If Astrid Lindgren’s childhood had been a very happy one, her adolescence and young adult life were more sombre. “My teenage years were just about existing, flat and lifeless, I was often melancholic. And I thought, as many do, that I was so ugly, and I never fell in love either. Everyone else was always in love…”
Astrid has recounted how she clearly remembers the moment when her childhood ended and how devastating it was to realise that one couldn’t play anymore: “I remember it vividly. We always played with the priest’s granddaughter when she visited Näs over the holidays. But then one summer day when she arrived and we were about to start playing, as usual, we suddenly discovered that we couldn’t play anymore. We just couldn’t. It felt silly and sad, because what would we do if we couldn’t play?”
But her adolescence was also a time of development and revolt. Astrid Lindgren watched every single theatre play or movie that came out in little Vimmerby. She also really enjoyed dancing - both to traditional music and the new popular jazz music. “I underwent a tremendous transformation and in the blink of an eye I became what was in those days called a ‘hep cat’.”
Astrid was the first woman in the little town to cut her hair short. It caused quite a stir, with people she met on the street asking her to remove her hat so that they could gawk at her. Hanna and Samuel August were only mildly amused - “When I finally got home and sat down on a chair in the kitchen everyone fell silent. No one said a word, they only circled me without saying a thing.”
After graduating from school Astrid Lindgren was employed by the Vimmerby newspaper as a sixteen-year-old. She proofread, wrote tiny notices and short reports. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper was Reinhold Blomberg who had already earlier noticed Astrid’s talent. But Reinhold’s enchantment with Astrid stretched beyond her ability to write. And in the spring of 1926 Astrid Lindgren realised that she was pregnant.
To become pregnant as an unmarried nineteen-year-old woman was a major scandal that would disgrace not only Astrid herself but also her entire family. To top it off Reinhold Blomberg was locked in a bitter divorce and was the father of seven children. There were no other alternatives available to Astrid but to leave Vimmerby and go to Stockholm.
“Never before have so many gossiped about so little, at least not in Vimmerby. To be the victim of all that gossip was a bit like lying in a snake pit, and I decided to get out of that pit as quickly as I could.”
Astrid Lindgren’s first years in Stockholm were horrible - poor and lonely. She was a lodger, renting a room in Östermalm, and studied to become a secretary at the Bar-Lock Institute. Astrid and Reinhold kept in touch and the plan was that they would marry as soon as Reinhold’s divorce was finalised.
On the 21st of November Astrid Lindgren travelled to Copenhagen to have her child. The ‘Rigshospitalet’ in Copenhagen was the only hospital where you didn’t need to give the father’s name at the birth. Astrid had found a family to stay with and who could also look after her child until the time came when she was ready to bring it back to Sweden. The family were called Stevens and consisted of mother Marie Stevens, her son Carl, and a Swedish boy that they cared for called Esse, who was only a few months old at the time. Esse’s Mum had had him outside of wedlock, just like Astrid.
Astrid Lindgren’s son Lars, ‘Lasse’, was born on the 4th of December 1926 and Astrid spent the first few weeks together with him before travelling back to celebrate Christmas with her family at Näs as usual - anything to not feed the gossipmongers of Vimmerby. She then returned to Stockholm and restarted her secretary studies at the Bar-Lock Institute.
The Bar-Lock Institute was a private school in Stockholm, named after an American typewriter. Included in the curriculum was typing and shorthand, as well as bookkeeping, accounting and business correspondence in various languages. The students comprised of young women, often from other parts of the country. During her studies Astrid Lindgren lived in a boarding house on Artellerigatan in Stockholm. Many of the young female students lived there and they frequently socialised in evenings and on weekends.
Astrid got her first secretarial position in 1927, at Svenska Bokhandelscentralen’s radio department where she answered complaints from customers who didn’t quite understand how to make their new radio work. The radio was the latest technical gadget in Swedish homes and anyone who was anybody wanted one.
The trips to Copenhagen
Every penny Astrid Lindgren was able to scrape together she reserved for her trips to Copenhagen to visit Lasse.
She lived very modestly and kept herself alive thanks to the food baskets her family sent from Näs.
“It is quite the extravagant pleasure to cut yourself a thick slice of bread, then butter it with prime Vimmerby dairy butter, finally lay a slice of Mum’s cheese on top and then in the end devour it. This pleasure is repeated every morning, as long as there’s something left in the basket.”
In 1928 Astrid got a job at the Royal Automobile Club (KAK) where Sture Lindgren became her boss. She travelled down to Copenhagen every third month and often wrote letters to Marie Stevens and Lasse. In the replies she was told that Lasse was growing and developing. It was also at this time that Astrid categorically broke things off with Reinhold Blomberg. She couldn’t imagine living with him in Vimmerby, mothering his seven children - some of which were the same age as her.
In December 1929 Marie Stevens was admitted to hospital with heart trouble. Astrid travelled down to Copenhagen to collect Lasse. At the time he was three years old, spoke Danish and considered the Stevens his family. When he understood that he wouldn’t return he was devastated, “then he folded himself across a chair and cried quietly. Without making a noise, as if he realised that it didn’t matter anyway, they’ll do what they like with me. Those tears still cry within me and I suppose will continue to do so until I die. Perhaps it’s because of those tears that I’ve always been so quick to take the child’s side in any circumstance…”
When Lasse arrived in Stockholm he suffered from whooping cough and coughed through the nights. Astrid desperately tried to keep things together at the same time as doing her secretarial job, but soon realised it wasn’t working. Her mum Hanna suggested that he came to live with them at Näs and in May 1930 Astrid travelled to Vimmerby with her son. Using a coach and horses they made their way through Vimmerby in order to openly demonstrate that Lasse belonged to the family and put an end to all the gossip. Lasse stayed at Näs for a year, cared for by Hanna and Samuel August as well as Astrid’s siblings Gunnar, Stina and Ingegerd.More about Lasse
In Stockholm Astrid was increasingly courted by her boss Sture Lindgren, who had fallen in love with his employee and decided to seek a divorce from his wife. In the spring of 1931 they married and moved into a one-bed apartment on Vulcanusgatan by S:t Eriksplan in Stockholm. Finally Astrid could bring Lasse home for good.More about Sture Lindgren