Ulrika Borelius was a vicar’s wife in Skinnskatteberg and later a widow living with her philosopher son Johan Jacob Borelius in Kalmar. She kept a diary for four decades in the 1800s, by means of which the life of an intellectually interested woman of her day may be scientifically investigated.
Ulrika Borelius was born in 1794 in Västerås, the daughter of Carl Fredrik Böttiger, an apothecary, and his wife Ulrika Uggla. Her mother died when the girl was only one and she was brought up by her stepmother Sofia Vilhelmina Hülphers. Ulrika Borelius had many siblings, of whom the author and member of the Swedish Academy Carl Wilhelm Böttiger was the best known.
Her growing-up in Västerås was characterised by the lively social life revolving around her gifted father and stepmother, who belonged to cultural families with aesthetic and intellectual interests. Ulrika Borelius was talented and beautiful according to Malla Silfverstolpe who had met her at a masquerade in Uppsala. When her father Carl Fredrik Böttiger died in 1819, his widow and all their many children were left in financial difficulties and they lost their sense of social security. Their mother was compelled to accept lodgers and the older daughters started a school for small children. Ulrika Borelius was for a time a governess in the family of Major Ingelotz at Lindö, just south of Västerås.
In 1820, Ulrika Borelius married Jacob Borelius, a lecturer and more than twenty years her senior. Her husband was made a vicar and provost in Skinnskatteberg in 1822, and the family moved there. Three daughters died at an early age, and only their son Johan Jacob, born in 1823, survived. Her husband was almost fifty when they married and the difference in age played an ever greater role as time went on. He was impractical and crippled. The differences between the spouses became more and more obvious. He was dry and unmusical while she was imaginative and sensitive. While Ulrika Borelius made music and read aloud, her husband played cards and drank himself inebriated. Ulrika Borelius’ marriage was not easy, but she noted when he died in 1851 that he had become dearer to her the older he got.
Their only son was by comparison an even greater joy to Ulrika Borelius. He was both gifted and devoted and became her hope for the future. Johan Jacob Borelius studied at Uppsala University after completing his schooling in Västerås. He was awarded his doctorate at Uppsala and crowned his career by being appointed Professor of theoretical philosophy in Lund from 1866. Through her son’s successful studies, his mother gained new impulses and outlooks in her otherwise somewhat provincial life. Her diaries from 1841 onwards give good insights into the facts of her life.
The vicarage in Skinnskatteberg was splendid with a library and servants. Ulrika Borelius even had her own bookcase. The social network of the vicar’s wife was rich in educated and wealthy people from the town. Skinnskatteberg had the character of a mining town replete with lively cultural activities among the works owners and their families, as was later depicted by Selma Lagerlöf and Gustaf Fröding. Ulrika Borelius socialised especially with the ladies from the manor in Skinnskatteberg, that was owned by the Hisinger family. At the manor, she was able to read the newspapers and satisfy her great hunger for news.
The vicar’s wife managed a large household and did it very skilfully, coming from a family of businessmen as Ulrika Borelius did. She also visited the old and sick and was able to use the knowledge and skills that she had acquired while growing up in the home of an apothecary. She was interested in teaching and gave a young girl from the works’ social set private lessons. As the vicar’s wife, she also attended examinations and prayer assemblies in the parish school.
When Ulrika Borelius was growing up, the Böttiger family were followers of the cathedral provost Johan Olof Wallin in his quarrels with the worldly social circles in Västerås. Wallin conducted the marriage ceremony of Ulrika Borelius and her husband. Ulrika Borelius was traditional and diligent in her religious practice. Church services and readings of collections of sermons belonged to her everyday routines: “An individual religious life with daily personal prayers can be glimpsed in the scarcity of her entries”, as Hilma Borelius interpreted her paternal grandmother’s annotation calendars. The vicar’s wife appeared more spiritually vigorous than her husband and she kept an open mind towards the revival movement. She also became interested in philosophical writings in connection with her son’s studies.
Worldly pleasures also had their place in Ulrika Borelius’ life. Art, music, and theatre were practised in various ways in social life. However, according to the literature researcher Åke Åberg’s in-depth studies of Ulrika Borelius’ life, reading was her most central activity. Åberg has read in detail all the letters and diaries that she left behind. This material is stored in the Lund University Library and includes the years 1841–1862 and 1869–1880. Her brother, Carl Wilhelm Böttiger, who was studying at Uppsala, borrowed books for her from the Uppsala University Library, and when he became established as an author, he of course sent his sister his works. Her brother’s literary career was followed by Ulrika Borelius with pride if also on occasion with anxiety.
The vicarage in Skinnskatteberg had a running account at the Torssell bookshop in Västerås as well as contacts with bookbinders in Arboga and Köping. Her diaries witness to Ulrika Borelius having been a reader far above the average, who wished to keep abreast of her time. Kurt Atterbom and Erik Gustaf Geijer were much appreciated – the latter was a radiant star in her heavens. Her son’s involvement in Scandinavianism led to an interest in Danish and Norwegian literature. Novels of all kinds have left their impression on the diaries. Popular literary series were acquired for example through subscriptions, but as many ordinary bound volumes circulated among the group of friends.
Reading could be undertaken in private on one’s own, but more often people read aloud to each other. Ulrika Borelius had her faithful servants Fredrika and Johanna to read to her. It was a way of socialising, especially during the autumn and winter. When her son Johan Jakob had moved to Kalmar as a lecturer, his mother followed him and settled down there in 1854. In her new home, she became engaged in the lay revival movement and other causes of the day, such as Torsten Rudenschöld’s ideas about schools. She continued keeping a diary in Kalmar and has therefore left a wealth of material that illustrates the life at a vicarage and also a woman’s reading and intellectual life during a period of four decades.
Ulrika Borelius died in Kalmar in 1883 and is buried there in the Southern Cemetery.