Pär Fabian Lagerkvist was born May 23, 1891, in Växjö, Sweden, to Anders Johan and Johanna (Blad) Lagerkvist, an orthodox Lutheran couple, who stressed religious training. In 1910, he matriculated at the University of Uppsala, where he briefly studied the humanities. Lagerkvist began his literary career with a novella, Människor. In 1913 he traveled to Paris, where he was influenced by the visual arts. He applied the boldness of Fauvism, the simplicity of Primitivism, and the contrasting perspectives of cubism to literature in his first critical essay, Ordkonst och bildkonst (1913; Literary Art and Pictorial Art, 1982).
In 1915 Lagerkvist moved to Denmark, where he remained throughout World War I, establishing his literary reputation with a volume of poetry, Ångest, which is considered the first expressionistic work in Swedish. In Copenhagen, he turned his literary attention to the theater and in 1918 married Karen Dagmar Johanne Sørensen. Returning to Stockholm, he became a drama critic for Svenska Dagbladet, writing his final review in June, 1919. Thereafter he sustained himself writing fiction.
Lagerkvist traveled a great deal during the 1920’s, especially to France and Italy, his pessimism dissipating as he observed Europe recovering from the war. His autobiographical novella Guest of Reality was published in 1925, the same year that he divorced his wife and married a Swedish widow, Elaine Luella Hallberg. In the 1930’s he became an outspoken critic of totalitarianism and fascism in such works as The Hangman. This work was revised as a play in 1934 and became the most significant Scandinavian play of the decade. His final collection of short stories, I den tiden, was published in 1935.
As Europe again became engulfed in war, Lagerkvist wrote his first mature novel, Dvärgen (1944; The Dwarf, 1945). His international reputation was established when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature following the publication of Barabbas. He continued writing allegorical novels until he suffered a stroke, passing away July 11, 1974.