In 1909 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Swedish novelist Selma Ottilia Lovisa Lagerlöf “in appreciation of the lofty idealism, vivid imagination and spiritual perception that characterize her writings.”
She was the first woman writer to be awarded the prize.
At the Nobel Banquet that year she said:
Deep within me, however, was a wondrous joy at receiving this Prize, and I tried to dispel my anxiety by thinking of those who would rejoice at my good fortune. There were my good friends, my brothers and sisters and, first and foremost, my old mother who, sitting back home, was happy to have lived to see this day.
But then I thought of my father and felt a deep sorrow that he should no longer be alive, and that I could not go to him and tell him that I had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I knew that no one would have been happier than he to hear this. Never have I met anyone with his love and respect for the written word and its creators, and I wished that he could have known that the Swedish Academy had bestowed on me this great Prize. Yes, it was a deep sorrow to me that I could not tell him.
Anyone who has ever sat in a train as it rushes through a dark night will know that sometimes there are long minutes when the coaches slide smoothly along without so much as a shudder. All rustle and bustle cease and the sound of the wheels becomes a soothing, peaceful melody. The coaches no longer seem to run on rails and sleepers but glide into space. Well, that is how it was as I sat there and thought how much I should like to see my old father again. So light and soundless was the movement of the train that I could hardly imagine I was on this earth. And so I began to daydream: «Just think, if I were going to meet Father in Paradise! I seem to have heard of such things happening to other people – why, then, not to myself?» The train went gliding on but it had a long way to go yet, and my thoughts raced ahead of it. Father will certainly be sitting in a rocking chair on a veranda, with a garden full of sunshine and flowers and birds in front of him. He will be reading Fritjofs saga, of course, but when he sees me he will put down his book, push his spectacles high up on his forehead, and get up and walk toward me. He will say, «Good day, my daughter, I am very glad to see you», or «Why, you are here, and how are you, my child», just as he always used to do.
Selma Lagerlöf will be remembered for a book she wrote as a primer for elementary schools, now recognised as one of the world’s most charming children’s books: Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (1906) (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils).