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Throughout the centuries, literature has time and again tackled ‘mothers’ and ‘motherhood’. Thematically, by turns idealised and deplored; seen as opportunity and looked upon as restriction. Not least because the women writers themselves toiled to make their role in the family harmonise with their need to write. The major and minor worries of motherhood – children, finances, future – are also ongoing issues addressed by many of the women writers.

Motherhood was a central issue, for example, in the gender philosophy of Swedish Ellen Key. She provoked a terrific ideological storm when she published Missbrukad kvinnokraft (1896; Misused Female Power), in which she maintained that motherhood was not only a biological, but also a spiritual capacity. Attention on a mother’s social responsibility in the interwar years and during the Second World War was spread across a wide front, in many literary variants, and did not ease off until the 1960s when motherhood lost its revolutionary potential and ‘the militant mother’ of literature was relegated to the status of ‘frustrated housewife’.