Mårbacka is the first of three autobiographical volumes that are often classified as nonfiction. In all of them, however, Lagerlöf assumes a persona, so they also can be described as fictional works. The third of these books, The Diary of Selma Lagerlöf, was certainly a work of the imagination; in it, the seventy-year-old author pretended to be a fourteen-year-old girl, describing a visit to Stockholm and, even more important, confiding her thoughts and her feelings to her diary and to her readers. In Mårbacka, Lagerlöf maintains her distance in another way. Using the third person, rather than the first, she makes Selma Lagerlöf a character in a novel.
Lagerlöf divided Mårbacka into five sections, each of which represents a subject, rather than a chronological section. The first, “The Strömstad Journey,” is the closest to ordinary autobiography. In it, Lagerlöf describes Selma’s terror at being struck by paralysis and the subsequent expedition to the seashore when, either because of her treatment or through divine intervention, the child finds herself able to walk again. The second and third sections of the book are filled with family stories and legends. Then, in “The New Mårbacka,” Lagerlöf sympathetically describes Lieutenant Lagerlöf’s vain attempts to fulfill his father’s dreams for the estate. The final section, “Workdays and Fête Days,” recalls games and pranks, daily rituals and family celebrations, including the elaborate annual observation of the Lieutenant’s birthday.
Appropriately, the book ends with a touching postscript, written on the hundredth anniversary of her father’s birth, in which Selma Lagerlöf expresses the sense of loss she feels not only because so many people she loved are no longer living, but also because their way of life is gone forever. While it has been said that Mårbacka is more concerned with a place than with the author’s own life, in this collection of memories one can find not only many of her sources, but also the atmosphere and the attitudes that created Lagerlöf the writer.