1858 - 1940

“There is always a third possibility, as long as you have the ability to find it.”

– Selma Lagerlöf

Born in Värmland in western Sweden, Selma Lagerlöf was a sickly child and grew up with a love of reading. She won a publishing contract with her first novel, Gosta Berling's Saga (1891) while working as a schoolteacher. Three years later she published her second book and met Jewish writer Sophie Elkan who became her friend and companion. Her journey to Italy with Elkan prompted her novel The Miracles of the Antichrist (1899). A visit to the American Colony in Jerusalem became the inspiration for her acclaimed work Jerusalem (1901) - a two-part novel about Swedish peasants who immigrated to the Holy Land. The book is dedicated to "Sophie Elkan, my companion in life and letters." Her additional works include short story collections, memoirs, nonfiction, children's books such as her enormously popular The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1907); and novels such as The Emperor of Portugal (1914) and The Outcast (1918). The Swedish Academy awarded her its Gold Medal in 1904; and in 1909 Lagerlöf became the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Five years later she became the first female member of the Swedish Academy. In 1933, in Elkan's honor, Lagerlöf donated one of her Christ legends for publication to earn money to support Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. In 1940, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and the Gold Medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help raise money to fight the Soviet Union. She died on March 16, 1940 in Varmland at age 81 – several days after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. The intimate Lesbian Swedish letters between Lagerlöf and Elkan, which tell of their passionate love story from 1894 until Elkan's death in 1921, were published in 1992 as You Teach Me to Be Free. Since 1992, her portrait has been featured on the Swedish 20 kroner bill.


Gender Female

Sexual Orientation Lesbian

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Caucasian/White

Faith Construct Protestant

Nations Affiliated Sweden

Era/Epoch First-wave Feminism (1848-1930) Gilded Age (1865-1900) Progressive Era (1890-1920)

Field(s) of Contribution



Commemorations & Honors

Home Named Mårbacka Preserved as a Museum

Jerusalem Street Named After Lagerlöf

Swedish Academy Gold Medal Awardee (1904)

Doctor of Letters Degree From Uppsala University (1907)

First Woman Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1909)

First Woman Member of the Swedish Academy (1914)

Honorary Doctorate From University of Greifswald's Faculty of Arts (1928)

Visage Depicted on Swedish 20 Kroner Bill (1992-present)

Google Doodle Commemorating Selma Lagerlöf's 155th Birthday (2013)


Related Videos


Original Biography Author
Victor Salvo
Biography Edited By
Owen Keehnen
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell