Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was a writer of causerie-style articles and youth literature who wrote under the byline of Claque. Her books about Pella are some of the most beloved twentieth-century classic girls’ books.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was born in 1911. “When I was a child I was apparently very bored because I was an only child”, she is known to have said. She was not even allowed to play with other children and so she was left feeling isolated within her own family. Conversation was frowned upon at the table – food was to silence the mouth – and her memories include being scolded and criticised. Her parents also very steadfastly “dragged her along” every Sunday on car journeys around Scania which did not involve major human contact. Her father, who sold agricultural machines, would engage local farmers in conversation and get invited in for a meal whilst she and her mother would remain in the car, “freezing and starving”. Her parents often argued about minor issues whilst Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was often forgotten. Although Anna Lisa Wärnlöf presented her childhood within causerie-type writing the intolerance, sense of powerless irritation, anger towards everyone and everything is apparent and it also emerges in some of her fictional children’s and youth characters.
She and her family lived in Malmö where Anna Lisa Wärnlöf attended the Anna and Eva Bunth school for girls, which was near Kungsparken. She met Agnes, the wonderfully supreme and headstrong girl who became her best friend, on her first day at school when she was six years old. Together they explored different parts of central Malmö and had their own experiences of the mysteries of life. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf twice depicted these junior school years, firstly in 1956 through the lengthy causerie-style article “Hissar får inte rösta” and later in her 1963 book entitled Boken om Agnes.
From the outset Anna Lisa Wärnlöf sought refuge in reading. Images and language aroused either an almost mystical appeal or anxiety and she would use all her pocket money – 25 öre a week – so that, bit by bit, she acquired the collected writings of Heidenstam and Rydberg. She also read other wonderful literature as well, and many “funny books” which she got from her mother.
As Anna Lisa Wärnlöf got older she followed the norms of her bourgeois milieu. She regularly attended chamber music concerts at the town hall without understanding what the musicians were doing. It is clear that her own experiences lie behind those of her fictional character Pella, who “cannot tell the difference between an undistinguished F-sharp from a piece in ‘Eh’-minor or whatever it’s called”. Meanwhile, she enjoyed operettas at the Hipp and Karl Gerhard’s satirical revue productions.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf finished attending girls’ school at seventeen and she then took courses in stenography and typewriting and began to work as a secretary for a bank director in Uppsala. According to her own accounts she did not do well at all and her boss had to keep an eye on the paperwork instead of her. Indeed her boss advised her to focus on writing after she had produced a very highly-regarded brochure on saving money. She then began volunteering at Hallandsposten, where she took on all sorts of journalism duties and was in charge of the editorial staff in Ljungby from 1933. She was taken on by the Gothenburg Morgon-Tidningen in 1936. At the turn of the year 1940/1941 she transferred to Göteborgs Handels- och Sjöfarts-Tidning (GHT).
It was while she was working at Morgon-Tidningen that Anna Lisa Wärnlöf began to publish causerie-type articles. She continued writing these for GHT, as well as for weeklies such as Röster i Radio-TV and Idun-Veckojournalen. She supplied them to Svenska Dagbladet from 1946 onwards until just a few months before she passed away in 1987. She always used the byline Claque but used different characters in the different publications. During the 1949–1958 period she published four collections of her causerie-style articles as books.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf has described the birth of her fictional character Pella: one day when she was on a Scanian country road, she began scolding her young daughter Lena for being naughty. Lena “hadn’t the slightest clue as to why I was annoyed”, and when her mother saw her pleading and angry expression another figure of a girl appeared beside Lena, whole and complete, as though she had been hiding behind her. This was Pella, an eleven year-old, who about faced and ran off on her long legs. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf introduced Pella to her list of characters that she was using at Svenska Dagbladet and she then made frequent appearances in her columns.
In 1956 Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was approached by the publishing editor Harriet Alfons who asked her whether she had ever considered writing a book for girls. Alfons had read both “Hissar får inte rösta” and causerie-type articles about Pella and was convinced that Anna Lisa Wärnlöf would be a successful writer of youth literature. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was not so sure but nevertheless began to toy around with the idea, “mainly because it was lovely to receive letters from Mrs Alfons”. She was eventually persuaded and produced Pellas bok, which was published in 1958. The book tells of the 15 year-old Pella’s experiences at a confirmation camp in Småland and it was an immediate hit. The following year she was awarded the Nils Holgersson plaque for the book.
After the first Pella book Anna Lisa Wärnlöf wrote another three, portraying small-town life, love, and having a career. She also created a new young female character called Fredrike, who is the lead character in the 1961 book Pojken en trappa upp and Fredrikes barn, published in 1962. Fredrike is an unsettled 16 year-old who is having trouble coming to terms with her parents’ divorce, she is clumsy and is filled with anger about everything. By the second book her temperament has calmed somewhat, and she has made friends with some local children and established her own sort of private daycare. Just like in Boken om Agnes Anna Lisa Wärnlöf reveals her great talent for understanding children’s feelings and thought-processes. Childhood is no happy-go-lucky fairy-tale. In contrast – as Pella says in the 1965 book Lennerboms – “I don’t believe anyone would survive the test of strength which is childhood – especially if they had to experience it after they had something else to compare it with”.
One of the children in Fredrike’s collective is called Ingrid Sjökvist. She later becomes the lead character in her own book, Ingkvist, published in 1964, which recounts how one day she runs away from home and makes friends with several other children who for various reasons have also had to escape their parents for a while. As with the rest of Anna Lisa Wärnlöf’s books, this one is also replete with a sense of wisdom from experience, a critical perspective, and tenderness.
In 1938 Anna Lisa Wärnlöf married the journalist and artist Ernst Roos. The marriage ended in 1942. She then married the artist Gustaf Adolf Wärnlöf, who was one of her colleagues at GHT. Their children Johan and Lena were brought up by their maternal grandparents whilst their parents led a nomadic lifestyle, moving between small communities on the Scanian west coast and in the Stockholm archipelago. The reason for this restless lifestyle was probably a combination of lack of permanent housing, unreliable finances, as well as an inability to settle down. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf always wanted to get away: both back to the past and forwards towards new experiences.
The couple finally did put down roots in Trosa in 1965. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf increasingly withdrew from her surroundings. She remained tethered to reality through newspapers and communicated by letter, but in the main she became totally focused on her writing, leaving her husband to deal with cooking and all practical exchanges with the outside world.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf found writing to be a laborious exercise and did not enjoy it. She was a slow worker, and endlessly rewrote her work. She took her commissions extremely seriously. One of her causerie-type submissions from 1940 criticises the “barbaric public’s” view that “producing causerie-style work is synonymous with tittle-tattle”. She felt this was wrong and continued: “Writing causerie-type articles is like discussing a subject […] Your task is in some way similar to that of André Gide: to cause upset. Indeed, to upset in an entertaining manner. This is a very difficult task at a time which is as upsetting as this one”. She didn’t have much time for “forced comedy” which was produced by “the word-jugglers and anecdote-lovers” of the era: “Producing causerie-style work is to use the camouflage of chit-chat in order to discuss a serious subject”.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf became known for her prominent style and her idiosyncratic use of language. Her texts are replete with imaginative newly-made up words and unexpected metaphors whilst employing concise and severely restrained phraseology. Although the language is vibrant and seemingly accessible many of the stylistic elements demand engagement from the reader. Her work was perhaps best loved by those who already had an interest in linguistics and had intellectual proclivities. Many women who have become authors, journalists, or scholars have testified how important the Pella books were to them.
Pella was, as described by the literary scholar Ying Toijer-Nilsson, far from being a modern, contemporary girl. She was, rather, a “timeless mirror-image for kindred spirits”. Anna Lisa Wärnlöf did not try to fit in with her contemporaries. She subsequently joked about the demands for a contemporary and sociologically-influenced youth literature. In response to views such as that more should be written about the working classes, on the new society, on the new gender roles and on sex, she said that that day when children’s literature stops having to “reflect” so much is when it will truly become informative for the general public.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf was a contrary person. She longed for human contact but was reclusive; she was full of imagination yet endlessly refined her work; old-fashioned but unconventional. Her fictional characters bear the same complexities. They are their own personalities, not clichés. Just as the byline Claque ruthlessly revealed the absurd or the heart-warming element in a situation, she similarly effectively carved out unforgettable characters.
Anna Lisa Wärnlöf died in September 1987. She and her husband, who died two years later, are buried at Trosa Old Cemetery.