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Selma Lagerlöf, Narrative and Counter-Narrative. The Question of Sources in the Historical Understanding of an Author's Works

Journal article
Authors Jenny Bergenmar
Published in Ideas in History
Volume 7
Issue 1-2
Pages 71-94
ISSN 1890-1832
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Pages 71-94
Language en
Keywords literary canon, archive, biography, autobiography, author identity, letters, Selma Lagerlöf
Subject categories Languages and Literature, History and Archaeology

Abstract

When writing the history of an author’s oeuvre, canonical and public sources are given precedence. The professional readers’ (critics’) statements about what is considered the major work of the author are central in this historiography, while letters to the author from the audience, reports in newspapers or magazines about the author’s public appearances or autobiographical accounts of the author are usually left out. In this article the case of Selma Lagerlöf is explored through more peripheral sources: letters, (auto)biographical accounts, reports from different events in women’s magazines and some “minor” texts in her oeuvre. What links between public and private events and texts appear when these neglected sources are placed in the centre of the analysis, and how does this change the narrative of the author’s reception and significance? I will focus on the question of women’s rights and conditions in society, revealing themselves to be important both in Lagerlöf’s “minor” texts and in the reception of her works, and discuss how Fredrika Bremer’s legacy is visible in Lagerlöf’s life and writing – specifically through the question of women’s citizenship and education as well as women’s role as educators. Only by putting the different sources side by side do the links between history, autobiography and fiction appear, making cultural memories visible and, at the same time, re-evaluating canonical truths.

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