March, 1945), pp. 41-44.

Radzin, Hilda. “Idealism, Imagination, and Spiritual Perception in the Literary Work of Selma Lagerlöf,” in Folio: Papers on Foreign Language and Literature. XI (1978), pp. 129-135.

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