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Selma Lagerlöfs underbara resa genom den svenska litteraturhistorien 1891–1996
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Literature.
2005 (Swedish)Doctoral thesis, monograph (Other academic)Alternative title
The Wonderful Adventures of Selma Lagerlöf through Swedish Literary History 1891–1996 (English)
Abstract [en]

Selma Lagerlöf (1858–1940) is generally considered one of Sweden’s few world renowned and undisputed canonical novelists. Despite her fame and success, however, Selma Lagerlöf’s status as an important artist within the literary canon has always been problematic. This dissertation examines how literary critics initially received Selma Lagerlöf ’s literary corpus and how her corpus has been subsequently treated in Swedish literary criticism and literary histories of the twentieth century.

When Lagerlöf made her literary debut with the novel Gösta Berlings saga in 1891 she helped pioneer a new symbolist, anti-realist direction in Swedish literature, known as ”nittitalismen” (the 1890s' movement). The first part of the dissertation shows how the literary establishment of her time constructed Lagerlöf ’s reputation as that of a passive re-teller, and moreover, a re-teller of considerably less radically charged material than that found in the portrayal of women’s life experiences in the novels and dramas of the preceding decade. She was made into an innate storyteller of legends and tales.

In the second part of the dissertation scholarly studies of Selma Lagerlöf ’s work are explored together with surveys in literary histories. In the 1950s the first wave of Lagerlöf scholars set out to show that Selma Lagerlöf was a modern writer, fully aware of her artistry and concerned with contemporary matters. In the 1980s a new era of Lagerlöf scholarship dawned. It focused its critical attention on Lagerlöf ’s textual modernity and slowly displaced traditional positivism with hermeneutics and semiotics.

In the last chapter of the dissertation surveys of male authors August Strindberg and Verner von Heidenstam are compared with surveys of Lagerlöf in literary histories. The quantitative and qualitative results are much to Strindberg’s and Heidenstam’s advantage. Strindberg remains an overwhelmingly dominant figure in Swedish literary histories. An internationally less prominent author such as Verner von Heidenstam is revered as the precursor and leader of the important 1890s’ movement in Swedish literature.

Lagerlöf remains mostly framed as the great storyteller of the 1890s, despite all the academic criticism that has evolved around Lagerlöf in the latter part of the last century, showing Lagerlöf as a highly independent, original and influential artist. One conclusion that can be drawn from this dissertation is that the context of the traditional literary history needs opening up. One possibility would be to include more of the general public’s perspective and thus place more focus on the reception history of literature.

Such a historiography would primarily account for how aesthetic qualities in a literary oeuvre have been used and received rather than emphasize how these aesthetic qualities fit into the traditional literary and philosophical contexts. Arguably, such a historiography would stand a better chance to do full justice to successful female authors.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Eslöv: Brutus Östlings Bokförlag Symposion , 2005. , 512 p.
Keyword [en]
Literature, Selma Lagerlöf, literary history, literary establishment, literary tradition, historiography, ”Nittitalismen” (the 1890s' movement), August Strindberg, Verner von Heidenstam, gender-oppression
Keyword [sv]
National Category
General Literature Studies
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-5806ISBN: 91-7139-703-5OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-5806DiVA: diva2:166450
Public defence
2005-05-14, sal IX, Universitetshuset, Uppsala, 10:15 (English)
Available from: 2005-04-25 Created: 2005-04-25 Last updated: 2009-09-25Bibliographically approved

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