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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Fredrika Bremer (1801–1865)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
FREDRIKA BREMER was born at Tuorla Manor-house, near Åbo, in Finland, on the 17th of August, 1801. In 1804 the family removed to Stockholm, and two years later to a large estate at Årsta, some twenty miles from the capital, which was her subsequent home. At Årsta the father of Fredrika, who had amassed a fortune in the iron industry in Finland, set up an establishment in accord with his means. The manor-house, built two centuries before, had become in some parts dilapidated, but it was ultimately restored and improved beyond its original condition. From its windows on one side the eye stretched over nearly five miles of meadows, fields, and villages belonging to the estate.  1
  In spite of its surroundings, however, Fredrika’s childhood was not a happy one. Her mother was severe and impatient of petty faults, and the child’s mind became embittered. Her father was reserved and melancholy. Fredrika herself was restless and passionate, although of an affectionate nature. Among the other children she was the ugly duckling, who was misunderstood, and whose natural development was continually checked and frustrated. Her talents were early exhibited in a variety of directions. Her first verses, in French, to the morn, were written at the age of eight. Subsequently she wrote comedies for home production, prose and verse of all sorts, and kept a journal, which has been preserved. In 1821 the whole family went on a tour abroad, from which they did not return until the following year, having visited in the meantime Germany, Switzerland, and France, and spent the winter in Paris. This year among new scenes and surroundings seems to have brought home to Fredrika, upon the resumption of her old life in the country, its narrowness and its isolation. She was entirely shut off from all desired activity; her illusions vanished one by one. “I was conscious,” she says in her short autobiography, “of being born with powerful wings, but I was conscious of their being clipped;” and she fancied that they would remain so.  2
  Her attention, however, was fortunately attracted from herself to the poor and sick in the country round about; and she presently became to the whole region a nurse and a helper, denying herself all sorts of comforts that she might give them to others, and braving storm and hunger on her errands of mercy. In order to earn money for her charities she painted miniature portraits of the Crown Princess and the King, and secretly sold them. Her desire to increase the small sums she thus gained induced her to seek a publisher for a number of sketches she had written. Her brother readily disposed of the manuscript for a hundred rix-dollars; and her first book, ‘Teckningar ur Hvardagslifvet’ (Sketches of Every-day Life), appeared in 1828, but without the name of the author, of whose identity the publisher himself was left in ignorance. The book was received with such favor that the young author was induced to try again; and what had originally been intended as a second volume of the ‘Sketches’ appeared in 1830 as ‘Familjen H.’ (The H. Family). Its success was immediate and unmistakable. It not only was received with applause, but created a sensation, and Swedish literature was congratulated on the acquisition of a new talent among its writers.  3
  The secret of Fredrika’s authorship—which had as yet not been confided even to her parents—was presently revealed to the poet (and later bishop) Franzén, an old friend of the family. Shortly afterward the Swedish Academy, of which Franzén was secretary, awarded her its lesser gold medal as a sign of appreciation. A third volume met with even greater success than its predecessors, and seemed definitely to point out the career which she subsequently followed; and from this time until the close of her life she worked diligently in her chosen field. She rapidly acquired an appreciative public in and out of Sweden. Many of her novels and tales were translated into various languages, several of them appearing simultaneously in Swedish and English. In 1844 the Swedish Academy awarded her its great gold medal of merit.  4
  Several long journeys abroad mark the succeeding years: to Denmark and America from 1848 to 1857; to Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, Palestine, and Greece, from 1856 to 1861; to Germany in 1862, returning the same year. The summer months of 1864 she spent at Årsta, which since 1853 had passed out of the hands of the family. She removed there the year after, and died there on the 31st of December.  5
  Fredrika Bremer’s most successful literary work was in the line of her earliest writings, descriptive of the everyday life of the middle classes. Her novels in this line have an unusual charm of expression, whose definable elements are an unaffected simplicity and a certain quiet humor which admirably fits the chosen milieu. Besides the ones already mentioned, ‘Presidentens Döttrar’ (The President’s Daughters), ‘Grannarna’ (The Neighbors), ‘Hemmet’ (The Home), ‘Nina,’ and others, cultivated this field. Later she drifted into “tendency” fiction, making her novels the vehicles for her opinions on important public questions, such as religion, philanthropy, and above all the equal rights of women. These later productions, of which ‘Hertha’ and ‘Syskonlif’ are the most important, are far inferior to her earlier work. She had, however, the satisfaction of seeing the realization of several of the movements which she had so ardently espoused: the law that unmarried women in Sweden should attain their majority at twenty-five years of age; the organization at Stockholm of a seminary for the education of woman teachers; and certain parliamentary reforms.  6
  In addition to her novels and short stories, she wrote some verse, mostly unimportant, and several books of travel, among them ‘Hemmen i ny Verlden’ (Homes in the New World), containing her experiences of America; ‘Life in the Old World’; and ‘Greece and the Greeks.’  7
 
 
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