Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster was one of the most prolific female writers and translators of the romance genre in her day. With her novels and short stories she contributed to the contemporary debate on the women’s movement.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster was born in 1869 in Sicklaö (present day Nacka), in Stockholm county. She was the youngest child of farmer Claës Leopold Kuylenstierna and Sofia Maria Katarina Nyström. Her brother Klas Erik, who was two years her senior, went on to train as a civil engineer and shortly thereafter became head of office at the Patents and Registration Office. Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster also had an older sister, but she died in infancy.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster appears to have grown up in a cosy and old-fashionedly elegant home. Her father’s untimely death probably introduced a subdued atmosphere to the home. She herself described her childhood home as “protective but not life-affirming in a modern way”. From early childhood Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster suffered from impaired eyesight which left her extremely near-sighted. But this impairment did not prevent her from initiating a career as an author, which became quite comprehensive.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster was seemingly well-educated, at least as far as language was concerned. During the 1890s she studied abroad – in France, Germany and Denmark. In the spring of 1905 she married Holger Wenster, a lawyer. He was the son of a civil servant from Gothenburg. In April 1906 their only child, a daughter named Inger, was born. The family settled in Malmö. It was a happy marriage. Neither husband nor child prevented Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster from being productive. To the contrary, it seems that certainly her daughter served as inspiration for her writing. In May 1922 the marriage and family happiness came to a sudden and tragic end. Holger Wenster disappeared without a trace on his way to work. Sydsvenska Dagbladet wrote a couple of articles on the “mysterious” disappearance and the ensuing police investigations. Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster became distraught, lost her will to write and found herself in financial difficulties. One of the people she turned to for help was Selma Lagerlöf, who did send her a some money. A few weeks later Holger Wenster was found dead in Denmark. The funeral took place on 1 June 1922 in St. Paul’s congregation in Malmö.
For the next ten years Elisabeth Kuylentierna-Wenster continued to work unabatingly. In the autumn of 1932 she was met with yet another personal tragedy when her daughter Inger Wenster fell ill from tuberculosis and passed away at Sävsjö sanatorium. Inger was training to be a doctor and had just begun her degree studies. She was expected to have a glowing career and had received several stipends. Losing her daughter became the final blow for Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster. She lost the will to live and died on 13 February 1933.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster had begun to work for Illustreradt Året om in her late teenage years and shortly thereafter she also began to work for Idun, to which she contributed for the rest of her life. In 1896 she also began to write for Svenska Dagbladet and Stockholms-Tidningen. She not only wrote short stories and causerie-style articles, but she also translated foreign serials. For a while she edited the section called “Women and the home” in Svenska Journalen. For the journal Vårt Land she wrote about Swedish female writers. She also frequently contributed to Allers Familj-Journal and on other literary calendars, such as the people’s calendar Svea. Further to that, she wrote almost 80 novels. In addition, she worked as a literary reviewer and as a lecturer.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster’s voluminous writings can be roughly divided into three categories: family novels, young girls’ books in a contemporary setting, and historical romance novels, the majority of which featured a woman as the leading character. Her first book, Beroende, was published in 1898. It tells the tale of a young girl’s fate. The main character of her family novels is often a young woman who dreams of being able to develop her artistic talents. She longs to see the world and seeks to free herself from her narrow-minded and conservative family. However, when put in the position of choosing between marriage and a career she usually resigns herself to accepting marriage. No matter what choice the woman makes she ends up agonising over a great sacrifice. It may be that Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster based these stories on her own childhood background, which would have appeared stuffy to those who – in her own words – were born with “a young adventurer’s outlook”.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster came to write books for young girls much later in life, and they were produced in rapid succession. She presumably relied on her daughter and daughter’s friends as inspiration and as the intended readership. These books for girls often placed the somewhat immature main character, usually from an old-fashioned family, in opposition to a gang of more modern and promiscuous teenage girls.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster’s historical novels usually centred on important and strong female characters. She described their environments, used snappy exchanges and a moderately archaic language. The central characters are certainly romanticised versions of their historical originals, but they can also be seen as intended role models for the modern woman. Her first historical novel, Sophie Ottosdotter: berättelsen om ett kvinnoöde, was initially published as a series in Idun in 1907. Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster herself said that she was happiest with her historical novels. They had provided the most work for her and thus left her more intimate with the people she portrayed. Her favourite era was the seventeenth century as the historical characters of the time were “awe-inspiring” and she admired “awe-inspiring people”. But she also had a great interest in the “women who surrounded Gustav Vasa”. One of the Vasa women that she wrote about was Kristina Gyllenstierna in the eponymous novel from 1912.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster was also active as a translator and made about 70 translations of stories and novels, often in the form of newspaper serials. She primarily translated from Danish but she also translated individual works from Norwegian, German, French and English. The Danish author she most frequently translated was her contemporary Anna Baadsgaard, but she also translated books by Jenny Blicher-Clausen, Charlotte Eilersgaard and Karin Michaëlis. These four authors were, like Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster herself, very prolific. Some of them also wrote in the same genre as she did and about women, young girls, family and emancipation.
Only a handful of Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster’s books are available in electronic format. A number of her books have also been turned into audio books. She has not yet become completely forgotten.
Elisabeth Kuylenstierna-Wenster died in 1933 and is buried at St. Paul’s northern cemetery in Malmö.