Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Fredrika Bremer

BREMER, Fredrika, the most celebrated Swedish novelist, was born near Abo, in Finland, on the 17th August 1801. Her father, a descendant of an old German family, was a wealthy iron master and merchant. He left Finland when Fredrika was three years old, and after a year's residence in Stockholm, purchased an estate at Arsta, about 20 miles from the capital. There, with occasional visits to Stockholm and to a neighbouring estate, which belonged for a time to her father, Fredrika passed her time till 1820. The education to which she and her sisters were subjected was unusually strict; their parents, especially their father, were harsh and took little or no pains to understand the temperaments of the children. The constant repression, the sense of being misunderstood, and the apparent aimlessness of such an existence told with greatest force upon Fredrika, who was of a quick and eager disposition, fond of praise and conscious of powers which it seemed to her must lie for ever unused. She felt as if her life were being wasted; there was nothing on which she could expend her energy; no career was open to a woman. Her health began to give way; and in 1821 the whole family set out for the south of France. They travelled slowly by way of Germany and Switzerland, and returned by Paris and the Netherlands. It was shortly after this time that Miss Bremer became acquainted with Schiller's poetical works, which made a very deep impression on her. Her home life, however, was still unsatisfying, and in her passionate longing for some work to which she could devote herself, and through which she might do some good in the world, she for a time resolved to join one of the Stockholm hospitals as a nurse. This plan was given up on the entreaty of her sister. Meanwhile, she had found relief for her pent-up feelings in writing, or rather in continuing to write, for she had been an authoress of a sort from the age of eight. In 1828 she determined to attempt publication, and succeeded in finding a publisher. The first volume of her Sketches of Every Day Life (1828) at once attracted attention, and the second volume (1831), containing one of her best tales, The H— Family, gave decisive evidence that a real novelist had been found in Sweden. The Swedish Academy awarded her their smaller gold medal, and the fortunate authoress became famous. From this time Miss Bremer had found her vocation. Her father had died in 1830, and her life was thereafter regulated in accordance with her own wishes and tastes. She lived for some years in Norway with a friend, after whose death she resolved to gratify a long-repressed desire for travel. In the autumn of 1849 she set out for America, and after spending nearly two years there returned through England. The admirable translations of her works by Mary Howitt, which had been received with even greater eagerness in America and England than in Sweden, secured for her a warm and kindly reception. Her impressions of America, Homes in the New World, were published in 1853, and were at once translated into English. After her return Miss Bremer devoted herself to her great scheme for the advancement or, one may say, emancipation of women. On this subject she had thought deeply, and her own experience was of value to her in shaping her ideas of what the education and function of woman should be. “She wished,” says her sister, “that women should, like men and together with them, be allowed to study at the elementary schools and academies, in order to gain an opportunity of obtaining suitable employments and situations in the service of the state. . . . She said she was firmly convinced that women could acquire all kinds of knowledge just as well as men, that they ought to stand on the same level, and that they ought to prepare themselves in the public schools and universities to become lecturers, professors, judges, physicians, and functionaries in the service of the state” (Life, &c., pp. 81-2). Some of these views were expounded in her later novels, Hertha and Father and Daughter, which naturally were not so successful as her other works. Miss Bremer not only wrote of her plans, but endeavoured, so far as she could, to induce women to devote themselves to some kind of work. She organized a society of ladies in Stockholm for the purpose of visiting the prisons, and during the cholera raised a society the object of which was the care of children left orphans by the epidemic. In 1856 she again travelled, and spent five years on the Continent and in Palestine. Her reminiscences of these countries have all been translated into English. On her return she settled at Arsta, where, with the exception of a visit to Germany, she spent the remaining years of her life. She died on the 31st December 1865. Miss Bremer has been called, and with justice, the Miss Austen of Sweden. Her novels have the purity, simplicity, and love of domestic life, which are characteristic of the English writer. She is, however, inferior to Miss Austen in construction of plot and in delineation of character. Some of her best works show slight traces of overstrained sentiment, and the situations are occasionally somewhat melo-dramatic. The Neighbours is the most popular and the best of her tales; it is an admirable picture of Swedish home life, showing at times the quiet humour which is more prominent in The H— Family. All the works have been translated into German and English, and the greater number of them into French. In America they have circulated very widely, and have been extremely popular.

See Life, Letters, and Posthumous Works of F. Bremer, by her sister, translated by Milow, London, 1868.