Selma Lagerlöf was born on 20 November 1858 at Mårbacka in Värmland in western Sweden, an early sickness left her lame in both legs, although she later recovered. The sale of the estate following her father’s illness in 1884 had a serious impact on her development.
Lagerlöf worked as a country schoolteacher in Landskrona for nearly 10 years. She began her first novel, Gösta Berling’s Saga, while working as a teacher. In 1894 she met Sophie Elkan, also a writer, who became her friend and companion. Judging from letters between them, Lagerlöf fell deeply in love with her. By 1895, she gave up her teaching to devote herself to her writing. With the help of proceeds from Gösta Berling’s Saga and a scholarship and grant, she made two journeys to Italy, and also to Palestine and other parts of the East, which were largely instrumental in providing material for her next novel.
A 1900 visit to the American Colony in Jerusalem became the inspiration for Lagerlöf’s book by that name. However, most of Lagerlöf’s stories were set in Värmland. As a writer Selma Lagerlöf became most widely known for her children’s book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils), published as a school book in 1907.
In 1909 Selma Lagerlöf was the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1914 she also became a member of the Swedish Academy. At the start of World War II, she sent her Nobel Prize medal and gold medal from the Swedish Academy to the government of Finland to help raise money to fight the Soviet Union. The Finnish government was so touched that it raised the necessary money by other means and returned her medal to her. In 1928, she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Greifswald. Selma Lagerlöf died on 16 March 1940 at Mårbacka estate which she had bought back with the Nobel Prize money.