There are times over the past twelve weeks or so when our semi-isolated living situation has made us feel we’ve been transported back to an earlier age. Living in a rural area in particular, and seeing the busy – if socially distanced – local community interactions and the empty roads, you can almost feel as if you’re a resident of Mrs Gaskell’s Cranford. Or indeed of Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka, where families struggle, to be sure, and life can be physically and mentally tough, but the pace of things is largely determined by the slowly changing seasons and the length of time it takes to get anywhere on foot, or in a horse and gig along the winding, hilly roads round the lakes of Värmland province.
In the lockdown months we’ve all come to appreciate the value of a full larder, and in that we have much in common with the housekeeper at Mårbacka farm, who prides herself on a full storehouse to keep the large household going. Read our evocative extract here.
Explore the world of Selma Lagerlöf not only in Mårbacka but through our whole series ‘Lagerlöf in English’, translated by Peter Graves, Linda Schenck and Sarah Death. This great Swedish storyteller brings you tales of everything from love in sickness and in health, via romance and betrayal, hauntings and untimely deaths, salty sea air and valiant derring-do, to family life with its fractious and funny moments and its small delights.
In June 2011, Norvik Press published Lord Arne’s Silver, The Phantom Carriage and The Löwensköld Ring, three short novels by the world-renowned author Selma Lagerlöf. It was the start of an exciting and, for us, very gratifying project – the Lagerlöf in English Series – which has turned into twelve books so far. The translations are done by Linda Schenck, Peter Graves and Sarah Death, all experienced and prize-winning translators from Swedish to English. In addition to the substantial job of translating a Nobel Prize winner, Schenck, Graves and Death have also contributed with their own translators’ afterwords in their respective translations. These chapters make for an intriguing read about different aspects of translating each particular book and give in-depth information about Lagerlöf’s work. Furthermore, each book is introduced by an exciting and informative preface written by the late Helena Forsås-Scott, the pioneering mind behind the series.
You can download a brochure and find more information about the series on our website.
What happens to an individual who is rejected by society? What happens to a society that eventually realises the living are more important than the dead, and that it is suffering a crisis of values and priorities? What does war do to us and to our outlook on the world? Selma Lagerlöf struggled with these issues throughout World War I and experienced a mental block in writing about them. Then she found an opening and produced a thought-provoking tale of love, death and survival that grapples with moral dilemmas as relevant today as they were a century ago.
The Emperor of Portugallia
For poverty-stricken farm labourer Jan, the birth of his daughter Klara gives life a new meaning; his devotion to her develops into an obsession that excludes all else. We are taken from the miracle of a new-born child and a father’s love for his baby girl into a fantasy world emerging as a result of extreme external pressures, in which Jan creates for himself the role of Emperor of Portugallia. Yet this seemingly mad world generates surprising insights and support. Described as ‘perhaps the most private of Selma Lagerlöf’s books’, the novel takes us deep into a father-daughter relationship that carries the seeds of tragedy within it almost from the start.
The property of Mårbacka in Värmland was where Selma Lagerlöf grew up, immersed in a tradition of storytelling. Financial difficulties led to the loss of the house, but Lagerlöf was later able to buy it back, rebuild it and make it the centre of her world. The book Mårbacka, the first part of a trilogy written in 1922–32, can be read as many different things: memoir, fictionalised autobiography, even part of Lagerlöf’s myth-making about her own successful career as an author. It is part social and family history, part mischievous satire in the guise of innocent, first-person child narration, part declaration of filial love.
The Löwensköld Ring
The Löwensköld Ring is the first volume of a trilogy originally published between 1925 and 1928. In addition to being a disturbing saga of revenge from beyond the grave, it is a tale of courageous, persistent women, with interesting narrative twists and a permeating sense of ambiguity. The potent ring of the title brings suffering and violent death in its wake and its spell continues from one generation to the next, as well as into the two subsequent novels in the trilogy. The Löwensköld trilogy was Lagerlöf’s last work of pure fiction, and is now considered a masterpiece.
A curse rests on the Löwensköld family, as narrated in The Löwensköld Ring. Charlotte Löwensköld is the tale of the following generations, a story of psychological insight and social commentary, and of the complexities of a mother-son relationship. Charlotte is in love with Karl-Arthur – both have some Löwensköld blood. Their young love is ill-fated; each goes on to marry another. How we make our life ‘choices’ and what evil forces can be at play around us is beautifully and ironically depicted by Selma Lagerlöf, who was in her sixties when she wrote this tour de force with the lightest imaginable touch.
The curse on the Löwensköld family comes to fruition in unexpected ways in this final volume of the Löwensköld cycle. Anna Svärd is also very much a novel of women’s struggle toward finding fulfilment. The Löwensköld Ring resonates with ‘beggars cannot be choosers’ in relation to what a poor woman can expect in life, while Charlotte Löwensköld moves toward women having some choices. In Anna Svärd the eponymous protagonist takes full and impressive control of her own life and destiny. The question of motherhood and the fates of the children with whom the characters engage is another theme. The reader goes on to follow Charlotte, Karl-Artur, Thea and their families, familiar from the previous volume, through this compact novel as it moves relentlessly toward a chilling dénouement.
A Manor House Tale
Written in 1899, Selma Lagerlöf’s novella A Manor House Tale is at one and the same time a complex psychological novel and a folk tale, a love story and a Gothic melodrama. It crosses genre boundaries and locates itself in a borderland between reality and fantasy, madness and sanity, darkness and light, possession and loss, life and death. Lagerlöf’s two young characters, Gunnar and Ingrid, the one driven to madness by the horrific death of his goats in a blizzard, the other falling into a death-like trance as a result of the absence of familial warmth, rescue each other from their psychological underworlds and return to an everyday world that is now enhanced by the victory of goodness and love.
Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey through Sweden: The Complete Volume
Starting life as a commissioned school reader designed to present the geography of Sweden to nine-year-olds, this absorbing tale quickly won the international fame and popularity it still enjoys over a century later. The story of the naughty boy who climbs on the gander’s back and is then carried the length of the country, learning both geography and good behaviour as he goes, has captivated adults and children alike, as well as inspiring film-makers and illustrators. The elegance of the present translation – the first full translation into English – is beautifully complemented by the illustrations specially created for the volume.
The Phantom Carriage
Written in 1912, Selma Lagerlöf’s The Phantom Carriage is a powerful combination of ghost story and social realism, partly played out among the slums and partly in the transitional sphere between life and death. The vengeful and alcoholic David Holm is led to atonement and salvation by the love of a dying Salvation Army slum sister under the guidance of the driver of the death-cart that gathers in the souls of the dying poor. Inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, The Phantom Carriage remained one of Lagerlöf’s own favourites, and Victor Sjöström’s 1920 film version of the story is one of the greatest achievements of the Swedish silent cinema.
Lord Arne’s Silver
An economical and haunting tale, published in book form in 1904 and set in the sixteenth century on the snowbound west coast of Sweden, Lord Arne’s Silver is a classic from the pen of an author consummately skilled in the deployment of narrative power and ambivalence. A story of robbery and murder, retribution, love and betrayal plays out against the backdrop of the stalwart fishing community of the archipelago. Young Elsalill, sole survivor of the mass killing in the home of rich cleric Lord Arne, becomes a pawn in dangerous games both earthly and supernatural. As the deep-frozen sea stops the murderers escaping, sacrifice and atonement are the price that has to be paid.
We are happy to announce that Mårbacka has been longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. This novel by Selma Lagerlöf (originally published in 1922) was translated by Sarah Death and published by Norvik Press in 2016. We are thrilled that the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation is shedding light on more female voices, as the new prize aims to increase the translations of female international authors and thus make them more accessible to a British and Irish readership.
If you have not read Mårbacka, it is the story of Lagerlöf’s childhood at their family farm Mårbacka in Värmland. It is a warm and personal pseudo-autobiography; Lagerlöf writes about true stories from her upbringing, but she does so with her recognisable artistic pen. The novel is written in a naïve style as the story unfolds through a young Selma. Nonetheless, it contains a dual complexity because the wiser, more grown-up author lets the reader be aware of things that the child Selma herself cannot know. As Sarah Death puts it in her afterword: ‘In many ways [Lagerlöf’s] portrayal of her childhood in Mårbacka is bathed in a rosy glow, but she hints at the shadows (…).’ This proved to be a recipe for success, and when it was first published, Mårbacka won the heart of the reading audience like none of Lagerlöf’s work had done before.
We at Norvik Press are very happy that Lagerlöf is still a relevant voice. We love her authorship and have published many translations of her works. Our forthcoming titles in the series are The Emperor of Portugallia [Kejsarn av Portugallien] and Banished [Bannlyst].