Edith Unnerstad was an author and is primarily known for the children’s and youth books she wrote.
Edith Unnerstad was born in Helsinki in 1900. She was the second eldest of seven siblings. Following the death of her maternal grandmother – who lived on Åland – in 1908, the family moved to Mariehamn. Edith Unnerstad’s father had become financially independent through an inheritance from a paternal aunt. At this time Finland was a Grand Duchy under Russian rule and Edith Unnerstad’s father wanted his children to have a Swedish upbringing, so two years later the family moved again, this time to Sweden. They settled in Stockholm, where Edith Unnerstad attended the Detthow school for a few years. She spent her summers with relatives on Åland, and the games and lifestyle she enjoyed there became a source of inspiration for her children’s books as well as for some of her novels.
Following a spell at art school Edith Unnerstad worked for Vattenfallsstyrelsen (the water board) in Stockholm until 1924 when she married Arvid Unnerstad, a civil engineer from Scania. His job entailed a lot of travelling and the couple moved regularly, spending time in Motala and in Helsinki. In 1938 Arvid Unnerstad established his own company in Solna, which introduced the jukebox into Sweden, amongst other things. Edith Unnerstad’s daughter Lena was born in 1928. Like her mother, she too had a literary career, which in her case involved translation. During the mid-1930s the family settled in Djursholm, where Edith Unnerstad saw out the rest of her days, even after her husband’s death.
Further to the more than 25 children’s books Edith Unnerstad wrote, she also authored nine novels and a poetry collection. Her debut book, entitled Uffe reser jorden runt and published in 1932, was followed by two murder mysteries, the 1933 Fallet Bengtsson, which received very positive reviews, and Fallet Malo, published in 1934. Both of these were released under the pseudonym of Alice Totterman. The last of her books to be published during Edith Unnerstad’s lifetime was an edited selection called Översvämning på Kringelvägen och två andra sagor, published in 1980. The manuscript to Bara Sara, comprising a partly autobiographical work based on an eight-year old girl living on Åland, was found amongst her surviving paperwork and was published in 2007.
Edith Unnerstad’s best known works are her four children’s books about the Pip-Larsson family who were introduced in a 1949 volume entitled Kastrullresan. This book won first prize in a competition set up by the Rabén & Sjögren publishers in order to establish themselves on the Swedish children’s book market. By 1950 Kastrullresan had already been adapted for the silver screen. A TV-series called Pip-Larssons was made nearly half a century later. The name Pip Larsson reflects the Larsson family father’s invention of a cooking pot which emits different tones of peeps to indicate when the food being prepared within it is ready. It also conveys the initials of the father’s three first names, namely Per Ivar Patrik. As a poor inventor he was hoping to earn a fortune through his invention but in reality it only nets him a pair of Clydesdale horses and their accompanying carriages. The mother comes up with an idea to turn a couple of carriages into travelling coaches and to head out onto the road. Following several incidents typical of children’s books – such as meeting hitchhikers, saving a boy from drowning, and stopping some thieves – the family find a new hometown in Norrköping. The story ends with a wealthy lady financing the mass production of the father’s invention.
Edith Unnerstad was most productive during the 1950s. Her publications during that decade included Nu seglar Pip-Larssons in 1950 (which was turned into a TV-series in 1971), several children’s books, a pair of fairy-tale books, and novels for adults. In 1957 Edith Unnerstad was awarded the Nils Holgersson plaque.
Two of her books are of historical interest, namely Mormorsresan, published in 1959, and Englandsresan, published in 1960. These both tell of the so-called ‘hårkullor’, women from Dalarna who, during the first half of the 1800s, began to create and sell jewellery and individual braids made of hair. Edith Unnerstad had childhood memories of a pair of ‘dalkullor’ and a young boy arriving at her home in Helsinki seeking commissions for items made of hair. They lived in the house and produced their wares whilst the family spent time in the countryside. Edith Unnerstad undertook thorough research into the history of the ‘hårkullor’ before writing these books. She then depicted how the ‘hårkullor’ worked and travelled eastwards to St Petersburg and westwards to Great Britain. Children form the leading characters in both of these books. Mormorsresan has realistic elements whilst Englandsresan is more of a fairy-tale type of story. This was the first time this trade had been dealt with in literary form.
The novels Edith Unnerstad wrote for an adult readership also lend children’s characters a prominent place in their stories. Some of these works incorporate somewhat autobiographical material. The first two novels are situated in the environs of Åland. Several of the other novels are located in milieus which were familiar to Edith Unnerstad from her childhood years in Stockholm. Although her depictions hardly convey an idyllic view of life, nevertheless problems do not play an overriding role in the stories. One of the novels, called Ensam hemma med Johnny, published in 1951, hints at prostitution and contains elements of eroticism. It can be pointed out that several Swedish novels were published during the transition from the 1940s to the 1950s about young people experiencing society’s darker aspects, in which erotic episodes were more openly portrayed. Inga-Lena Larsson’s 1951 Vide ung and Per Anders Fogelström’s Sommaren med Monika, from 1951, are examples of this.
Edith Unnerstad died in Danderyd in 1982.