Biography of Selma Lagerlöf

Selma Lagerlöf was born on November 20, 1858, in Östra Emterwik, Värmland, Sweden, on her family's estate called Mårbacka. Lagerlöf lived on the family estate until her early twenties, when she left home to attend teacher's college in Stockholm. After earning her credentials there, she became a teacher at a girls' school in Landskrona in 1885. Though she had been writing poetry since she was a child, she didn't publish any of her work until 1890, when she won a literary competition put on by a Swedish weekly publication. The publication published excerpts of what would be her debut novel, Gösta Berling's Saga, which was published in full in 1891.

Gösta Berling's Saga is considered by some to be Lagerlöf's best work. The novel maintained a relatively low profile until its Danish translation thrust it into a spotlight and secured Lagerlöf's place as a literary celebrity. She received financial support from the Swedish royal family and the Swedish Academy, which afforded her the freedom to stop teaching, travel the world, and focus on her writing. She published a collection of stories called Invisible Links in 1894 and in 1885, began her travels in Italy, where she was inspired to write Antikrists mirakler (1897) [The Miracles of Antichrist].

She then spent a season at a utopian colony in Jerusalem, which inspired one of her most famous works and her first instant success, a two-volume novel called Jerusalem (1901-02). Her children's book, The Adventures of Nils (1906-07), written as a primer for teaching language to children, became a widely celebrated work in many languages. In 1909, Lagerlöf became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings." There was a long interval at the beginning of the twentieth century when Lagerlöf, deeply disturbed by WWI, didn't publish any new work. Then, in the '20s and '30s, she released several pieces of autobiographical fiction about manor life in rural Sweden. After her father died, the family estate was sold, but she bought it back with her Nobel winnings. Lagerlöf died on March 16, 1940, at Mårbacka, the family estate where she had been born.


Study Guides on Works by Selma Lagerlöf

Published in two parts - first in 1901 and later in 1902 - Jerusalem: A Novel takes place over the course of a number of generations and tells the story of a handful of families in Sweden - as well as a number of Swedish emigrants in Jerusalem....

Thought to be one of Selma Lagerlöf's earliest works, "The Rat Trap" is a short story that was likely written in the 1880s, before excerpts of Lagerlöf's first novel Gösta Berling's Saga were published in a Swedish weekly publication. The story...

Although it's not especially well-known, The Saga of Gosta Berling is an exceptional novel which tells the of the eponymous Gösta Berling. Berling is a defrocked priest (a person who has been stripped of the privileges associated with being a...