Dagmar Edqvist was one of the most widely read Swedish authors of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. A constant thread which runs through her extensive written output is the debate regarding equal opportunities for women.
Dagmar Edqvist grew up in Visby. She was the daughter of Hjalmar Jansson, a history lecturer, and his wife Hermanna Krokstedt. Dagmar Edqvist’s father was politically active, serving as a town councillor on behalf of the conservatives and as ‘vice preses’ (chair) of the cathedral chapter. Girls did not have access to a full formalised education at this time and thus Dagmar Edqvist gained her school-leaving certificate as a private student in Stockholm in 1922. She then married Torgny Edqvist, a man 15 years her senior, who worked as an associate teacher at the Visby school. The couple moved to Malmö in 1932, where their daughter Suzanne was born in 1934. Dagmar Edqvist was widowed in 1964. She entered into her second marriage in 1969, with Olof Hasslöf, an ethnologist.
Following her first marriage Dagmar Edqvist continued studying, including a stint in France in 1927. She then worked as secretary for J. Lundahl, the chief physician at the St Olof hospital in Visby, whose posthumous doctoral dissertation she edited in 1932. That same year she released her first novel, entitled Kamrathustru, for which she garnered a lot of attention. It formed part of a series of novels written by young authors who — as it said in the Bonnier publishing house catalogue — “had modern and slightly revolutionary views on life”. Kamrathustru, like several of Dagmar Edqvist’s ensuing novels, focused on what was then in Sweden known as ‘Den nya kvinnan’ (the new woman), namely a woman who demanded freedom and equality within marriage. The concept of a ‘kamrathustru’ (‘comrade-wife’) became a recurring theme of contemporary debates on gender.
Dagmar Edqvist’s first novel introduced her readers to the type of women who tended to populate most of her novels. These women — like the lead character in Kamrathustru, Ebba Garland — are clear-sighted, independent, and equable. They tend to be professionals, largely within the academic sphere, which gives rise to their demands for equality between the sexes.
Over the ensuing decades the Bonnier publishing house was able to release a new Edqvist novel almost every other year. Dagmar Edqvist wrote 24 novels in total. Her last, entitled Vänta på vind (1985) was a historical novel. However, by then Dagmar Edqvist had long since lost her vast readership.
Dagmar Edqvist’s earliest work dealt directly with what was a contemporary issue and her novels became well-loved. During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s she was one of the most widely read Swedish authors, but her novels were not necessarily defined as belonging to popular culture. Her books were also translated into many languages. Her extensive work can be divided into three distinct groupings. The first and most voluminous part of her output comprises contemporary novels in which Dagmar Edqvist deals with relations between the sexes, primarily women’s roles as wifes, professional career women, and friends. The second grouping of Dagmar Edqvist’s work comprise novels situated within Africa. In 1956 she undertook her first visit to Tanzania, where her friend Barbro Johansson was a missionary and school principal. Dagmar Edqvist made several return visits to Tanzania and also provided reports for Sveriges Radio on the Tanzanian freedom-movement’s struggles for independence under Nyerere’s leadership. In 1958 the first of five novels with an African theme, entitled Skuggan blir kortare, was published. In this novel, as in Den svarta systern (1961), Eldflugorna (1964) and Efter flykten (1977), tribal society is pitted against western culture. The conflict between whites and blacks is portrayed in an almost thriller-like style.
The third grouping of her books is comprised of historical novels. Trolldryck was published in 1949. This was a novel set in the time of the Swedish witch-trials. Between the years of 1967 to 1971 Dagmar Edqvist published a trilogy of novels situated in Gotland during the Viking era and the medieval period. The first of these, entitled Mannen från havet, was published in 1967 and it was followed by Mannen som kom hem (1969), and Människor på en ö (1971). These three novels made the news again in 2005 as the Allan Nilsson-led Länsteater (county theatre) on Gotland put on a production of a play based on the trilogy that year. A large open-air theatre was constructed at När on southeast Gotland and 32 performances were held over the course of two summers.
One of Dagmar Edqvist’s novels which stands out from the others is Fallet Ingegerd Bremssen. It was published in 1937 and is based on a much-reported rape case, for which she had been able to use the expertise of her manager at St Olof hospital. The novel is heavily documentary in style and came to occupy a central place within contemporary discussion on rape. It was adapted for the silver screen by Anders Henrikson in 1942.
Three other novels by Dagmar Edqvist were also turned into films: Kamrathustru, Rymlingen fast, and Musik i mörker.
Dagmar Edqvist died in 1984.