Selma Lagerlöf, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1909, was the first woman to be elected a member of the Swedish Academy. Her first novel, The Story of Gosta Berling (1891), assured her position as Sweden's greatest storyteller. She retold the folk tales of her native province, Varmland, in an original and poetic prose.
As a woman writer, Lagerlöf gained a reputation as a naive purveyor of native traditions, but she herself compared writing a novel to solving a mathematical problem. Her artistry entails making her stories seem simple, but they are told with great attention to symbolism, psychology, and narrative technique. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (1906) is a delightful fantasy written to teach children about Swedish geography, but it has found an international audience. Her third novel and masterpiece, Jerusalem (1901--02), the story of farmers from Dalarna who follow their faith to the Holy City, was widely praised for its insights into the lives of peasants searching for a spiritual ideal.
During World War II, Lagerlöf helped many German artists and intellectuals escape the Nazis, even donating her gold Nobel Prize medal to a benefit fund to help Finland. She died of a stroke on March 16, 1940.
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