Elisabeth Tykesson was a literary historian, a reviewer, an essayist, and a member of the Nine Society from 1956–1962.
Elisabeth Tykesson was born in Eslöv in 1906. She was the daughter of Per Tykesson, a master tailor, and his wife Elise Henriksson. She had two older siblings, one of whom – her twelve-year-older sister Karin – became a music teacher. Reading was encouraged within the family home where books were readily available. Music was also treasured.
At the age of 13 Elisabeth Tykesson suffered from a case of polio, which caused damage to her left arm. Consequently she often kept that arm and hand hidden in a pocket. This minor handicap may have contributed to her socially withdrawn nature. She was more open when in the company of her family. Elisabeth Tykesson lived with her mother, who was widowed at an early age, in a house in Eslöv. Her relationship with her sister also played an important role in Elisabeth Tykesson’s life as a singleton.
Elisabeth Tykesson gained her school-leaving certificate from a classical education-based school. She then began to attend Lund university where, after studying Nordic languages and history amongst other things, she focused on the history of literature. Professor Olle Holmberg, who had taught in the department from the early 1930s and served as professor from 1937–1959 , came to know the shy Elisabeth Tykesson through the seminars where she was the only female participant. He encouraged her to continue her studies.
Elisabeth Tykesson chose her own subject for her licentiate dissertation, namely the early nineteenth-century Swedish robber-novel genre. These novels appealed to all sorts of people and the books were often translated out of German. Using a rich and varied base of source material –everything including reviews, publishers’ correspondence, and lending-library catalogues – Elisabeth Tykesson attempted to map how extensively these works were disseminated and how popular they were. She subsequently expanded her licentiate dissertation, which, in 1942, became a doctoral thesis entitled Rovarromanen och dess hjälte i 1800-talets svenska folkläsning. The concise style and extensive perspective of this doctorate has given it legendary status. Its thesis statement almost exhibited a literary-sociological aspect.
After gaining her doctorate Elisabeth Tykesson spent a few years as a relief teacher in Eksjö and Skara. She enjoyed teaching and got on well with both her students and her colleagues. However, the desire to write won out. She never progressed to teaching probation. Instead Elisabeth Tykesson began to write reviews and essays for publications such as Bonniers litterära magasin, Svensk litteraturskrift, Ord och bild, and the Sydsvenska Dagbladet newspaper. As early as 1945 she compiled twelve essays into a book, simply entitled Tolv essayer, highlighting the work of contemporary writers including Tage Aurell, Fritiof Nilsson Piraten, and Moa Martinson. Elisabeth Tykesson had already written about Harald Beijer as part of Norstedt publishing house series on five of their own authors.
In 1945 Elisabeth Tykesson signed a contract with Norstedt to write a biography of Per Daniel Amadeus Atterbom presenting her with a considerable challenge. The project was a slow-burner and was only released in 1954 as Atterbom. En levnadsteckning. One of the reasons it took so long for her to complete the book was financial difficulties. Elisabeth Tykesson quite simply had to write reviews in order to earn enough to live on. For a time she served as a serials advisor for Åhlén & Åkerlund weekly press.
Inger Larsson analysed Elisabeth Tykesson’s work methodology in her 2003 doctoral thesis, Text och tolkning i svenska författarbiografier, with reference to her first and only major biography. The publishers wanted her to write about a Swedish Romantic figure. Stagnelius and Geijer had already been nabbed by Böök and Landquist. Elisabeth Tykesson therefore readily considered writing about Atterbom whose poetry she found to be “extraordinarily beautiful”.
In the main Elisabeth Tykesson received positive feedback for her Atterbom book, although male reviewers did make comments on certain philosophical and interpretational passages on this key figure of Swedish Romanticism. However, Olle Homberg, Elisabeth Tykesson’s former teacher, enthusiastically described the biographer’s writing style in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper and stated that “few literary history books in Sweden combine graceful style with solid learning in the way she does”.
Soon after finishing the Atterbom book Elisabeth Tykesson was elected into the Nine Society in 1956, in which she was given seat number 2 as Stina Aronson’s successor. This seat had previously been occupied by Selma Lagerlöf and Elin Wägner. Amongst Elisabeth Tykesson’s contemporaries in the Nine Society were Olle Holmberg, Algot Werin, Margit Abenius, John Landquist and the newly-elected Sara Lidman. Although she didn’t get to see out many years as a member, she was able to make substantial contributions involving the definitive and sure-fire aesthetic judgement that she had shown during her years as a reviewer.
Elisabeth Tykesson maintained her connections with Norstedt publishing house and its publisher Ragnar Svanström. In 1955 she was recruited by Norstedt to write a literary history of the West although she only completed the Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance sections. During the autumn of 1959 she was diagnosed with cancer which slowly dissipated her strength. The foreword to the first section on the Ancient period (posthumously published) was penned by Olle Holmberg and began “A few words on Elisabeth Tykesson”, which sensitively tries to describe the contours of her personality. Only the Ancient and Medieval period sections were completed and these were published in the 1970s. Elisabeth Tykesson’s work on Western literature was received with respect and acclaim. Her mentor, Olle Holmberg, described her written expression as: “the language flowered” and “the imagery was bang on”.
Even as her illness began to cast its long shadow across her life Elisabeth Tykesson remained of sound mind and retained her joy in working. “Let’s not get sentimental” and “we’ve had fun” were two of the things she is reported to have said to her sister once the severity of her illness was apparent. On the death of Elisabeth Tykesson in the spring of 1962 the world of Swedish literary studies and of reviews lost an accomplished and assured stylist of very high integrity.
Elisabeth Tykesson died at the age of 55 and is buried in Eslöv cemetery, beside her parents and her sister.