Margit Söderholm was one of the leading writers of popular literature during the mid-1900s.
Margit Söderholm was born in Stockholm in 1905. She gained her Master’s degree in 1935 and then spent many years working as an assistant schoolteacher at Bromma school whilst also embarking on a career as a writer. She made her literary debut in 1940 with Skolflicksbekymmer, a girls’ book which is situated within a highly conservative Stockholm environment. The main theme of her next novel, Driver dagg, faller regn from 1943, is the struggle between love and individual freedom versus heritage and duty. The story was adapted for the silver screen in 1946, in a film featuring Mai Zetterling, Alf Kjellin and Ulf Palme in the leading roles, all of whom were stars of that era. The film was one of Swedish cinema’s greatest hits with viewing figures of 2,000,000 cinema-goers!
It is somewhat of a paradox that Margit Söderholm, who lived all her life in the Swedish capital, situates the majority of her novels in rural Sweden. She was presumably inspired by the countryside romanticism of Selma Lagerlöf. Despite her own lack of knowledge of rural life she still gained a significant amount of acclaim for the veracity of her portrayals – even when these played out within the historical period. Her popular books set in the Swedish countryside are ranked alongside the work of authors such as Signe Björnberg (better known under her pseudonym of Sigge Stark), Birgit Th Sparre, and Irja Browallius. Driver dagg, faller regn is perhaps the best-known of her rural novels and it was followed up by a series of novels all of which were similarly set in rural environments and within the same undefined but historical period. The stories describe events which occur at large farms and take the form of a chronicle of rural or traditional life. Servant folk appear in marginal roles, as do representatives of the lower social classes, albeit the relationship between upper and lower classes never takes on the form of conflict as everyone is perfectly aware of their place in society. The majority of Margit Söderholm’s stories have happy endings. The final words of her 1950 novel Bröderna are: “Nothing bad could ever touch him again”. The closing sentence of Bärgad skörd, from 1952, is: “The rye is ready for harvesting!” indicating a return to order and harmony. The constancy of the rural environment in Margit Söderholm’s writing is highlighted in many of her book titles. All the while the overwhelmingly recurring theme is one of love versus morality.
The so-called Hellesta series, set on the Hellesta estate and at Tyrsta castle, forms Margit Söderholm’s most comprehensive and popular written work. The first novel in the series, Grevinnan H, was published in 1945 and is based on the Pintorpafrun legend. Margit Söderholm based her story on a well-known haunted estate whose origins lie in a powerful lady of the castle from the 1600s. The final novel of the series was published as comparatively recently as 1980 and is entitled Flickorna Anckarberg. The fictitious noble Anckarberg family serves as the focus of this family tale. For the benefit of the reader, family trees were appended to several editions of the novels within the series. The seven novels portray a total of four generations of the family. Here too, love is a major theme and, as befits the norm of the era, love leads to marriage. The last words proclaimed by the main character of the 1957 novel Sommar på Hellesta are: “I am getting married”.
Margit Söderholm’s 1955 novel, Moln över Hellesta, recounts the experiences of a couple as they celebrate their engagement. Carl Anckarberg is convinced that all the threats hanging over him and his bride-to-be Margareta will be squashed following their wedding and he comforts Margareta who is visited by ghosts. Despite the Hellesta backdrop this novel is not considered to be part of the series because its story plays out in the contemporary period. Links to the other novels are made by including references to earlier events within the family history, particularly the story of Pintorpafrun. Moln över Hellesta was adapted for the silver screen in 1956. Carl Anckarberg was played by Birger Malmsten whilst his fiancée was played by Anita Björk. The multiple nods to Hitchcock’s
film Rebecca give the film a heavily suspenseful aspect. Despite the focus on a young loving couple the film tends to be described as more of a thriller than a romantic love story.
Margit Söderholm’s novels have been characterised as so-called romance literature, namely, romantic love stories replete with heavy sentiment. Her work was, however, never lumped in with that of the so-called scandalous authors; the love she writes about is passionate but never oversteps the boundaries of propriety. Any sense of eroticism is only ever expressed using very careful euphemisms. Her work is full of clichéd throbbing hearts and flushed cheeks. She was perhaps a bit more daring in her work that was set in the contemporary period. In her 1951 novel Möte i Wien the lead female character – the wife of a high-ranking officer in the American occupying army in the Austrian capital – meets up with the love of her youth and falls head over heels in love again. She allows herself to reflect on the possibility of erotic passion: “Sleeping with Gerhard … my cheeks get enflamed.” The lead male character of the novel, Gerhard Weininger, is a former surgeon whose hands have been destroyed as a result of torture inflicted on him by the Allies then compounded by his forced labouring in mines following the end of the war. He is described in random sections as both a party-leader and a party-member albeit it is never explained how involved he was with the Nazis. Nevertheless, allowing the hero of a novel to be a Nazi collaborator or at least sympathiser just after the war must be viewed as a remarkable decision on the part of the author.
There are also questions regarding Margit Söderholm’s own involvement in pro-Nazi circles, casting a shadow of suspicion on the author’s political allegiances and possibly contributing to her work becoming ignored. The author Jan Myrdal, who was taught by Margit Söderholm at Bromma school, has, for example, described her as a “swooning admirer of Hitler” in one of his autobiographical books. Some evidence exists for Myrdal’s claim in terms of Margit Söderholm’s political allegiance. According to society records Margit Söderholm was a member of the pro-German Riksföreningen Sverige-Tyskland (national Sweden-Germany cultural association) which was founded in 1938 and was subsequently linked to Nazism. Even more damning is the evidence that during the 1940s she joined the pro-Nazi, and possibly pro-fascist, Svensk Opposition group led by Per Engdahl and whose members called themselves ‘nysvenskar’ (new Swedes). Additionally compromising material emerges in Margit Söderholm’s 1946 novel entitled Dit du går, which is situated in post-Second World War Norway, in which the hero is a captured former German soldier.
Another reason that Margit Söderholm’s work has not been awarded a particular place within the Swedish literary canon may lie in the fact that her novels tend to be pejoratively described as either sentimental novelettes or even doggerel. However, this dismissive view has led to many female authors being overlooked or simply hidden from public awareness. Margit Söderholm was nevertheless very popular for several decades and became well-established as one of her era’s most prominent popular authors. The public library borrowing records testify to this with reliable clarity. Her books were also translated into a number of different languages. During the 1970s many of her novels were re-printed – some of them in redacted form as part of cheaper book series – thus reaching a new readership, which as before was mainly female. Despite this Margit Söderholm’s novels cannot be described as belonging to women’s literature: in her stories men are just as often the focal point as women. Further, her fictitious worlds rarely include rebellious elements with regard to established gender roles: the stated goal of her female characters is always to get married.
Margit Söderholm died in Stockholm in 1986.