Maria Gripe was one of Sweden’s most recognised and most read authors of children’s and youth books.
Maria Gripe was born in 1923. She was the eldest daughter of Maria Eleonora Walter and Karl Hugo Walter, an officer. Maria Gripe had two siblings: John Hugo and Brita. During her youngest years the family lived at the Oscar-Fredriksborg fortress at Vaxholm where her father was in active service. In 1928 the family moved to Örebro when the Vaxholm Grenadjär regiment was disbanded and her father was appointed as an infantery captain. It was not long before he began to devote himself to restoration work.
Maria Gripe initially attended the girls’ school in Örebro, and then continued her studies at Stockholm Enskilda Gymnasium. In 1943 she gained her school-leaving certificate there and during the 1944-1945 period she studied history of religions and philosophy at Stockholm college. In 1946 she married Harald Gripe, an artist, who would go on to supply the illustrations for most of her books. The couple settled in Traneberg in Stockholm. Following a brief stint as an office clerk at the Marinförvaltningen (royal Swedish naval administration) in Stockholm Maria Gripe became a housewife after giving birth to her daughter Camilla in 1947. A few years later the family moved to Nyköping. Maria Gripe spent the last years of her life at a hospice in Rönninge, where she died following a lengthy illness.
Her first written work comprised a couple of short stories which were published in children’s magazines. In 1954 Maria Gripe released her first children’s book entitled I vår lilla stad, which is a story based on bedtime fairy tales centred on her daughter’s toys. Maria Gripe published a total of eight books throughout the 1954-1960 period, and these can be seen as precursors to her later authorship. Many of the themes and motifs which inform her later work can already be discerned here: the shadows, a mirror, names – motifs laden with meaning which are linked to themes of identity and awareness in her writing.
Her literary breakthrough came through her 1961 book Josefin, which was the first in a trilogy about the lonely and imaginative lastborn child Josefin and her friend Hugo. The books have been described as introducing a new psychological realism into children’s literature in Sweden. Life is portrayed through the children’s eyes in a new and empathic manner. The focal point is the meeting between the imaginative child and an uncomprehending adult world. The book also touches on issues of identity, individuality, integrity, and belonging, in a way that was typical of Maria Gripe. Josefin was followed up by Hugo and Josefin, in 1962, and Hugo, 1966. Kjell Grede’s 1967 film Hugo och Josefin is based on this trilogy by Maria Gripe.
During the 1960s Maria Gripe published another three books which have become classics: Pappa Pellerins dotter, from 1963, Glasblåsarns barn, from 1964, and the medieval novel I klockornas tid, from 1965. The film Glasblåsarns barn, directed by Anders Grönros, had its premiere in 1998. Maria Gripe’s output from the 1960s also includes her first youth book, Glastunneln, from 1969, inspired by the American author J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Her empathic children’s perspective and the realistic contemporary portrayal of children’s experience of the everyday which informed Maria Gripe’s breakthrough books is still prevalent in Nattpappan in 1968, which was originally created for the radio programme Småbarnskvarten. The character Elvis Karlsson first appears in the sequel Julias hus och Nattpappan, from 1971, which was turned into a tv-film that year.
The five books about Elvis Karlsson, a thoughtful and independent boy, dominate Maria Gripe’s 1970s output. In these she pushes the meeting between the child’s perspective and the uncomprehending adult world further than in her previous books. The books generated a lot of attention due to the negative portrayal of Elvis’ mother. The two initial books in the series – Elvis Karlsson and Elvis, Elvis! – comprised the basis of Kay Pollak’s 1977 film Elvis! Elvis! As happened with several other Maria Gripe books, it too was adapted for the radio theatre.
The summer holiday series on the radio called Tordyveln flyger i skymningen, from 1976, which served as the basis for her eponymous book from 1978, was yet another collaboration with Kay Pollak. This novel is the first in a series of youth books in which suspense and mystery play an important role. Here, just as for her subsequent youth books in the 1980s, the extent of Maria Gripe’s reading became apparent, and she was particularly inspired by romantic literature and philosophy. Her 1981 book Agnes Cecilia – en sällsam historia relies on Schopenhauer’s ideas to an important extent. In the so-called Skugg-tetralogy, which began in 1982 with Skuggan över stenbänken, Maria Gripe was partly inspired by romantic-horror, and the Gothic novels set in dark castles and involving complicated family relationships. The first part is notable for its historical-realism aspects. In addition to portraying a bourgeois Swedish family of the 1910s she also referenced the women’s issues of the era and class divisions.
Maria Gripe’s final trilogy is also informed by realism and matters relating to class, gender, and equality. The trilogy comprises Tre trappor upp med hiss, from 1991, Eget rum, from 1992, and Egna världar, from 1994. They are all situated in a town in middle Sweden during the 1930s. The lead character, Lotten, lives with her mother in a family where the mother’s role was to be a housekeeper. Mystery and hidden significance also play their part in these stories.
The aforementioned trilogy was Maria Gripe’s last literary output, which in total numbered 38 books. They covered several genres but are all more or less marked by empathic realism combined with a characteristic use of leitmotif and symbolism. Her portrayals reveal a psychological depth whilst also being intellectually and literarily advanced in a way which was new for the children’s and youth literature of the time.
Maria Gripe’s books can be found in translation in more than 30 languages. She served as a member of the Barnfilmnämnd (children’s film authority) for several years. She was awarded several merits for her writing, both in Sweden and abroad, including the likes of the Nils Holgersson plaque in 1963, the Astrid Lindgren prize in 1972, H.C. Andersen medal in 1974, the Dobloug prize through the Swedish Academy in 1979, the Litteraturfrämjandet major prize (along with Harald Gripe) in 1982, and the Litteris et Artibus in 2000. Her international recognition includes the Honor Award from New York Herald Tribune and the Premio Nacional from the Spanish ministry of culture.
Maria Gripe died in Rönninge in 2007. In 2005 the Bonnier Carlsen publishing house established a prize in her name, called the Maria Gripe prize.