Marie Louise af Forsell wrote a valuable diary during her short life around the mid-1800s. It was published in four volumes in 1914–1917.
Marie Louise af Forsell was born in 1823, the daughter of Carl af Forsell, a statistician and cartographer, and his wife Clementine Geijer. Her father was a colonel who developed a prolific topographic and statistical authorship as Director General of the Swedish National Land Survey Authority. He was made a peer in 1817. He was also engaged in several public companies like the Göta Canal company, steamboats, temperance societies, savings banks and kindergarten schools as well as the society for spreading salutary knowledge and information. Her mother Clementine Geijer was descended from an old works family from the Swedish province of Värmland. Clementine Geijer’s father Salomon Eberhard Geijer, works owner and local judge, gave the manor farm Yxe with Järle works in the neighbouring province of Västmanland to his three daughters, Euphrosyne Wennberg, Mimmi Wedberg and Clementine Geijer, in 1839. His grandchildren would also often visit Yxe as a dear place for family gatherings.
Marie Louise af Forsell grew up partly in the parental home in Stockholm, and partly at Yxe. She was educated at a girls’ boarding school in Stockholm and studied languages and music privately. At the age of 16, Marie Louise af Forsell began to write a diary, an occupation that she continued until her death 13 years later. Long afterwards, her relative Syster Heijkenskjöld published her diaries in four volumes. These must not be confused with her cousin Louise Forsell’s diaries. The two were born the same year, but Louise lived until 1896. The first published edition of the young Marie Louise af Forsell’s diaries is a travel account from 1914 entitled En resa i familjevagn år 1842. The book describes the Forsell family’s journey from Yxe to Copenhagen from the end of July to the end of September 1842. The journey included numerous visits to relatives and friends in Sweden. The descriptions of the visits, most in upper-class settings, are valuable documents of personal history. On the journey, they passed through the provinces of Västergötland, Bohuslän and Halland and on their way home they passed through the provinces of Skåne, Småland, Östergötland and Närke on their way back to Västmanland. The publisher has provided the book with registers of persons and places. Some of the climaxes in the travel book are the visits to Bishop Esaias Tegnér in Växjö and the social intercourse at Haddebo and Bystad in the deep forests of Närke.
The next edition of Marie Louise af Forsell’s diary notes appeared in 1915 as a book about the family’s home and social life in Stockholm: Sällskapslif och hemlif i Stockholm på 1840-talet. Syster Heijkenskjöld was the publisher here as well. The notes start where the family journey ended and cover the period from November 1842 up to and including 1848. The publisher pointed out that the diaries from 1839 until 1851 were so voluminous that if they had been printed with their full texts, they would have filled about 1,500 pages.
Much happened during these years in the young Marie Louise af Forsell’s life. Apart from her social life in the capital with amusements and studies, she became engaged in 1846 to Lieutenant Berndt Nycander. He was twelve years older and turned up in her diary at the beginning of 1843 when Marie Louise af Forsell was attending a supper at the home of Medical Board Counsellor Ekelund and danced with him and some other gentlemen.
The wedding between Berndt Nycander and Marie Louise af Forsell took place on 25 January 1847. The couple had four children: Karl August, Märta and Mathilda as well as a baby who died with its mother. Widower Berndt Nycander was later to become a professor at the Institute of Technology in Stockholm. As far as we can understand from the diary, the brief marriage was largely happy, although Marie Louise af Forsell did not always feel comfortable with all the practical chores demanded by the family. She would rather have spent her time on literary matters.
In her diaries, Marie Louise af Forsell brooded a lot on her future assignment in society and was inspired by Fredrika Bremer's writings and also by those of philanthropic ladies in Stockholm like Laura Gagge and Lotten Wennberg. Marie Louise af Forsell’s father had of course been particularly socially active and may most accurately be described as liberal. Carl af Forsell died on 25 October 1848. The description of the household in grief after their father’s death is interesting. Marie Louise af Forsell wrote forebodingly in the diary: “We’ll see which of us he will be pleased to call unto him next. Father, oh may I be prepared, prepared for whatever you may send.”
The third edition of the diaries from 1916, Herrgårdslif i Bergslagen för sjuttio år sedan, focused on the family estate Yxe, close to Nora and Lindesberg. The Geijer daughters, especially Euprosyne and Clementine, were able to spend longer periods at Yxe. Together with their eight daughters, they formed a kind of women’s community at Yxe, and they even called themselves the Yxesses. Their daily lives consisted of various kinds of needlework, playing the piano, conversation, walks, reading novels and teaching. Their lives became more eventful when they socialised with the upper classes at Nora and Lindesberg or at other manor estates in the neighbourhood. The Wedberg family at Nora was particularly attractive. Balls, dinners, social events, occasional visitors from far away and family parties enlivened their sometimes humdrum country life. The diary therefore provides excellent insights into the amusements of the 1840s.
The diary also contains Marie Louise af Forsell’s youthful reflections and judgements about the people she meets, with self-examination combined with fantasies and romances, which may seem naïve in tone. The book deals with the period at Yxe during the years 1839, 1840, 1843 and 1845, when she was still unmarried and out in pastures green. During 1845, a tug-of-war took place in Marie Louise af Forsell’s heart between Johan Jolin, later an actor, and Berndt Nycander. The latter it was who finally won her heart.
The last book with Marie Louise af Forsell’s diary notes is from 1917: I Stockholm och på sommarnöje 1849–1952. It covers the years 1849–1852 after her marriage to Berndt Nycander. In it, the settings vary between Stockholm, Yxe, Porla, Marstrand and Rosenhill. The subjects primarily concern family life, visits to church and the theatre and charity work. The meticulous publisher, Syster Heijkenskjöld, integrated in its ambitious register of persons all the names that had appeared in previous books.
The relationship between the Nycander spouses was not without complications. There were differences in their personalities and they were not really soulmates. Berndt was a scientist and focused on objective realities, whereas Marie Louise af Forsell was learned and religious. The children, especially the firstborn son Karl August, were all the more to be the object of their mother’s undivided love and tenderness.
In the summer of 1849, Yxe estate was put up for auction since the family no longer had the economic wherewithal to retain it. In July 1849, Marie Louise af Forsell gave birth to her daughter Märtha at Yxe and her recovery was very slow. Rosenhill close to the Djurgårdsbrunn canal in Stockholm provided a restful place for recovery. Her father had been given land there and had organised the building of several villas for recreational purposes of which the family could make use.
In the summer of 1850, Marie Louise af Forsell undertook a spa and bathing trip to Porla and Marstrand, which provided material for vivacious descriptions. However, the most gripping in the final fourth book are her last greetings that she wrote before each child’s birth. She feared, as so many other women did at that time, that she would not survive her baby’s delivery.
On the 23 November 1852, she wrote: “with dreadful shudders [I am] now awaiting death”. Barely two weeks later, her brother Gustaf informed his brother-in-law that Marie Louise af Forsell had left the world of the living on 5 December 1852, with her little innocent baby in her arms.
Marie Louise af Forsell was buried at the Northern Cemetery in Stockholm in the same grave as her beloved father and her little daughter Mathilda, who had died the previous year. She was 29 years of age.