Category: sweden

DECEMBER 26: Queen Christina is released (1933…

Based on the
real life lesbian queen of Sweden and starring lesbian starlet Greta Garbo, the
film Queen Christina was first released on this day in 1933.

Despite the
actual documented history of Queen Christina’s life, the story of the Queen
Christina
film follows the queen as she falls in love with a fictional male
Spanish envoy. Stressed out by the demands of the throne and the continued insistence
that she marry her cousin, Karl Gustav, this fictionalized version of Christina
disguises herself in men’s clothing and sneaks out of her castle to enjoy life
as an everyday commoner. When an unexpected snow storm leaves her stranded at
an inn, she is forced to share a bed with an occupant of the inn, a diplomat
sent from Spain named Antonio. Christina eventually reveals herself to be a
woman and the two fall in love.

Despite the
erasure of Christina’s lesbianism, the 1933 film became a touchstone for
lesbian culture for its depiction of a masculine woman protagonist and the
iconic scene where Christina shares a “friendly kiss” with her lady in waiting
and real life lover, Ebba Sparre. The film The Girl King that was released in 2015 recently restored the lesbian aspects of Queen Christina’s true story.

-LC

OCTOBER 1: Anne Charlotte Egden-Leffler (1849-1892)

Happy October! We’re kicking off
the new month today with coverage of the Swedish writer Anne Charlotte
Edgren-Leffler, who was born on this day in 1848.

A photograph of Anne created by an unknown photographer was published mysteriously in the Swedish book

Svenska litteraturens historia in 1923 (x). 

Born on October 1, 1848 in Stockholm,
Sweden, Anne Charlotte Edgren-Leffler was born to two schoolteacher parents.
Her entire family was made up of noted scholars and academics; her brother was
a famed mathematician and Anne herself would spend much of her childhood at one
of the most prestigious schools for girls at the time. Her first publication
was a collection of short stories titled Händelsvis, which came out in
1869 under the pseudonym “Carlot.”

In 1872, Anne entered into a
marriage of convenience with the wealthy government official Gustav Edgren.
Although the marriage was sexless and devoid of romantic intent, it began as a
contented union; Gustav took her to the theater for the first time and gave her
books she had not heard of, and soon his high-brow taste for art started to rub
off on his wife. However, the marriage soon started to deteriorate and the two
separated in 1884. Having cut her teeth on the knowledge of her husband, Anne
started writing plays and they were wildly successful. Centering on themes of
womanhood and feminism, Anne’s plays such as Skadespelerskan, Pastorsadjunkten,
and Elfvan are still considered
classics of the Swedish canon today.

Anne (left) photographed with her lover and life partner Sofia Kovalevskaya (right) (x). 

Anne’s lover was the famous
Russian mathematician Sofia
Kovalevskaya
. The two first met each other while studying in Berlin and had a “very
intimate friendship” (according to some historians) that would last until their
deaths. Anne would eventually be married again to a man introduced to her by
her brother, Pasquale del Pezzo the Duke of Cajanello, subsequently
making her the Duchess of Cajanello. When Sofia’s husband, whose marriage to
Sofia had also been one of convenience, committed suicide, Sofia wrote that she
was committing the rest of her life to a “romantic friendship” with Anne.
Despite many historians interpreting Anne’s proclivity to writing romance
dramas during this time to be a product of her new marriage to Pasquale, many
others interpret it to be a product of this newfound domestic partnership with
Sofia. When Sofia passed away in 1891, the last book Anne would ever write was
a biography of her. Anne would follow suit just a year later on October 21,
1892 after complications from a surgery.

-LC

SEPTEMBER 18: Greta Garbo (1905-1990)

One of the most iconic actresses
of the 20th century, Greta Garbo, was born on this day in 1905.
Despite her image in the American imagination as the eternally heterosexual
romantic lead and starlet, Greta lived a lonely, closeted life.

Greta Garbo first traveled to the United States at the age of 19 and not two years later she would be one of the most well-known actresses in the country (x).

Greta Lovisa Gustafsson was born
in the slum of Södermalm in Stockholm, Sweden on September 18, 1905. She was
the third and the youngest child born to a working class family – her mother
worked at a jam factory and her father was a janitor. Poverty haunted her
childhood and she is remembered as having been a shy, daydreaming child who was
interested in theater and performance from an early age; a former classmate remembered
a 10-year-old Greta declaring that she wanted to be an actress when she grew up
“because it’s posh.” After leaving school at the age of 13, she began working
as a cleaner girl in a barber shop, but eventually took a job at the PUB
Department Story. It was there where Greta was picked out for her beauty and
chosen to model women’s hats. Modeling gigs turned into commercial gigs, which
eventually lead her to starring in short films.

In 1922, the director Erik Arthur
Petschler spotted one of Greta’s commercials and invited her to star in his
small comedy film Peter the Tramp.
Seeing a real future in acting, she studied at the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s
Acting School for two years before getting shipped off to America on the request of
MGM Vice President Louis B. Mayer. After the studio forced her to straighten
her teeth, lose 30 pounds, and lean English, Greta became a superstar and
starred in over 20 silent films. In 1929, she became one of the few stars who
was able to make the jump over to “talkies” with the film Anna Christie. Over the next decade, she would star in hits such as
Grand Hotel, Camille, and Anna Karenina
and would receive three Oscar nominations.

Video footage of Greta arriving at Gothenburg Harbor in 1935 overplayed with words from one of her loves, Mercedes de Acosta

Closely associated with the line
from Grand Hotel, “I want to be alone; I just want to be alone,” Greta hated
publicity and was a recluse later in life. Many historians have theorized that Greta’s social
anxiety and depression were results of her lesbianism and the pressure placed
on her to hide that part of her life from the world. Actresses Lilyan Tashman,
Mercedes de Acosta, and Louise Brooks have all admitted to having sexual
relationships with Greta, but if she had an ultimate love it had to have been
Mimi Pollack. Mimi was a Swedish actress who Greta met during her time at
the Royal Dramatic Theater and the two maintained a close correspondence for
the rest of their lives. The romantic tone of their letters is undeniable;
Greta writes:

 “’The letter from you has aroused a storm of longing within me,” “’I
dream of seeing you and discovering whether you still care as much about your
old bachelor. I love you, little Mimosa,” “’We cannot help our nature, as God
has created it. But I have always thought you and I belonged together.” 

When
Mimi’s son was born, Greta even wrote that she was “incredibly proud to be a
father.”

Greta’s relationship with Mimi
would not become known to the mainstream public until 2005 with the publication of the
Swedish book Djävla Älskade Unge by Tin Andersen Axell. At the time of Greta’s
death on April 14, 1990, it would be over ten years before the
public who claimed to adore her would know a sliver of who the actress truly
was.

-LC