Etikettarkiv: Daguin

4. Laetitia (Letty) Backman (Norman) and the Royal Theatre

The Royal Theatre (Gustavianska Operahuset)

The theatre was a magical place. It was a world like no other. Letty loved the times she was allowed to come with her father to the theatre. Later in life, when she reflected on her happy childhood, there was one memory that stood out. It would have been in 1839 because she remembered that she was almost 12 years old.

Her father, the director of the Royal Theatre, had just returned home from a visit to the Royal Palace. He was in a great mood and had asked if she wanted to see a final rehearsal at the theatre the following day. The opera, Robert of Normandy, was to open in two days.

The next day, she and her father arrived at the Royal Theatre and her father introduced her to the women performers. She remembered the opera singers, Mathilda Gelhaar, Jenny Lind, and Mina Fundin, the actress Charlotta Almlöf, and the ballerinas, Sophie Daguin and Adolfina Fägerstedt. They were so friendly and lively. They were not stodgy like the women who would come to visit her mother. And oh, were they beautiful! The only disappointment, and surprise, was that they did not wear their costumes at the dress rehearsal. She had so much looked forward to seeing the women’s dresses.

Letty got to choose where to sit, and she picked the first row on one of the balconies. She could see her father walk around on stage in his slippers, talking to the actors. Then the curtains closed and in the dim light from the oil lamps in the large chandelier, she waited. She could see the orchestra getting ready and the conductor looking out over the musicians and their shiny instruments. Robert of Normandy was an opera in five acts by composer Giacomo Meyerbeer. He had named the opera, Robert le Diable, but in Stockholm, they had given it a different name.

As the conductor raised his baton, the music started and the main curtain was raised. The illuminated stage revealed a beautifully painted backdrop. And on stage was a group of men. One of them was supposed to be Robert, but it wasn’t obvious who it was as they were still in their regular clothes. She remembered the chills when they started singing. Oh, could they sing! Letty forgot her disappointment that they were not in costume because it didn’t matter. She was mesmerized. If she only had the talent, she would love to work at the theatre when she grew up.

Watching Robert of Normandy became one of her most cherished childhood memories. Maybe because it was the first opera she saw at the theatre, and maybe it was because she felt like she had been part of the theatre family.

Many years later, when she saw Jenny Lind, who had become an international sensation, she remembered Lind’s performance as Alice in Robert of Normandy. It had been one of Jenny Lind’s first major performances.

Laetitia (Letty) Charlotta Juliania Backman

Letty Backman was listed as number 4 of the girls who got confirmed in St Jacob’s church. That should have been no surprise as her father was a colonel, an adjutant to King Carl XIV Johan, and the Director of the Royal Theatre (the opera house in Stockholm).

Letty was born on 11 July 1827 to Alexis Backman (1794-1871) and Lovisa Christina Strömbäck (1797-1873). She had a 2-year younger brother, named Alexis after his father. In 1844, when Letty was attending confirmation classes, the family lived at Mäster Samuels Gränd No. 48. That was two houses away from where Augusta’s friend Lotten lived. Letty’s father’s last year as director of the theatre was in 1844. The same year, Alexis Backman became the Postal Inspector in the town of Gävle, and the family left Stockholm.

Two years later, on October 12, 1846, Letty married Carl Magnus Norman in Gävle. Carl Magnus was born in Falun but was a wholesale merchant in Gävle. Carl Magnus and his older brother August were both in the business of trade, but Carl Magnus seemed to have embraced more risky businesses. He was even described as a swindler. In 1849, he was forced to declare bankruptcy and many, included his brother who had lent him large amounts for his lofty businesses, were affected by the bankruptcy.

In 1857, Letty, Carl Magnus, and their one-year-old daughter Lilia (Lilli) moved to Stockholm. They were doing well and got an apartment at a prestigious address – the corner of Drottninggatan and Karduansmakaregränd, just a few blocks from the Royal Theatre. I can imagine Letty’s excitement about that move! She was back home, and she was still young, only 30 years old.

She would raise her children here, and someday, when they were old enough, she could take them to the theatre.

Little Lilia Blenda was born in 1856. Then came Carl Justus, born in 1859, followed by Alexis in 1867, and Anna Laeticia in 1869. By that time, they had moved to Nya Kungsholmsbrogatan 23, which was just kitty-corner to their old home.

In 1884, Carl Magnus died at the age of 68. He had been ill for some time and the cause of death was recorded as an organic heart defect. Letty died 9 years later, in 1893, and at the age of 65.

Augusta’s acquaintance, Erik Edholm, Theatre Director Alexis Backman, and Sophie Daguin. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel


Letty’s father, Alexis Backman, Postal Inspector in Gävle


Alexis Backman, gouache painting, 1850



Plays performed at the Royal Theatre during 1839-1840:

About the actresses at the Royal Theatre:

About Robert le Diable:

An interesting and entertaining piece about the Royal Theatre (in Swedish):

About theatre contracts and women’s theatrical costumes (in Swedish):

In the 1830s, women actresses were supposed to provide their own costumes for contemporary plays. Wearing the latest fashion was therefore important but costly for the underpaid actresses. Some actresses, like Sophie Daguin and Emilie Högqvist, became mistress to wealthy men, which helped with their expenses. The following thesis (in Swedish) deals with the topics of theatre contracts and the history of theatrical costume in Sweden:

A memoir by a Swedish actress (in Swedish):

Henriette Wideberg: En skådespelerskas minnen.

About Carl Magnus Norman and his businesses (in Swedish):


Additional Sources (contemporary diaries):

Letty was a good friend of Marie-Louise Forsell, who kept a detailed diary which was published posthumously. Letty is often at Marie-Louise’s house and in the company of some of the other girls in the confirmation class.

Heijkenskjöld, Syster, ed. 1915. Sällskapslif och hemlif i Stockholm på 1840-talet: ur Marie-Louise Forsells dagboksanteckningar. Stockholm: Bonnier.   (Translation of title: Social Life and Home Life in Stockholm in the 1840s: From Marie-Louise Forsell’s Diary Notes).


Lotten Ulrich, who lived at the Royal Palace, describes in her diary how Alexis Backman invited her and her family to attend the rehearsal of Robert of Normandy. Much of what I imagine Letty would have experienced, if she indeed had been invited, is from Lotten Ulrich’s diary. Lotten and her family were also invited to see the premiere of the opera two days later.

In addition, Lotten describes how Alexis Backman lent them props for their own theatre productions at the palace. He seems to have been a very jovial person.

Östman, Margareta. 2015. Systrarna Ulrichs dagböcker – från Stockholms slott, Djurgården och landsorten 1830-1855. Stockholm: Carlssons.   (Translation of title: The Ulrich Sisters’ Diaries – from Stockholm’s Palace, Djurgården, and the Countryside 1830-1855).



20. Virginia Sophie Augusta Carlsson (Daguin) – Parents Unknown?

Was Virginia nervous on that Sunday when Pastor Petterson opened the doors to the new class of 92 girls who would be studying with him? Did she arrive alone, or did she walk in with some friends? Was her secret known by the other girls who were gathering? She must have assumed that Pastor Petterson knew. But were there rumors? And if they knew, would she be treated like a celebrity, or would she be shunned?

When I decided to get to know the girls in Augusta’s confirmation class of 1844, I thought I should limit it to the top 20 girls based on Pastor Petterson’s perception of their social status. He had ranked the girls based on their family names and their fathers’ professions. But girl number 20 did not belong to the aristocracy or any of the well-known merchant families in Stockholm. She had a most common name, Carlsson, and her father was not listed. Why was she listed as number 20 out of the 92 girls?

Who was Virginia Sofia Augusta Carlsson?

I started with the church records of baptism in Klara parish in Stockholm, the parish the pastor had written above her name. I knew that Virginia Sofia Augusta Carlsson was born on March 9, 1827, so I looked for the baptisms in 1827. The records of baptisms were separated into two series of books – one for legitimate and one for illegitimate children. That is, one for children whose parents were married and one for children born out of wedlock. Virginia did not appear in the book for legitimate children but I found her in the book for illegitimate children. She was baptized the day after her birth, and her parents were listed as “not reported” (Swedish: oangivna). The age of the mother, however, was recorded as 25.

Record of Virginia’s baptism in 1827.

I then looked for her in the census records and found her in the census for 1870, when she was 43 years old. She was living with a former teacher at the Royal Theatre, Sophie Daguin.

Sophie Daguin! Reading about her was like finding the key to why Virginia Carlsson was listed among the top 20 girls in the confirmation class. And it blew wide open the case of Virginia’s missing parents.

Who was Sophie Daguin?

I will skip all the twists and turns in church records, census records, and newspapers, and get straight to the story of Sophie.

Sophie Marguérite Daguin was born in Paris in 1801. At the age of 8, she was getting ballet lessons. A few years later, she was accepted as a student at the Grand Opera in Paris.

Ballet at the Paris Opera. Edgar Degas, 1877.

In 1815, at the age of 14, she signed a contract with the Royal Theatre in Stockholm and traveled to Stockholm in the company of two young male dancers. She became a celebrated ballerina. She also choreographed ballets and became the Ballet Master at the theatre. When she retired from dancing in 1843, she continued to teach ballet and became the principal of the theatre’s ballet school.

Augusta’s acquaintance, Erik Edholm, Theatre Director Backman, and Sophie Daguin. Drawing by Fritz von Dardel

The social life and challenges of women performers

A performer – a ballerina or an actress – in the 1800s was disrespected in Society. Women were brought up to become wives and mothers. And they were defenseless against the men they worked for, or with, and their powerful and wealthy friends. One of those powerful men was the Crown Prince, Oscar, who later became King Oscar I.

One of Sophie’s close friends was a younger, equally celebrated, actress at the Royal Theatre, Emilie Högquist. She had three illegitimate children, the last two fathered by Crown Prince Oscar.

So it was no surprise to find that Sophie had five illegitimate children. There were rumors that Crown Prince Oscar had fathered the third child. These rumors were never substantiated, but it is of course possible as the child was born years before his affair with Emilie Högquist.

All of Sophie’s children were given the last name of Carlsson:

Edvard Isidor Joseph, b. 1823
Virginia Sophia Augusta, b. 1827
Julie Adelaide Carlsson b. 1831
Hildur Carolina, b. 1838
Carl Arthur, b. 1841

In 1832 Sophie was granted the right to be legally independent, that is, not to have a male guardian. She never married and never acknowledged in the census records that the persons living in her household with the last name Carlsson were her children. Having a child out of wedlock was a crime and the pastors who had baptized her children had been nice enough to omit both parents’ names. But, of course, the pastors and her friends would have known that those were her children. However, in 1851, there is an annotation in the margin of one of the church records that the children’s mother was Sophie Daguin.

Back to Virginia Carlsson

There is no information about Virginia’s childhood. Who raised her and her siblings? Her mother, maids, foster parents? In the census records for 1835, none of the children were listed as living with their mother. In 1845, three of the children, but not Virginia or Carl Arthur, were living with their mother. But Virginia was at least living in Stockholm in 1844 as she attended the confirmation class.

Virginia never married but supported herself as a foreign language teacher. I assume that she taught French as her mother was French. She died in 1899 at the age of 71 from chronic heart disease.

So why was she among the top 20 girls, according to Pastor Petterson? Did he know who her father was? Or was it because her mother was a celebrity? Or were there some royal connections?

We will never know.



Bernhardsson, P. I privat och offentligt. Undervisningen i moderna språk i Stockholm 1800–1880. Studier i utbildnings- och kultursociologi 9.256 pp. Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. ISBN 978-91-554-9666-1 (2016)

Nordin Hennek, I. Mod och försakelser. Livs- och yrkesbetingelser för Konglig Theaterns skådespelerskor 1813-1863. Gidlunds. Södertälje (1997)

Featured Image: Ballet Rehearsal, Edgar Degas, 1873.