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Harriet Hjorth

1908-08-091977-01-22

Author

Harriet Hjorth was an author known for her series on flower walks: Blomstervandringar and for her depictions from Sigtuna.

Harriet Hjorth was born in Stockholm in 1908, the eldest of three sisters. Her parents were Harry Albihn, a civil engineer turned director, and Marianne Beckeman, educated at the Technical School, now the University of Arts, Crafts, and Design. Harriet grew up in Kundsholmen and Östermalm i Stockholm. The daughters were later sent to a girls’ boarding school in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. This teenage experience later became Harriet Hjorth’s source of inspiration in her debut novel Blommande ljung in 1938. She later studied at the Sorbonne at the end of the 1920s and entered into marriage in 1929 with Lieutenant Bo Hjorth. Their daughters Agnete and Boel were born in 1930 and 1935 respectively. For some years at the end of the 1930s, Harriet Hjorth ran a children’s clothing boutique in Stockholm. During the 1930s, she started secretly writing short stories for weekly magazines under a pseudonym. Her husband did not like her writing. The marriage was dissolved in 1937.

Beyond hew many novels, Harriet Hjort wrote poetry collections, plays, and depictions of country life and ethnology. Summer holidays on the island Utö in the Stockholm southern archipelago from 1937 inspired her to make her poetry debut in 1944 with the collection of poems Fackelros och granit. The year after appeared her very well-received ethnographical book Utö. Ön som var ett paradis. It is an all-round depiction of island life with fishing, small farming, seal-hunting and women’s hard work with animals and their households. Ethnographical depictions reappeared later in her book Irlandskust in 1947 and Keltisk kust in 1954 with folklore from Normandie and Brittany.

Harriet Hjorth entered into a second marriage with Carl-Gustaf Wetterström, a director, in 1938. They divorced in 1942. Harriet Hjorth moved with her daughters to Sigtuna. Their first residence was a small flat above what had been a bakery. In 1944, she was allowed to rent part of a two-family property near Runstigen with the ancient early-medieval church ruin of St Peter’s as their closest neighbour and delight for their eyes. Like many other Swedish authors, Harriet Hjorth wanted to travel to Europe, as soon after the end of the war as possible. In the winter of 1945 she travelled to Paris that had just been liberated. She supported herself by writing articles for Swedish newspapers. She was among other things the first Swedish journalist to interview the iconic feminist Simone de Beauvoir in 1945. During her time in Paris, she also adopted a newly born boy.

New novels followed: Treklang in 1946, Den tomma famnen in 1951, Vägen till dig in 1954 and Veronica in 1957. None of these was however praised by critics or sold well. In the 1950s, she left Bonniers publishing company for Rabén och Sjögren. In 1953, she initiated the first production of Olov Hartman's liturgical play in Sigtuna. This open air theater continued for three summers, and the church productions were complimented by her own play Glädjens barn.She published three poetry collections between 1955 and 196. Between 1958–1962, three volumes were published of her series Blomstervandringar. They consisted of botany interwoven with plant history and literary references, divided into spring, summer and autumn herbs, and they cover a flower, plant, and cultural history. This series became her foremost sales success, with tens of thousands of copies published. In 1960, she had the property in Sigtuna that she had owned and lived in since 1947 divided up and sold. She had the little fisherman’s cottage on the property converted into an author’s studio for herself for the summers. She spent the winters in Brittany from that year onwards. Her many visits to Brittany resulted in the book Den lilla byn i Bretagne in 1971. Other books from France were Champagne och annat festligt in 1964, Parfym in 1969, and Paris - och mer därtill in 1975.

Her ethnological qualifications in combination with her love of the town of Sigtuna drove her in the mid–1960s to initiate an extensive writing project with Sigtuna’s 1,000 years of history as the basis of the stories. She was clearly inspired by Per-Anders Fogelström’s suite of novels on Stockholm. Like him, she carried out intensive research with the help of archive studies and by reading existing Sigtuna literature. Her remaining papers show how careful and diligent she was. She wrote five volumes about life in and around Sigtuna that appeared in 1967–1978. The first book, Staden, from 1967, dealt with the years 1000–1400 and the following year the second book appeared, entitled Hungerstad, that dealt with the years 1400–1500. The last three volumes covered one century each. Staden brinner on the 1600s, appeared in 1970; Sigtuna i nöd och lust on the 1700s came out in 1973; and the final volume, on the 1800s, appeared posthumously in 1978: Kring ett gammalt hus i Sigtuna. She used the term “documentary novel” to define them. Historical documents are their basis, but Harriet Hjorth tells her stories quite freely, mixing fact and fiction in her depictions of people involved. The reception of the first three volumes was rather lukewarm, but books based in a greater wealth of sources resulted in more detailed and lifelike descriptions of people. The final volume takes place in the 1800s and it was received effusively.

Harriet Hjorth’s economic situation and security improved from 1971 onwards, after she was awarded a state author’s annual stipend. She was thereby able to reduce in number her prolific writings in newspapers and magazines and still survive economically. Her authorship must be seen in the light of the total dominance of male perspectives both in the publishing companies and the review sections of the newspapers. Her greatest selling point was her versatility allowing her to write in many different genres. She had strong work discipline which meant that she always got up early and sat down at her writing table at 6 o’clock in the morning. She also appeared regularly on the radio in the 1950s and 1960s. Harriet Hjorth could be combative when she perceived obvious injustices, and she did not hesitate to take on conflicts with those in power locally. She was very well-read, eager to learn, and good at languages, and she had great power of initiative and a stong work ethic

Harriet Hjorth died in 1977. She is buried in Maria Cemetery in Sigtuna. Her daughter Agnete completed the work on the final volume of the Sigtuna suite that came out the year after her death.


Fred Blomberg
(Translated by Margaret Myers)


Published 2021-02-15



You are welcome to cite this article but always provide the author’s name as follows:

Harriet Hjorth, www.skbl.se/sv/artikel/HarrietHjorth, Svenskt kvinnobiografiskt lexikon (article by Fred Blomberg), retrieved 2024-07-22.




Other Names

    Maiden name: Albihn
    Married: Hjorth respektive Wetterström


Family Relationships

Civil Status: Divorced
  • Mother: Margot Ingeborg Amalia Albihn, född Beckeman
  • Father: Harry Fredrik Albihn
  • Sister: Margot Albihn, gift Larsson
more ...


Education

  • Flickskola, Stockholm
  • Flickskola, Schweiz
  • Universitet, Paris, Frankrike, Sorbonne


Activities

  • Profession: Ägare, barnklädesbutik
  • Profession: Författare och journalist


Contacts

  • Friend: Kerstin Thorvall


Residences

  • Birthplace: Stockholm
  • Stockholm
  • Paris, Frankrike
more ...


Prizes/awards



Sources

Literature
  • Blomberg, Fred, Harriet Hjorth 1908-1977: mångsidigt begåvad Sigtunaskildare, Sigtuna hembygdsförening, Sigtuna, 2005



Further References

Litteratur
  • Lindhe, Anna Maria, Harriet Hjorth: en bio-bibliografi, Examensarbete,Borås, 1982