by Len Lear
Chestnut Hill native Marge Thorell, author of a brilliant new book, “Karin Bergöö Larsson and the Emergence of Swedish Design,” published Oct. 31, 2018, by McFarland Publishing, attended Our Mother of Consolation School and lived on East Meade Street until she was married at 23. She also went to Caecilian Academy on Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy, a private school taught by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.
Thorell received a BS in Psychology and Journalism from SUNY Albany in 1979. Her doctoral dissertation at Penn, “A Psychoanalytic Study of Narrativity: An Analysis of Academic Discourse in ‘College English,’” looks at lead essays selected and published from October, 1966, through April, 1978, using psychoanalysis and look at story and plot to see the myths embedded in these articles.
Thorell has taught various writing courses at area universities: The Craft of Prose; Writing Across the Curriculum (Penn); Principles of Freelancing and Consulting (U of the Sciences); Scientific Writing and the Interpretation of Medical Literature (Drexel); and she was the Director, Temple University, of the English Language Enrichment Center, where she taught on the main campus and also in Tokyo, Japan, for 10 years. She is also Vice President/Group Director at Digitas Health, a digital pharmaceutical advertising agency.
• How has teaching changed since the beginning of Thorell’s career?
“Teaching now, with few exceptions is virtual, working with students online. While this is interesting and empowering for students, for instance, those who cannot always attend classes on campus, it removes the immediate relationship between teacher and student as well as the students with their classmates. I understand that it is really helpful for students, especially graduate students who are working and raising children, to be able to get a good education through online learning. That being said, I do think the classroom experience, which still takes place at universities like Penn, is really a wonderful experience as you can truly interact with the students face to face as a teacher.”
• Is it possible for an author like yourself to say which of your books means the most to you?
“Well, perhaps books are like children. One does not like one daughter better than one son. Each had a special resonance for me. ‘Swedes of the Delaware Valley,’ for instance, was a way to honor my Swedish heritage, and that was also the reason at some level for writing about Karin Larsson, a Swedish woman, in the shadows of her husband’s personality and his impressive art.”
• Why was Karin Larsson, the subject of your latest book whom most Americans have almost certainly never heard of, such an important figure?
“Karin Larsson brought Swedish decorative arts to the modern world. Swedish Modern, a defining interior decorating modality, was really her creation. Rhonda Eleish and Edie van Breems, who have an interior decorating studio in Connecticut and have written a number of decorating books, believe of Karin Larsson that ‘her presence and hand boldly announcing themselves in the form of her giant loom and embroidered tapestries’ changed the way the world lived, as seen in the popularity of IKEA, the furniture giant. Karin was a trendsetter and lifestyle guru and a very interesting person in her own right. Mother of eight; muse to her husband; a relatively good artist before she gave up painting at the behest of her husband; and a woman who moved Victorian interiors from the darkness into the light with her many decorating and design innovations as exhibited in her home in Sundborn, Sweden.”
• What was the hardest thing you ever had to do?
“Obtaining a doctorate degree from the University of Pennsylvania while raising three children and working for the Graduate School of Education at Penn at the same time. I would write on my dissertation from about 5 in the morning until 9 a.m., when I began my job as editor of a journal and director for an annual ethnography forum held at the school. At 5 p.m. I would continue to write and then return home. I was ready to give it up a hundred times, but my father, Algot Thorell, would encourage me. ‘Just do it for a couple days more,’ he would say. And so, almost inch by inch, day by day, I was able to finish my degree and then begin my career as a professional academic.”
• Which talent that you do not have would you most like to have and why?
“I would like to be a screenwriter because I see so many things visually, like Karin Larsson’s story. I almost saw it as a screenplay first and then translated that vision into a book. But I would love to see her story on the ‘big screen’ (or even the little screen of, say, Netflix or Amazon). I have the ability to vision a play but not yet to write a screenplay — or movie.”
• What do you like to do in your spare time (if you have any)?
“I love movies, knitting, and travel. My husband and my children and grandchildren have had the opportunity to travel to Europe and throughout the United States. My husband and I have been to Israel and Jordon, Bali, Germany, Singapore, Greece, Scandinavia and Iceland. We are always happy to travel but not so happy to fly anymore.”
For more information, visit facebook.com/public/Marge-Thorell. Her books can be ordered through Amazon.