Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Book challenge 2015

Since I love challenges (including all those silly Travel challenges on Facebook) I could not resist this list on my daughter's blog.

If I understand the rules correctly, the challenge is to do it within a year. My daughter is a fast reader, and I have recently become a slow reader. I checked Shelfari that told me I have only read six books this year. It cannot be true. I must have failed to register what I have read. I checked Goodreads and added some books. I also checked my Kindle. But I still have a definite feeling that something is missing.

I am not going to read according to this challenge, but I can go back a year, to August 2014. Apparently, you are allowed to list one book in several categories. Anyway, here we go:

A book with more than 500 pages - I have no idea. I read most books on a tablet, and I don't know how many pages there are. I assume that The goldfinch is more than 500 pages. If not, The luminaries is.
A classic romance - What is classic? What is romance? No idea.
A book that became a movie - The remains of the day, Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven't seen the movie
A book published this year – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with a number in the title Five children on the Western front, by Kate Saunders
A book written by someone under 30 – The royal babysitters, by Clementine Beauvais
A book with nonhuman characters – Flora and Ulysses, by Kate DiCamillo
A funny book – Britt-Marie var här, by Fredrik Backman
A book by a female author – H is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald
A mystery or thriller – The silkworm, by Robert Galbraith, aka J K Rowling
A book with a one-word title – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book of short stories – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set in a different country – The new policeman, by Kate Thompson
A nonfiction book – A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
A popular author’s first book – Go set the watchman, by Harper Lee
A book from an author you love that you haven’t read yet – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond (also qualifies as book published this year)
A book a friend recommended – The tightrope walkers, by David Almond
A Pulitzer-Prize winning book – The goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
A book based on a true story – Alan Turing, by David Boyle
A book at the bottom of your to-read list - The bunker diary, by Kevin Brooks
A book your mom lovesmy mum is happily dead, and thinking back, I cannot name a book she loved
A book that scares you – Sapiens, by Yuval Harari
A book more than 100 years old - The red and the black, Stendhal. Maybe it qualifies as classic romance?
A book you can finish in a day – Mary Ware's promised land, by Annie Fellows Johnston
A book with antonyms in the title – The white darkness, by Geraldine McCaughean. I re-read it for work
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to travel – An artist of the floating world, by Kazuo Ishiguro
A book that came out the year you were born + The borrowers, by Mary Norton (I know you expected it to be Charlotte's web, but I really dislike it)
A book with bad reviews + Go set a watchman, by Harper Lee
A trilogy - Chaos walking, by Patrick Ness. Re-reading for work
A book from your childhood - Alice in Wonderland. Inevitably this year
A book with a love triangle – I cannot think of any.
A book set in the future - A book of strange new things, by Michel Faber (very bad)
A book set in high school – The rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton
A book with a color in the title – Red shadow, by Paul Dowswell
A book that made you cry – The buried giant, Kazuo Ishiguro
A book with magic – The wise man's fear, by Patrick Rothfuss
A graphic novel – The adventures of the princess and Mr Whiffle, by Patrick Rothfuss
A book by an author you’ve never read before – The miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
A book you own but have never read – Mini knits for the 1/12 scale dolls' house, by Linda Spratley
A book that takes place in your hometown I re-read The Master and Margarita every year
A book that was originally written in a different language – Suspended sentences, by Patrick Mondiano
A book set during Christmas - A time of gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. At least some of it
A book written by an author with your same initials – Poetic justice, by Martha Nussbaum
A play. I don't read plays
A banned book - I actually re-read To kill a mockingbird
A book based on or turned into a TV show – Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
A book you started but never finished - The queen of hearts, by Wilkie Collins

Looking at this list, I must say that I have read more than I remembered. And some books I have read I could not place in any category. 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Conference nostalgia, part 2

Read the beginning of this story here.

I almost didn't go to the 1993 IRSCL conference in Geelong, Australia, because I had just returned home after six months in the USA, but I was younger then, and Australia was enticing, and I was a board member with another term of service possible, and everybody knows that you don't get elected if you aren't there.

But, absolutely honestly, when I went, I was not expecting to be nominated for presidency. I hoped to be re-elected to the board, and I hoped that the new president would be nice to work with. These days, elections are prepared well in advance, and the candidates circulate their CVs and personal statements. Which is the way it should be. But in the old days, board members were recruited on the spot, as late as an hour before voting. As we were finalising the programme, the current president asked whether I would like to stand for election. I was overwhelmed. When I sais, yes, I would, she told me to cherry-pick my board and tell the election committee. I looked around. I cherry-picked my board. It was a great board, and we spent many good days together in various parts of the world.

I was immediately faced with a huge problem. Typically, biennial conferences would be planned far in advance, so that at any conference the next one would be already in progress and the one after that under negotiation. I had no conference bid, and the only solution was to do it myself. Which I did, and it was the worst nightmare of my life. I can say it now, twenty years later, because I know that people who were there remember it as a very successful conference. Only I know about all the small disasters, and in retrospect I shouldn't have done it, not there and then, but did I have a choice, a newly elected president with no conference bid?

Twenty years is a long time ago. I remember the board meetings leading to the conference: deciding on a theme, discussing keynote speakers, sending out call for papers. It was in the stone age before everybody had email - we sent 300 printed copies of the newsletter to forty countries. My department covered the costs.

Selecting papers, compiling the programme, finding session chairs. This was also the first year we gave the IRSCL book award. A lot of work for the board. But the bulk of the conference preparation was in Sweden, and I would have never managed it without the strong children's literature community, not just my university, but the Children's Book Institute, the Writers' Union, the illustrators, the libraries. I could arrange a reception at the City Hall, the venue of the Nobel banquet. There was an evening archipelago cruise with shrimp dinner and dance. There was a post-conference trip to the Astrid Lindgren theme park.

I made tons of mistakes, but I am not telling anyone, and it wouldn't be helpful because no conference is like another one.

I was re-elected for another term, but it was simpler because we had the next venue and theme, and the board meetings were less stressful for me. The 1997 conference was in York, UK, and I stepped down, but stayed on the board as immediate past president to ensure continuity. Almost the whole board stepped down, which is never good, but there was a new bunch of people coming in, and things were changing. In 1999, IRSCL had the first and only joint conference with the rival organisation, the Children's Literature Association. Some people wanted the two organisations to merge, while there was strong opposiiton to this. A one-off joint conference was a compromise. IRSCL had initially been a Euro-centric organisation, even though two presidents has been from the USA. The York conference yielded many British members, and after the 1999 conference in Calgary, which was great fun, a deluge of US members came. I was surprised to learn, at the membership meeting in Worcester last week, that a third of the members today are from the USA. There weren't as many in my days.

But my days are long gone. When I skipped 2001 in South Africa because we had just moved back to Sweden from California, I thought it would be just one time. In 2003, when it was in Norway, just around the corner, I had prepared a panel with my colleagues and students from the Nordic Children's Literature Network (NorChiLNet), but had to cancel at short notice because of severe health problems. I missed Japan in 2005 and Ireland in 2007 for the same reason. I went to Frankfurt in 2009 because it was a reunion: 40 years since the organisation was founded, and all past presidents who were still alive were there.

I missed Brisbane in 2011 and Maastricht in 2013 for various reasons. It was sad, because I once invested so much in this organisation and it meant so much to me. Therefore it felt such an honour and pleasure to be asked to do a keynote in Worcester. How many years after presidency do you need to be in quarantine?

I believe I was the longest-standing member at that conference. The membership meeting asked me for clarification of some history. On the last day, a French colleague arrived. It was the person who asked me a question at my very first conference in Bordeaux in 1983.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Conference nostalgia

Just returned from Worcester and the biennial conference of the International Research Society for Children's Literature (IRSCL), I cannot help drowning in nostalgic memories. I knew I had written a blog post about the Frankfurt conference in 2009, but I didn't remember that I had also written about missing the Brisbane conference, and generally about some fond IRSCL memories. So this post will inevitably have some repetitions, but as a veteran, which I am, I felt weird when people said, proudly: "I have been a member since 1991". OK, I have been a member since 1983, and I participated, as a Jack-of-all-trades, in 1981. It is a very long time. More than half of my life.

In 1981, I wasn't a member and could not even dream of becoming a member because at that time, you were only elected into the Society if you were an established scholar, with at least one published book. By 1983, the rules had changed, and I became a member with my two publications in Russian and a handful of semi-academic articles in Swedish. I was a PhD student. I submitted a paper proposal which was rejected (I would have rejected such a poor proposal today), but I decided to go anyway. The conference was in Bordeaux. When I arrived and collected my programme, I saw my name there. I hadn't even brought my paper, but fortunately the organiser had a copy (it was in the stone age when we made xerox copies of typewritten papers). I was scheduled in the very last session, on the very last day, when half of the delegates had left. I got one question, unrelated to my paper. An old lady from the audience chastised me afterwards because I had read too fast and held the paper in front of my face (she was quite right of course). But because my topic was on fantasy, when the theme of the next conference was discussed, it became fantasy and the fantastic. Of course I had to go to that.

The 1985 conference was in Montreal, the French university, and the organisers pretended that the English part of Canada did not exist. Not one single Anglophone Canadian scholars was invited. My paper was on Michael Ende's The Neverending Story, and I was paired with a German colleague who criticised the novel down to nothingness, and it was hard for me to come with my hugely appreciative analysis.

The 1987 conference was in Cologne, and I have vague memories of it, apart from a boat trip and a visit to a museum where a guide, obviously misjudging the audience, explained the difference between Renaissance and Romanticism.

The 1989 conference was in Salamanca, and half of the sessions were in Spanish without translation. It was the first time I was asked to chair a session, which is a recognition of your scholarly status. There were two famous scholars in the session that I chaired, and they eventually became good friends. This was the conference at which I determined that I would never again find myself in a situation where everybody went off to dinner with their friends and I was left behind. Therefore I said to several people whom I knew and some whom I had just met: "There is a bunch of people going out tonight, would you like to join?" And I ended up with a lovely bunch of people to go out with.

I was asked by the IRSCL board to edit a volume from that conference, but all the best papers had been snatched, and it wasn't an enjoyable task. It was a h-ll of a task. The manuscript had to be camera-ready, no copy-editing, no proof-reading. The publisher was in the USA, and we communicated by fax. I was a very inexperienced editor and not a native speaker. It took weeks to send the proofs back and forth across the Atlantic.

The 1991 conference was in Paris. All papers had to be submitted in full and were printed in a brochure. As people were giving their presentation, the audience was reading the printed paper, turning pages audibly. One brave colleague stood in front of the audience and said: "You have my paper in the brochure so you can read it, therefore I will give another paper".  Which he did, without even having a written text.

At this conference, I was elected to the Board. I was tremendously happy and proud of myself. It was a good board, all female for a change, and we had the first board meeting in Cadiz, in the Spanish colleague's summer house by the ocean. Many meetings were to follow, although I missed the second of that round, in Toulouse, because I was in the USA on my Fulbright at the time. In fact, I had just returned from the USA when the 1993 conference was on, and I had almost decided not to go. But I did, and it changed everything.

To be continued.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

My contribution to the Harper Lee controversy

I am usually sceptical of sequels, prequels, midquels and sidequels, although they can occasionally be worth reading for various reasons. I am hugely sceptical of all kinds of Ur-texts, other than for purely academic purposes. There is, for instance, a whole book of early versions of The Master and Margarita, where you can trace all the intricate reworkings in plots and characters, but they are nothing like the final version (and, of course, there isn't even a final version of this particular novel). I am not an archive person, but I have for professional reasons read early unpublished drafts of some famous novels, and they are just that, early drafts. If you are working on a specific text from a specific angle, early drafts can be illuminating. But it's important to remember that they are drafts, not intended for public perusal.

I was sceptical toward Harper Lee's so called new novel ever since it was mentioned, and in the hype just previous to publication I became still more sceptical. I read the first chapter released some days earlier and was not impressed. If I had read this first chapter out of context I would say it was sentimental garbage and never considered reading any further. However, some colleagues had also read the chapter and thought it was good, and I am always prepared to take colleagues' advice and give a book a second chance. I also felt that I could not go on saying that the book was rubbish and merely a publisher's gig (a million copies pre-ordered!) unless I had actually read it. I decided that I would read it for what it was, without comparing it to Mockingbird. As a professional reader, I can do it.

I bought a Kindle copy and started reading the second chapter on the release day. It went from bad to worse. The characters did not interest me, the dialogue was pathetic and used to carry the plot in a most amateurish way; the narrator's voice was didactic, everything was spelt out. There was no conflict, no plot development, nothing at all to attract my attention. Profoundly bad writing. Again, I would have put it away under different circumstances, but I hadn't even reached the episodes discussed in the pre-reviews: the darker sides of Atticus Finch. So I went on. There were a couple of slightly more vivid passages, always flashbacks into the protagonist's adolescence, with some painfully trivial episodes such as her terror when she gets her period or believes that she is pregnant because a boy kissed her on the mouth.

I persisted, and then suddenly, when she discovers that her adored father is a racist, it became intensely good. It was still a typical example of belated parental revolt, accompanied by realisation that all her happy childhood was an illusion (for instance, that their black servant Calpurnia wasn't as devoted as little Jean Louise believed). The good part was perhaps ten pages, followed by an unbearable sermon by Jean Louise's uncle and an explicit quarrel with the father that, if anything, shows that Jean Louise is indeed more prejudiced than he. And they live happily ever after. Sort of.

One star on Goodreads.

It so happened that the cottage where I spent my holiday week had a good library that included To Kill a Mockingbird, so I started reading it immediately after finishing Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird has never been a great favourite, but it is an important book if you are a reader and more so if you are a professional reader. I first encountered it as a stage version, performed by the State Children's Theatre in Moscow, all the more surprising because the famous film was rated 16+. We had to read it in my English class in college, but I don't think I understood much of it then, definitely not what was so great about it. Which is the narrative perspective. Scout is looking back on her childhood, “when enough years had gone by to enable us to look back”; but she is still very young to understand what happened, and she definitely did not understand what was happening as she experienced it. People around her believe that they can discuss anything in front of her and even allow her to watch a rape case trial, because she is too young to understand. As a narrator, a lightly older version of herself, Scout does not question her own ignorance and does not offer a better understanding. On the contrary, at the time of narration, she is mostly focused on the fact that her brother once had has arm broken. This is exactly the kind of event that a young child would be interested in, and everything else is just a backdrop. The poignancy of the novel is the total discrepancy between what the narrator is saying and what the reader is supposed to infer. To see the backdrop in spite of the narrator obstructing it. This is why I have always said that to use Mockingbird in schools is pointless and even unethical: you have to be a mature reader to cope with this narration. (You also need to know a lot about American history, but that's a different matter). Mockingbird is similar to What Maisie Knew: employing a child as a lens, at the child's expense.

This aspect is still stunning on re-reading. Otherwise, I had no memory of the slow plot in the first half of the novel, mainly telling about two or three summers full of games, interspersed by horrors of school. Had it been told in the Watchman mode it would have been tedious; as it is, it serves as a very long prelude where glimpses of Atticus Finch's human rights engagement may be traced, and Boo Radley's possible crucial role in the plot is hinted at. The famous courtroom scene is quite short, but long enough to see how it has been pruned down from the uncle's speeches in Watchman. Generally, although Mockingbird is endlessly better than the draft, some of the draft's flaws are tangible.

Because I read one text immediately after the other I could spot verbatim passages, but they were few and far between. The Tom Robinson case takes half a page in Watchman, just as an example of how Atticus has changed. But then, Jean Louise of Watchman may misremember. She has an idealised memory of her father. We don't know what he really was like.

To compare Atticus in the two texts or, moreover, claim that Atticus of Watchman can change our view of him in Mockingbird is nonsense. They are two completely different fictional characters who happen to have the same name. Neither is Jean Louise in Watchman the same character as Scout in Mockingbird. She may be an early version, tested and dismissed.

I am glad I have read Watchman, and still more glad I had an occasion to re-read Mockingbird and confirm that it isn't a masterpiece it is always presented as. Maybe, as often happens, most people know the story from the film. It has an important political agenda and has been hugely influential. Every student of literature should read it. Recommend it to your mother-in-law's cousin? Depends on their reading preferences.

As to Watchman, the publisher has made a lot of money out of a soap bubble, as publishers do. If I were ever to teach creative writing, the two texts would be perfect on the syllabus, to show what a long road there is from the first draft to the final one. 


Saturday, 14 March 2015

Press Replay

This is what I wrote two years ago. There is very little I can add. I am tremendously privileged to have a research leave every seventh term, just about once in two years.

I don't have a book project this time, but I have several large and difficult chapters that I agreed to write long ago in moments of weakness, hoping that something would come in between. As usual, it hasn't, so THE TIME HAS COME. For some inexplicable reason, I am giving three keynote talks at conferences in the nearest future and for two of these I only have a vague idea of what I am doing. All in all, the amount of text I have to generate will add up to a book.Therefore I need to plan carefully.

In the next few weeks I will have to grade last term's papers. I will try to do it as soon as possible to take it off my mind. Doctoral supervision is not affected by research leaves so any moment a draft may land in my computer, anything from a chapter section to a finished thesis. I will deal with it when it comes.

The graduate admissions are almost done for this round, and I don't have to attend meetings. My diary is wonderfully empty except for some dinners with good friends or visits from grandchildren.

Soon it will be warm enough to dig in the garden, and my physiotherapeut has mended my shoulder. I am building a gorgeous dollhouse. Can life get any better?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Deep in a dream

I have been in doubt whether to share this experience. It is far too personal. But there are people out there who will have been through something similar, and you, my dear reader, can experience it one day, or your loved one. This is a kind of thing that we know happens but “it cannot happen to me”.

Let me tell you: it can.

Since I am alive to tell the story it obviously had a positive outcome, but most of it is my reconstruction based on what I have been told. What I remember is bizarre, as dreams are, and unless I had evidence of a plastic hospital ID-band (and, presumably, a record sent to my doctor), I might believe that I have dreamed it all.

What I know for sure is that last Sunday I went out for dinner with a colleague visiting Cambridge. The day before, we worked on our joint paper. Staffan drove me to the restaurant, picking up G from her place on the way. I remember ordering, and I remember the canapés and the amuse-bouche. I remember we talked about taking a cooking course in Italy. I eventually remembered, on prompt, that we discussed G's son's scholarly plans. The next couple of hours is a second-hand narrative. Apparently, we had a lovely meal, except that one course contained peanuts, which I had firmly told the waiter I didn't want because I had eaten this course previously, and although I am not allergic to peanuts the taste was too strong for the delicacy of the rest. There were two desserts, and apparently I liked one of them better than the other. G paid the bill, as agreed, the restaurant called us a taxi, we chatted and made plans for meeting on Tuesday afternoon to work further on our paper. G got off at her place, and I continued.

There is no clear evidence of the following, but I got home, supposedly paid the taxi and opened the door with my key.

Staffan's evidence is that I was cheerful, telling him about the meal, including sending the peanut dish back to the kitchen. According to him, I changed into sleeping gear, presumably brushed my teeth, took my pills and went to bed.

Next, some hours later, he heard me calling from the bathroom. He says I was lying on the floor, with my legs in the bathroom and the rest of me in the corridor. I could not get up, but, he says, told him quite soberly to call an ambulance. When we arrived at the hospital, I was asked lots of questions to which I, Staffan says, replied coherently and accurately, in the right language. Among other things, they asked me when the Second World War started. They took blood tests, blood pressure, ran me through brain scan, did all kinds of tests. Everything was fine. Only I don't remember anything of this.

As I said, dreams are bizarre, and I dreamed I was in an ambulance, but I had been inside an ambulance, although not as patient, so I wasn't at all perplexed. The ambulance was going back and forth between home and hospital, and I thought it was fortunate that we live so close to the hospital. (We don't. We live on the opposite side of town from the hospital. My work is close to the hospital). I dreamed that I was lying on the floor in a hallway of an unfamiliar apartment, and again, I wasn't surprised because that's the kind of things you dream. It wasn't in any way an unpleasant dream so I wasn't eager to wake up. I dreamed somebody asked me to look up and down and left and right, and this is exactly what my optician had done last Saturday so it was quite logical to dream it, although in the dream it wasn't my optician but some weird figure from a horror movie. I dreamed I was telling people around me that I was in withdrawal because, close after kidney stones, medical withdrawal is the worst experience I have ever had in my life, and I was very anxious that they gave me my pill. I also dreamed that I was in a euthanasia clinic in Holland, as described in Ian McEwan's novel Amsterdam, and that people around me were just hallucinations caused by lethal drugs. I wasn't particularly upset about it because in the dream it was all properly pre-arranged. I dreamed they pushed me into a tunnel for brain scan, but in the dream I knew it had happened many years ago in Stockholm, so I wasn't worried. There was something else I was worried about in connection with the brain scan, possibly that I would get lost in the corridors – just as you do in dreams. I was worried that they would forget to bring me out of that tunnel. I dreamed I was wearing my blue fluffy slippers and wondered why. I dreamed I was dizzy and thirsty and had to use the bathroom. I frequently dream that I have to use the bathroom and cannot find it, or the toilet disappears just as I am about to sit down. Therefore I wasn't at all surprised when they moved me from the bed I was lying on to a chair with a hole. It's just the kind of thing you dream. (I checked with Staffan later – it happened). I was anxious that I had to attend a symposium (which had been last Friday). I often dream that I am at a conference and don't know what I am supposed to speak about. I was also anxious to know why G was in Cambridge because it didn't make sense, but then of course it was just a dream. I was still begging for my pill, but they told me I should take it in the evening, as usual. I said it was evening and I had to take my pill. I continued insisting that I was in withdrawal and therefore dizzy. Someone without a face told me I was getting anti-dizziness injections which I found pleasurable. I was not at all surprised that I was in hospital, but I was surprised that I was wearing my bathrobe and fluffy slippers. Yet this is exactly what happens in dreams: you dream you are in front of students in a lecture hall wearing a bathrobe and slippers. I was embarrassed because my nightgown sleeves were frayed. Also, the world was blurry (Staffan had not brought my glasses). They told me I could go home soon, and I thought it was fortunate that we lived so close to the hospital. There was no sudden awakening and realisation that I had been dreaming; everything was clear and logical. I asked Staffan what day and time it was. I got scared. I wasn't sure what had happened and what had been a dream. I kept asking the same questions over and over again until he told me, mildly, to shut up.

I read some work on memory studies for my recent research project, and what I know is that every time we retrieve a stored memory it gets arbitrarily connected to something else, real or fictional, and stored again in a distorted form. It is therefore pointless to try to remember. What I may now think I remember can just as well be a false memory prompted by something I have been told. Let's face it: I have a total memory gap of fifteen hours during which people around me perceived me as rational and coherent.

They think I fell and hurt my head. It's a theory as good as any other. Why did I fall in the first place? They think I had an ear infection. But all tests were normal.

“Humans are suddenly mortal” (Bulgakov). Yet another reminder of your own mortality is never pleasant, but it is also a reminder of utter vulnerability. I didn't do anything wrong to cause my fall. I cannot prevent it happening again.

This very moment I should have been on a plane to Bergen, Norway, going to a conference that I had been very much looking forward to. It is not the first time I have to cancel conference participation at short notice. I never learn. But it is the first time I have experienced amnesia. I don't like it.

Conclusion: once again, appreciate the time you have, because you don't know when it may run out. Value people around you who spend the night in hospital beside you in an uncomfortable chair. Reconsider your priorities. And make sure your nightgown is not frayed.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Two amazing women


Last week we had a very distinguished guest speaker, Juliet Dusinberre, the author of Alice to the Lighthouse, one of the best critical studies of children's literature, written almost thirty years ago. She talked about Beatrix Potter, and this talk very nearly made me change my mind, once again, about the value of biographical information for literary studies. I didn't know much about Beatrix Potter beyond basic facts (I guess, most of them from the movie, Miss Potter), and the letters and diaries that Juliet spoke about were really illuminating. One of our students wrote an excellent blog post about this talk, so I won't repeat it.

What struck me, however, was the similarity of Potter's life and struggle to her contemporary, the Swedish Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf. Once upon a time I was a Lagerlöf scholar (published a book and several articles), and even then I wasn't interested in her biography, and even then I was wrong because there were many facts in her life that were reflected in her writing and therefore worth knowing. For instance, the loss – or threat of loss – of the childhood home surfaces in all her novels. When she got the Prize – first female writer ever to receive it – she bought back her father's estate, and, much like Potter, kept buying adjacent land and expanding farming. As rich and famous, she still had to challenge her male fellow writers and was often referred to as "fairy tale auntie". Unlike Potter, she wrote novels, but she also wrote one book for children that is, at least internationally, better known than her novels, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. Among many remarkable things she does in this book, commissioned as a geography textbook, she is a passionate animal rights promoter. Could she be familiar with Beatrix Potter's books? Possibly. Could Potter have read Nils? It was translated into English early. Does it matter? Not really.

Of the many famous words by Lagerlöf, my favourite is from her diary: "Today I sold twenty sacks of flour and a short story". That could have been Beatrix Potter.