Most people who have heard of ‘Pippi Longstocking’ – a red-haired, freckled, fiercely independent and anti-authoritarian girl – might also be familiar with the name of her creator: the children’s book author Astrid Lindgren. As long as I can remember I thought of Astrid Lindgren as a kind and gentle looking, elderly lady. I never really wondered what her life – which spanned almost the complete 20th century – might have been like until I recently read Jens Andersen’s biography „Astrid Lindgren – The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking“. From which I learned that from an early age on Astrid had been a spirited, headstrong, fiercely independent woman. I learned that in the 1920s she became a young, unwed mother. During WWII she worked for the Swedish Secret Service. And in 1976 her satirical story „Pomperipossa in Monismania” brought down the long reigning Swedish government. For most of her long life Astrid Lindgren had been a female force to be reckoned with.
Astrid was born in November 1907 in the small town of Vimmerby in Southern Sweden.With 16 she started a small revolution, when – inspired by Margueritte’s revolutionary novel „La Garçonne“ – she was the first girl in town to cut her hair and to experiment with wearing men’s clothes. Already in school Astrid had shown a talent for writing and in 1924 she started as trainee with the local newspaper. She was on her way to a promising journalistic career when she got pregnant by her 50 years old, married boss Reinhold Blomberg in March 1926. To avoid harming Blomberg’s ongoing divorce case and to leave the small town gossip behind Astrid on her own accord moved to Stockholm to attend secretary school. When the divorce proceedings kept stalling, 19 years old Astrid had no other choice than to give birth abroad in Copenhagen (Denmark), which at that time was the only place she could do so anonymously. As long as her own future was uncertain she had to leave her son Lasse with a foster family in Copenhagen. By the time Blomberg’s divorce was finally settled Astrid had decided to end the relationship, because as she later in life stated „I knew what I wanted and didn’t want. I had wanted the child, but not the child’s father.“ For the next few years Astrid struggled to make ends meet as a young, single, working woman in Stockholm while also trying to save enough money to keep visiting her son in Copenhagen several times a year. Only after she married Sture Lindgren in 1931 she could finally bring Lasse back home with her, but the theme of abandonment and isolation can be found in many of the children’s stories she wrote throughout her career.
Astrid was a mostly stay-at-home mum until 1940, when she started working at the Swedish Secret Service. She couldn’t go into details about her „dirty job“ – as she called it – in the mail censorship department, but still included some information she gained in her diaries. Those were published under the title „A World Gone Mad“ for the first time in 2016 and are a fascinating account about the horrors of war as they could be experienced in neutral Sweden. It was around that time when Astrid started telling her daughter Karin (born in 1934) the story of Pippi Longstocking. In November 1945 the first Pippi Longstocking book was published and it was an instant success. Astrid quickly became one of the most successful Swedish authors, publishing several books and plays in quick succession and maintaining a strong media presence for decades. By the end of her career she had written 34 original books, which were translated in over 100 languages, had sold over 165 million copies and she was considered one of the most successful children book authors of all times.
Even in her late 60s, she kept writing children’s books, but then also became more outspoken about social or political issues. Due to some weird Swedish tax laws Astrid in 1976 incurred a marginal tax rate of 102% (!). She reacted by publishing the satirical story “Pomperipossa in Monismania” on the day of an important economics debate in parliament. The ensuing public uproar led to the Social-Democrats losing a crucial amount of votes in the general election later that year and thus ending their government after more than 40 years in power.
In 1978 Astrid Lindgren was awarded the German’s Booksellers Peace Price, where she held a wildly acclaimed speech – „Never Violence“ – condemning corporal punishment and any kind of oppressive method in child rearing. With this speech she once again influenced the public debate in her home country and in 1979 Sweden was the first state worldwide to prohibit any kind of violence towards children. Up until the 1990s, she kept making her voice heard for children, the environment and many more issues dear to her heart.
Astrid Lindgren died on 28th of January 2002. Her funeral on Women’s Day (8th March) was attended by the Royal Family, Government Officials and had hundred of thousands of people lining the Stockholm streets for her final journey and even more people watching on TV to say goodbye to the beloved author and one of the fiercest Swedish opinion-makers in the 20th century.
Written by Susanne Dippel (she/her) from Germany. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram! This project, Tales from Wo-Fan’s Land, is a series of stories written by Frank Turner fans, inspired by his new album No Man’s Land.
- „Astrid Lindgren – The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking“ (Jens Andersen, published in English in 2018) https://yalebooks.co.uk/display.asp?k=9780300226102
- „A World Gone Mad – The Wartime Diaries of Astrid Lindgren“ (published in English in 2016) https://www.pushkinpress.com/product/a-world-gone-mad/
- Astrid Lindgren Company Website https://www.astridlindgren.com/sv