Elin Wägner’s first contact with film came in as early as 1911 when she wrote the screenplay for Hon fick platsen eller Exkonung Manuel i Stockholm (1911), where she also played the role of “a penwoman” (journalist). The film was made “for the benefit of the formation of the Female Journalists’ Scholarship Fund”. All the roles were played by more or less well-known journalists in Stockholm, who were credited with their signatures. The film achieved great success and was likely part of the reason why, in the same year, Elin Wägner was taken on by N P Nilsson to write the screenplay for Systrarna (1912), directed by Anna Hofman-Uddgren. This was followed by Youth/Ungdom (1927) and Efterlyst (1939). These were all original works for film, even though Efterlyst is sometimes considered a newly written continuation of The Norrtull Gang/Norrtullsligan from 1923. Several of her books were adapted for film, but of these Wägner herself only wrote the screenplay for Åsa-Hanna (1946).
Elin Wägner’s fiction writing treats such subjects as women’s rights and right to vote, matters of peace, social issues and environmental issues. Wägner’s feminism questioned the very foundation of society, with its male-ordered wars and exploitation of people and the environment.
Elin Wägner was born in Lund in 1882, and was only three when her mother died giving birth to her younger brother, Harald. In 1903–04 she worked as a journalist at the Helsingborgsposten, and in 1904–05 at Vårt Land. Between 1907 and 1917 she was editorial secretary at Idun, where she wrote about famous authors and painters, but also about topical social issues, primarily relating to women’s situation. This showed up in her fiction writing. Her first novels, The Norrtull Gang/Norrtullsligan (1908), later made into a film, and Penwoman/Pennskaftet (1910) discuss the life of female office workers and the question of voting rights respectively, in smart, realistic prose. Helga Wisbeck (1913) paints an early portrait of a woman doctor who has chosen to focus on her career.
The intellectual debates during the First World War made Wägner a firm pacifist and peace activist, which is reflected in her novel Släkten Jerneploogs framgång (1916), and during the 1920s Wägner was involved in international aid work and in the formation of Save the Children’s Swedish section in 1919. In that same year she helped to form a Swedish arm of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and went on several trips to war-torn Europe.
In 1910 Wägner had married literary scholar John Landquist, a marriage which lasted until 1922. Following the divorce, Wägner moved to the Fogelstad estate outside Katrineholm, where Member of Parliament Elisabeth Tamm had gathered a group of women who came to be known as The Fogelstad Group. Their aim was to educate people: now that women had voting rights for the second chamber, they had to know what they’d be using their right to vote for! Some of the other women in the group were Honorine Hermelin, Ada Nilsson and Kerstin Hesselgren. Wägner stayed at Fogelstad for most of 1922, during which time the ‘Kvinnliga medborgarskolan vid Fogelstad’ (Fogelstad Citizen School for Women) was formed.
In spring 1923 Tamm wanted to start a newspaper for women, Tidevarvet. It was a weekly political and cultural paper for which Wägner was editor-in-chief 1924–1927, and remained a writer for until 1936. Colleagues at the paper included theologian Emilia Fogelklou, lawyer Eva Andén, author Frida Stéenhoff, literary critic Klara Johanson, along with Kerstin Hesselgren and Elisabeth Tamm. Wägner wrote culture articles, pieces on pacifism, and her own novellas were published in serial form. During Wägner’s time as editor-in-chief, Moa Martinson made her first contribution to Tidevarvet.
In the 1930s several significant novels by Wägner were published, including the semi-biographical Genomskådad/Unmasked (1937) and Hemlighetsfull/Mysterious (1938). 1941 saw undoubtedly her most unique book, Väckarklocka/Alarm Clock, a culture-critical, publicistic essay on nascent environmental destruction, with the words woman, earth and peace firmly front and centre. In terms of ideas the book was 30 years ahead of its time, and not until its second edition in 1978 did it really have an impact.
Elin Wägner became a member of literary society Samfundet De Nio (The Nine Society) in 1937 and was voted into the Swedish Academy in 1944 – the second woman to be so after writing an important biography of her forerunner Selma Lagerlöf (1–2, 1942–43).
Katerina Nilsson (2016)
(translated by Matt Bibby)
Miscellaneous: Elin’s parents were Rector Sven Wägner PhD and Anna (née Ekedahl), a priest’s daughter from Tolg in Småland and niece to Dean Esaias Ekedahl. Her brother Harald Wägner was a journalist, and his daughter Ria Wägner was also an author as well as a translator and television show host. Ria’s mother Ellen Rydelius, journalist and translator, was the model for the main character in Penwoman.
Main profession: Screenwriter
Hon fick platsen eller Exkonung Manuel i Stockholm (1911)
Svensk Filmindustris veckorevy 1933. Författarna i julmarknaden (1933)
Hon fick platsen eller Exkonung Manuel i Stockholm (1911)
Från det jordiska museet (1907)
Helga Wisbeck (1913)
Mannen och körsbären (1914)
Camillas äktenskap (1915)
Släkten Jerneploogs framgång (1916)
Elgström, Anna Lenah; Stéenhoff Frida, Wägner Elin, Glücklich Wilma (1917). Den kinesiska muren: Rosika Schwimmers kamp för rätten och hennes krig mot kriget. Stockholm: Dahlberg & Co. Libris 8213425 (antologi)
Kvarteret Oron (1919)
Den befriade kärleken (1919)
Den förödda vingården (1920)
Den namnlösa (1922)
Från Seine, Rhen och Ruhr (1923)
Natten till söndag (1926)
De fem pärlorna (1927)
Den odödliga gärningen (1928)
Svalorna flyga högt (1929)
Korpungen och jag (1930)
Dialogen fortsätter (1932)
Mannen vid min sida (1933)
Tusen år i Småland (1939)
Fred med jorden (1940)
Selma Lagerlöf I (1942)
Selma Lagerlöf II (1943)
Hans Larsson (1944)
Vinden vände bladen (1947)
Fredrika Bremer (1949) (postumt utgiven)
1923: De Nios Stora Pris