Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf (November 20, 1858 – March 16, 1940) was a Swedish author and the first woman writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Known internationally for Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (a story for children, in translation The Wonderful Adventures of Nils), she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1909 "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings."
Read The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf, one of five of her works available free from Project Gutenberg.
Born in Mårbacka in the province of Värmland in western Sweden, Lagerlöf was the daughter of Lieutenant Erik Gustaf Lagerlöf and Louise Lagerlöf née Wallroth, and the couple's fourth child. She grew up isolated from other children. Selma was born with a hip injury, and an early sickness left her lame in both legs, although she later made a remarkable recovery. She was more serious and quiet than her siblings and other children her age as a result of her condition. She was also a gifted child, though, who enjoyed reading -- including her first novel by the age of 7, and the entire Bible by the age of ten.
The forced sale of the Mårbacka estate, following her father's illness in 1884, had a deep impact on Lagerlöf's development.
Lagerlöf worked as a country schoolteacher in Landskrona for nearly 10 years while honing her story-telling skills, with particular focus on the legends she had learned as a child. Through her studies at the Royal Women's Superior Training Academy in Stockholm, Lagerlöf had reacted against the realism of contemporary Swedish writers such as Johan Ludvig Runeberg. She began her first novel, The Story of Gösta Berling, while working as a teacher in Landskrona. Her first break as a writer came when she submitted the first chapters to a literary contest, and won a publishing contract for the whole book.
Lagerlöf's other important works would later include The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, Jerusalem, The Ring of the Löwenskölds, and The Treasure. Most of her stories were set in Värmland, though a trip through continental Europe inspired such works as her The Miracles of the Antichrist, set in Sicily. Jerusalem was adapted in 1996 into an internationally acclaimed motion picture.
In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf won the Nobel Prize in Literature "in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings". In 1914 she also became a member of the Swedish Academy, the body that awards the Nobel Prize in literature. At the start of World War II, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and her gold medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help them raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her.
She lived in Sunne, where two hotels are named after her. Her home, Mårbacka, is now preserved as a museum. She wrote a copious amount of letters to her two partners, Sophie Elkan and Valborg Olander.
Her portrait has been featured on the Swedish 20 krona banknote since 1992.