Astrid Lindgren vid skrivmaskinen

Career

After her marriage to Sture Lindgren in 1931 Astrid stopped working as a secretary at the Royal Automobile Club and stayed at home with her son Lasse. To make her housekeeping money go further she occasionally took on extra jobs. She wrote a few stories for various magazines and sometimes filled in as a secretary for short periods of time.

In May 1934 Astrid and Sture’s daughter Karin was born, and Astrid became a mum of two. She was often outside playing with her children - in the ‘Vasaparken’ park or down by the ‘Karlbergskanalen’ canal. Astrid Lindgren wasn’t like the other mothers. She loved playing, and jumped, climbed and swung as enthusiastically as the children. She was also fully aware of the position of power the grown-up were in and observed all around her how children were being bullied and oppressed.

There were many mothers with small children in ‘Vasaparken’, some of whom become Astrid’s friends for life - she called them the ‘park-ladies’. They met everyday and followed each other’s lives.

Revolver-Harry

In 1937 Astrid Lindgren filled in for the secretary of Harry Söderman, Associate Professor of Criminology at Stockholm University. He was both a scientist and an adventurer, “a Swedish Indiana Jones” according to the criminologist Leif GW Persson. After having succeeded in escaping unscathed from an armed attack in Iran on just a bike he was dubbed ‘Revolver-Harry’. He also ran a successful detective agency in Stockholm, and eventually gained international fame which qualified him to teach forensic science to both Scotland Yard and the NYPD. Astrid Lindgren absorbed both his person and his knowledge and later used them in her own books - about Kalle Blomkvist, Masterdetective.

The Second World War

In September 1939 The Second World War broke out. Astrid Lindgren decided to document the war and started cutting out articles as well as beginning her ‘war diaries’ that commented on both her day-to-day life and the events of the war.

Her war diaries begin: “O, today the war began. No one wants to believe it. Yesterday afternoon Elsa Gullander and I sat in ‘Vasaparken’ and whilst the children ran around playing we gave that Hitler a piece of our minds from our sheltered position and we agreed that there probably wouldn’t be a war - and then today!”

In total seventeen diaries were filled before peace arrived in May 1945.

In the summer of 1940 Astrid was once again contacted by Harry Söderman and offered a top-secret job at the secret services’ department for letter censorship, what Astrid came to refer to as ‘the dirty job’. Together with her colleagues, including Madicken, Astrid worked by secretly reading letters to and from countries abroad, as well as military post. The letters and the job gave Astrid a good insight into the pains of war and in 1940 she described in her diaries Nazism as an evil beast.

The Move to Dalagatan

In 1941 Sture Lindgren became the CEO of the Swedish Automobile Association and the family could afford to move to a larger apartment. In October 1941 the moving vans departed for Dalagatan 46, where they had acquired a large 140 square meter three-bed apartment. Astrid Lindgren, who all her life had lived in modest circumstances, thought the apartment was incredibly nice. “I can’t help but be happy about our beautiful flat, even though I’m constantly aware of just how undeservedly good our lives are, when so many don’t even have a roof over their heads.”

In the same year, 1941, Astrid’s daughter Karin became ill and wanted her mum to tell her a story. “Tell me about Pippi Longstocking”, she begged, and in that moment invented what would become one of the most recognisable characters in children’s fiction around the world. “Because it was a strange name, it had to be an equally strange girl”, Astrid Lindgren said. Over several years she made up new stories for Karin and her friends.

Astrid Lindgren’s life changed dramatically with Pippi Longstocking. The book about Pippi Longstocking became a huge success and her budding passion for writing was allowed to blossom, resulting in a number of books in quick succession. During the years between 1944 and 1946 Astrid wrote six books for children and young adults: The Confidences of Britt-Mari, Pippi Longstocking, Kerstin and I, The Children of Noisy Village, Blomkvist Master Detective as well as Pippi Longstocking goes aboard.

quotes

‘What should a good children’s book be like? If you ask me, I can tell you after thinking long and hard: It must be good.’

From A little conversation with a would-be children’s book writer, from a magazine called Children & Culture (June, 1970)

Louise Hartung

On her way home from an international conference on children’s literature in Zurich in 1953 Astrid was invited to Berlin in order to talk about her writing in front of librarians and booksellers. She was met at the airport by Louise Hartung, the woman who had invited her. A friendship formed between the intellectual German Louise and Astrid Lindgren when Louise, who had experienced the war at close proximity, took her guest on a secret trip to East Berlin.

When Louise Hartung died in 1965 more than 600 letters had been exchanged between the two women. They also frequently met up all around Europe to take road trips in Louise’s Volkswagen Convertible, which the two women ‘on the road’ had named “Das Heidenkind” (the heathen child).

Astrid and Louise had rich conversations about women’s issues, socio-political matters and literature for adults as well as for children and young people. Louise Hartung was a well-educated, critical reader (and a fervent Goethe and Strindberg fan) and in Louise Astrid had, through all those years, a highly qualified and observant reader and advisor when it came to her own books.

The correspondence between Astrid and Louise was published in 2016 in the book I Too Have Lived!

Left on her own

Astrid's husband Sture Lindgren died in 1952. Two years earlier her son Lasse had married and moved away from home. Still living in the flat on Dalagatan were Astrid and Karin. In 1958 Karin also married and Astrid Lindgren was left on her own. For almost forty years she had the flat to herself, up until her death in 2002.

Astrid med sina böcker

Astrid in her flat at Dalagatan, photo Leif R Jansson

Milestones in Astrid's life

1933

Her first children’s stories are published in Stockholms-Tidningen (a daily newspaper) and Landsbygdens Jul (a magazine).

1939

Her parents-in-law purchase the house in Furusund, which is to become Astrid Lindgren’s summer residence for the rest of her life. This is where she wrote many of her books and film-scripts.

1940

Astrid Lindgren is offered a top secret job at the Special Intelligence Agency. She is assigned to the mail-censorship office which gives her deep insight into the afflictions of war in the world. The assignment continues for the duration of the War