This year’s second issue of the periodical Historie is just out and in it you can read my biographical article of Ida Wedel Jarlsberg, an artist, lady-in-waiting and female pioneer who might also have inspired one of the most famous characters in Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun’s works.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg belonged to Norway’s most prominent noble family and was the daughter of the last Norwegian count, Peder af Wedel-Jarlsberg. On both her father’s and her mother’s side she belonged to families with close ties to the royal house and several of her relatives belonged to the royal court.
Ida herself made the rather unconventional choice of becoming an artist, but was later pressured by her parents to accept a post as lady-in-waiting to Queen Sophia. It was at this time that she probably came to know the young author Knut Hamsun and the greatest Hamsun expert, Lars Frode Larsen, has argued convincingly that Ida was the model for the ideal woman in Hamsun’s novel Hunger (1890), called Ylajali, but whose real name in the book is given as “lady-in-waiting Nagel”.
Ida became close to Queen Sophia, but left royal service in dramatic circumstances when she fell victim to the constitutional crisis of 1884, which saw the impeachment and sentencing of the Selmer government, the formation of political parties, the breakthrough of parliamentarianism and the establishment of the first liberal government.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg, who belonged to a conservative family, refused to follow orders when she was supposed to escort Crown Princess Victoria to a dinner hosted by the liberal Prime Minister Johan Sverdrup, thereby creating a furore which ended only with her resignation in 1886. The political and court intrigues resulting from Ida’s independent stand are all described in detail in the unpublished diaries of her brother-in-law, the historian Yngvar Nielsen.
Ida Wedel Jarlsberg thereafter dedicated the rest of her life to her artistic career and to good works. Together with her close friend Birgitte Esmark she founded Young Women’s Christian Society, which was the first organisation in this country to be run entirely by women.
Having lived in Rome for several years, Ida Wedel Jarlsberg – courtier, artist, pioneer and possibly Ylajali – died in Oslo in 1929 at the age of 74.
Also out this week is Royalty Digest Quarterly no 2 - 2010, in which I have a review article on Lena Rangström’s book En brud för kung och fosterland - Kungliga svenska bröllop från Gustav Vasa till Carl XVI Gustaf, which I have also reviewed here earlier.