By Elisabeth Åsbrink

Are women females or humans? Are men masters or slaves? Is marriage a business arrangement, an act of love, or a prison sentence? Should Christian morality or reason prevail?

The questions formulated during the second half of the 19th century set Europe ablaze, and it was authors and intellectuals in the Nordic countries who ignited the fuse. At the center was the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes, joined by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Elisabeth Grundtvig, and Anne-Charlotte Leffler, to name a few.

Victoria Benedictsson emerged like a shooting star in the sky of literary realism. The postmaster’s wife from a peripheral Swedish village made her literary debut at age 33, charging straight into the center of the action under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren. She befriended (or antagonized) all of the era’s key players and her books took on the hottest issues of contemporary debate.

In her new biography, Elisabeth Åsbrink has carefully retraced Victoria Benedictsson’s steps. From the farm on Söderslätt, over the claustrophobic marital home in the postmaster’s residence in Hörby, to the room at Hotel Leopold in Copenhagen where she ended her life, only thirty-eight years old. Åsbrink has charted the background of Benedictsson’s personal drama in a turbulent time in history; she has read letters, diaries, short stories, and novels in order to shed light on the inner landscape of a prodigious figure and a period in which the Nordic countries went from being governed by Christianity to embracing modernity and science.

This is a biography of a thinking woman who tried to shatter the constraints of gender and ended her life in a crescendo of emotions, in a time obsessed with literature, sex, and death.

First published by Polaris, August 2022

Denmark, Gutkind
Italy, Iperborea
Sweden, Polaris 

In this excellent and thoroughgoing biography, Elisabeth Åsbrink paints a comprehensive image of the author and playwright Victoria Benedictsson, her pseudonym Ernst Ahlgren and her works. My Big Beautiful Hatred is an insightful, genuine and well-written presentation of an authorship that feels astonishingly modern. It gives a new perspective of her brave contribution to make society more open and equal.
– BTJ 

Throughout, Åsbrink combines the autobiographical pieces [by Benedictsson] with pace, finesse and atmosphere: a smell of burnt hair from a curling iron, the sound of tram bells from Kongens Nytorv, a streak of light on a thick carpet. This is how Benedictsson’s sentences rise from the paper and life experience emerges from the shadow of the archive. Cheeks are colored and the phantom speaks.
– Dagens Nyheter

The strongest read from this summer
– Vi Läser, Jonas Eklöf

It is a very touching story, all the way to the end. I am drawn in and want to keep reading all the time.
– Borås Tidningar

Elisabeth Åsbrink has written a captivating biography of a fascinating life.
– Christian Swalander

Elisabeth Åsbrink has written an engaging book about Benedictsson that is well-worth a read.
– Göteborgs Posten

I find myself now irritated, now identifying, horrified and enchanted by this complex and uncompromising woman and her life.
– Alingsås Tidning 

…it is enthralling, easy to read and executed with great tenderness.
– Norrbottens kuriren

Victoria Benedictsson had a short life, but an intense one. Thanks to Elisabeth Åsbrink she will live on for a long time.

Lotten von Kræmers Award, 2022