Selma Lagerlöf is one of Sweden’s classic authors. She lived from 1858 to 1940 and worked as a teacher until the Swedish royal family persuaded her to give up teaching and supported her financially so she could develop her writing career. (Note to self: write to Queen and ask her to support me to give up teaching so I can write full-time).
Although she’d been writing since childhood, she wasn’t published until 1890. Once published there was no stopping her and it was only five years later that the royals began supporting her along with the Swedish Academy.
She travelled and some of her novels are set in the places she visited such as Italy and Jerusalem. In 1909 she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.
I first came across her when I was researching my trip to Sweden and looking for books to read by Swedish authors who write outside of the Nordic-Noir genre (of which I’d already devoured massively).
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, published in 1906, tells the story of a young boy who misbehaves and is rather nasty. He is shrunk by a passing elf and ends up on the back of his famly’s white goose just as it decides to join a flock of passing wild geese and migrate to the far north of Sweden.
The book is all about the adventures he has travelling the length and breadth of Sweden with the geese.
Lagerlöf was commissioned to write the book by the National Teachers’ Association and it was intended as a geography reader for schools. She spent three years researching wildlife, geography and folklore before eventually publishing the book in 1906.
Although the book was intended for children, its remit made it a useful resource for me. I learnt a lot from it, as well as enjoying the story and her style of writing. It was in this book that I first heard of Skansen, a place I made sure I visited and spent a wonderful day at when I was in Stockholm.
Selma moved to Falun in the Dalarna region of central Sweden in 1897. Consequently, the Dalarnas Museum in Falun has a permanent exhibition on her and her work, including a replica of her study.
How wonderful is this study? I want one just like it.
She lived on the hill overlooking the town on what just happened to be the street where the prison I was staying in was. I tried to find her house, but as far as I can make out it no longer exists. Which is probably why her study is in the museum.
As well as the exhibition on Selma Lagerlöf, the museum gave an interesting overview on the culture of the region.
Paintings pictured different aspects of the culture and daily life. There were some great ones of the mine in Falun.
The local traditional costume is so colourful and detailed.
Dala horses are iconic images of this region. They have been made and sold since the 17th century. Even today the genuine articles are still hand-carved and hand-painted in the traditional colours.
The horses are decorated in a folk art style known as kurbits. This style was used on material, walls, crockery … just about everything that could be painted or printed really.
But back to Selma … the more I learn about her, the more I think I have in common with her. I made a list:
- We’re both teachers
- We both like writing
- We’re both interested in the culture, folk tales, geography and wildlife of Sweden
- We’ve both been to Italy and Jerusalem
- We’ve stayed on the same street in Falun
So to continue following in her tracks, I just need to:
- Get the Queen to give me money
- Get my picture on the £20 note
- Win the Nobel Prize for Literature
Don’t mock! It could happen!