glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
home
arts
literature
social sciences
special features
discussion
about glbtq
   search

 
   Encyclopedia
   Discussion
 
 

   member name
  
   password
  
 
   
   Forgot Your Password?  
   
Not a Member Yet?  
   
JOIN TODAY. IT'S FREE!

 
  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy
  Copyright

 

 

 

 

 
literature

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-B  C-E  F-L  M-Z

     
Lagerlöf, Selma (1858-1940)  

Swedish novelist and Nobel Prize winner in 1909, Selma Lagerlöf became, in 1914, the first woman elected to membership in the Swedish Academy. As early as 1942, biographer Elin Wägner emphasized the importance of friendships with women in Lagerlöf's life. It was not until 1990, however, when the enormous collection of Lagerlöf's private letters became available to the public that more explicit information concerning her relationships with women became known.

Lagerlöf's letters to Sophie Elkan, You Teach Me to Be Free (Du lär mig att bli fri), published in 1992, tell a passionate love story that began in 1894 and apparently remained the most important relationship of Lagerlöf's life until Elkan's death in 1921. A writer from a Jewish merchant family in Gothenburg, Elkan accompanied Lagerlöf on trips to Italy, Jerusalem, and Egypt. Lagerlöf dedicated her novel Jerusalem I (1901) to "Sophie Elkan, my companion in life and letters." Other women, however, also competed for the novelist's favors. Valborg Olander, who taught at the teacher's college in Falun, was probably Elkan's most important rival. Lagerlöf's relationship with Olander precipitated scenes of jealousy, according to the letters.

Sponsor Message.

Did Selma Lagerlöf's love for women affect her writing? The love stories in her novels are heterosexual, but they frequently focus on the conflicts and ambivalences of love and the transgression of boundaries. Her earliest writing portrays Margareta Celsing's forbidden love for Altringer in Gösta Berling's Saga (1891). In this work, any person who kisses Gösta Berling runs a risk of being ostracized.

In Lagerlöf's canon, the course of true love never runs smoothly; book after book dramatizes the obstacles to love. In The Outcast (Bannlyst [1918]), for example, the hero is a banned man, who at last finds his love. Unlike in other parts of Europe, the 1864 Swedish law against homosexuality included women. Homosexual relations between consenting adults were not legalized until four years after Lagerlöf's death. The legal and social stigma associated with homosexuality surely affected her work and probably accounts for her recurrent concern with ostracism and outcasts.

In the short story "Downie" in Invisible Links, written in 1894 (the year she first met Sophie Elkan), Lagerlöf uses a very telling expression, "That which she dares not call by name," when dealing with the forbidden love between a young woman and her fiancé's uncle. Lagerlöf's story precedes by a few months the poem by Lord Alfred Douglas that contains the familiar line referring to homosexuality as "the love that dare not speak its name."

It may well be that Lagerlöf picked up the phrase during her visits to Copenhagen while she was a teacher in Landskrona in southern Sweden (1885–1895). In her letters to Elkan during the period in which she wrote the story, Lagerlöf observes "many relations between women" on her visits to the Danish capital. It is possible that the expression "the love that dare not speak its name" was widespread within the homosexual subcultures of Europe at this time, and that Lagerlöf, like Douglas, picked it up and used it as a cover in her writings.

Kerstin Munck

     

 
zoom in
A portrait of Selma Lagerlöf created by Carl Larsson in 1908.
  
 interact  
   
Contact Us
 
Join the Discussion
 
 find 
   
Related Entries
 
More Entries by this contributor
 
A Bibliography on this Topic

 
Citation Information
 
More Entries about Literature
 
   
spacer
Popular Topics:

Social Sciences

 
Africa: Sub-Saharan, Pre-Independence

Stonewall Riots
Stonewall Riots


Native Americans


The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980
The Sexual Revolution, 1960-1980


Mixed-Orientation Marriages


Leather Culture


Transgender Activism


Gay Liberation Front


Androgyny
Androgyny


Silver, Nate

 
 


   Related Entries
  
social sciences >> Overview:  Sweden

A liberal and democratic kingdom, Sweden has a reputation for sexual openness, yet it maintains a law that punishes buyers of sex from prostitutes.

literature >> Overview:  Swedish Literature

Same-sex love in Swedish literature is largely a nineteenth- and twentieth-century phenomenon, and recently gay and lesbian publications have appeared in significant numbers.

literature >> Douglas, Alfred Bruce

Lord Alfred Douglas is remembered today for his tumultuous association with Oscar Wilde and as a minor poet.

literature >> Jansson, Tove

Best known for her series of children's books about the Moomin family of trolls, Tove Jansson, considered a national treasure in Finland, also wrote fiction for adults and was an accomplished artist and illustrator.


    Bibliography
   

Edström, Vivi. Selma Lagerlöf. Boston: Twayne, 1984.

Holm, Birgitta. Selma Lagerlöf och ursprungets roman. Stockholm: Norstedts, 1984.

Munck, Kerstin. "Makt, sexualitet och gränsöverskridanden hos Selma Lagerlöf." Tidskrift för litteraturvetenskap 2 (1998): 31-38.

Stenberg, Lisbeth. "Text och förklädnad." Lambda nordica 2 (1996): 34-47.

Torpe, Ulla. Orden och jorden. Stockholm: Gidlunds, 1992.

Wägner, Elin. Selma Lagerlöf. 2 vols. Stockholm: Bonniers, 1942-1943.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Munck, Kerstin  
    Entry Title: Lagerlöf, Selma  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated July 24, 2006  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/lagerlof_s.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  
 

 

This Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates

www.glbtq.com is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.