Astrid Ahnfelt is primarily known for her contributions to the cultural exchange between Sweden and Italy.
Astrid Ahnfelt was born in Stockholm in 1876 into an academic and literary family. Her father, Arvid Ahnfelt, wrote the first dissertation on Carl Jonas Love Almqvist and had a career as a journal editor and a writer with liberal leanings. Her mother, Hilda Ahnfelt, founded the Stockholm Plymfabrik (feather plume factory), which she ran as a proprietary business until 1912 when her son, Edmund Ahnfelt, took over the management. Astrid Ahnfelt grew up in Stockholm and was part of Ellen Key’s social circle. In 1897 Key helped Astrid Ahnfelt to obtain a place as a nanny for the Swedish family Steffen in Compiobbi, just outside Florence in Italy. Astrid Ahnfelt spent a year in Tuscany and then moved to Rome, where she hoped to earn her living as a piano teacher. She fell in with the Swedish community in Rome and instead of becoming a piano teacher she started working as a culture correspondent for Swedish newspapers and cultural magazines. She brought female Italian authors to the attention of the Swedish public and, in 1904, she introduced them to the poet Giosue Carducci, who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1906.
Astrid Ahnfelt was driven by her literary ambitions and wrote in both Italian and Swedish. In 1902 La lacrima nel mare del dolore e La sposa della morte was published, a work comprising two stories. In 1905 she published a novel called Nutidsungdom and a collection of stories entitled Sagor och legender. She also published tales in Italian. I blindo, a 400-page novel based on the lives of Swedes in Italy, was published in Sweden in 1908. There is a certain autobiographical element to the novel. Klara Johanson wrote a very negative review of the novel for Stockholms Dagblad, which was echoed by Marika Stiernstedt in Idun, although the latter could see some literary potential in Astrid Ahnfelt’s writing. Ahnfelt also contributed to the same edition of Idun with a report from Messina in Sicily, which had been struck by a strong earthquake in late 1908. Astrid Ahnfelt travelled to Messina to serve as a temporary nurse and to provide support to the victims. Her work there led to her writing several pieces for Idun, which were later printed as a book.
Astrid Ahnfelt also worked as a “literary contact person”. She travelled to Sweden with the Italian author Antonio Beltramelli, whom she accompanied as a cicerone. Following this trip Antonio Beltramelli published his book Attreverso la Svezia in 1908, which also included 13 short stories by Astrid Ahnfelt in Italian. Some of Antonio Beltramelli’s books were published in Swedish, having been translated by Astrid Ahnfelt. In 1903 Astrid Ahnfelt introduced Selma Lagerlöf to the Italian public and in 1912 the article “Selma Lagerlöf in Italy” was published in Stockholms Dagblad. In 1912 August Strindberg’s Mäster Olof was published in Milan, translated by Astrid Ahnfelt in collaboration with the Italian Maria Pascolato Pezzè. Astrid Ahnfelt also presented Swedish authors in the journal Nuova Antologia: Carl Jonas Love Almqvist in 1903, Gustaf Fröding in 1911 and Verner von Heidenstam in 1924. She had maintained a correspondence with the latter since 1909 and visited him at Övralid in 1930.
In either 1909 or 1910 Astrid Ahnfelt, who was unmarried, gave birth to a son, Silvano Attico, whom she raised alone and whose father remains anonymous. During the First World War she lived in Florence, where she appears to have run a bed and breakfast-type business and also intended to found a school based on modern educational methods. After the war she moved to Naples, where she worked at a library and at the Swedish consulate. In 1922 her Italian translation of August Strindberg’s Tjänstekvinnans son was published.
Astrid Ahnfelt’s financial situation was always ropey. She appears to have sought a financial loan from Selma Lagerlöf and in 1930 Verner von Heidenstam stood guarantor for a loan from Riksbanken (the state bank). Astrid Ahnfelt was supportive of Mussolini’s fascist regime, which led to difficulties in getting published in Sweden. From 1934 onwards she made a living as a proofreader at Il Giornale d’Italia. At some point during this time she lost her son to a motorcycle accident.
In 1938 Ahnfelt’s Italian translation of Heidenstam’s Karolinerna was published, entitled Carolus Rex. The following year, in 1939, she was awarded a small prize of 500 lire by the Gothenburg-based Swedish-Italian association. She was also awarded a royal medal, the Vasa gold medal of the eighth degree. In the 1950s Astrid Ahnfelt appears to have worked on the translation of various short stories by Gabriele d’Annunzio into Swedish, but they were never published. She died in 1962, probably in Rome.