Born in the forested countryside of Sweden she was told many of the classic Swedish fairytales, which she would later use as inspiration in her magic realist writings. Since she for some of her early years had problems with her legs (she was born with a faulty hip) she would also spend a lot of time reading books such as the Bible.
As a young woman she was a teacher in the southern parts of Sweden for ten years before her first novel Gösta Berling's Saga was published. As her writer career progressed she would keep up a correspondance with some of her former female collegues for almost her entire life.
Lagerlöf never married and was almost certainly a lesbian (she never officially stated that she was, but most later researchers believe this to be the case). For many years her constant companion was fellow writer Sophie Elkan, with whom she traveled to Italy and the Middle East. Her visit to Palestine and a colony of Christians there, would inspire her to write Jerusalem, her story of Swedish farmers converting into a evangelical Christian group and travelling to "The American Colony" in Jerusalem.
Lagerlöf was involved in both women issues as well as politics. She would among other things help the Jewish writer Nelly Sachs to come to Sweden and donated her Nobel medal to the Finish war effort against the Soviet union.
Outside of Sweden she's perhaps most widely known for her children's book Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventures of Nils).
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