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The Reader in History and Letters to the Author. The case of Selma Lagerlöf and her Audience

Chapter in book
Authors Jenny Bergenmar
Maria Karlsson
Published in Re-Mapping Lagerlöf. Performance, Intermediality, and European Transmissions / edited by Helena Forsås-Scott, Lisbeth Stenberg & Bjarne Thorup Thomsen.
Pages 44-59
ISBN 978-91-87351-21-1
Publisher Nordic Academic Press
Place of publication Lund
Publication year 2014
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Pages 44-59
Language en
Keywords history of reading, letters, reception history, readership, Selma Lagerlöf
Subject categories Languages and Literature


The most common source of information about reading in history is documents written by professional readers. Authors, critics and scholars conveniently leave behind, not only traces of their reading, but complete, articulate statements and interpretations. A good example of this is the reception of Selma Lagerlöf’s authorship. Much has been written about how her work was received by reviewers, researchers, colleagues, the popular press, friends and family. But how, where and why ordinary people read and how they used her texts over the years is virtually unknown. This article is about those people, or rather their appearances through the many thousands of extant letters to Lagerlöf, kept in the National Library of Sweden. The collection of letters will be described, and theoretical and methodological issues emerging when dealing with this kind of material will be discussed. In contrast to the lack of sources useful for understanding the reader in history, the letters to Lagerlöf present an extraordinary opportunity to answer a number of questions of reading in the past.

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