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My Dear Sister and Incomparable Friend!

Written by: Lisbeth Larsson |

“Shall the male sex alone, undisputedly, and incessantly, control the presses in this country?” asks Mrs Snällborg in 1770 in the periodical Frustugo Bibliothek (Women’s Cottage Digest):

“[…] is it an irreversible decision that all Swedish reading is to be confined to Post-Tidningarne and Dageligt Allehanda? Or must we be content for all time with men’s ideological disputes, political discourses, and affairs of state? No, kind women, we must reclaim the right to follow our own tastes.”

J. Pasch: Hönstavlan, 1747, Grh 801, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

The Swedish press became an established medium during the eighteenth century. Political newspapers, of which Postoch Inrikes Tidningar (est. 1645; the Post and National News) had long and jealously guarded its monopoly, increased considerably in number, and local newspapers appeared on the scene, not only in Gothenburg and Uppsala, but also in many smaller towns such as Karlskrona, Jönköping and Nyköping. The 1730s and the next few decades saw the publication of a number of scholarly and moral journals championing national language and arguing, moreover, for a more natural approach to morality. The second half of the century produced a number of periodicals expressly designed for a female readership; Frustugo Bibliothek, FruntimmersTidningar (the Women’s News), Blad för Fruntimer (Magazine for Women), and many more.

A number of these periodicals address the reader in what sounds like a female voice. In Frustugo Bibliothek, Snällborg establishes a seductive ‘we’ when she speaks to the readers, and she assumes an appropriate position for a woman of the period – “at the embroidery hoop 1 September 1770” – when she signs her introductory remarks. These women’s periodicals would thus seem to have been the forum for the contemporaneous female voice. The publishers and writers were, however, on the whole anonymous, hidden behind signatures and pseudonyms; games with a gender-crossing play on names were legion at the time. Male writers often adopted a female identity with a woman’s name, or wrote from a female position as woman’s intimate and best friend. Conversely, the legal and social circumstances were such that, in those cases where it actually was a woman wielding the pen, she was seldom able to sign the text in her own name. At the time of the launch of a literature that invited intimacy, addressed specifically to women readers, the female voice was thus often still disguised.

On the surface, the eighteenth-century Swedish press would seem to be totally male dominated, apart from the women’s periodicals. If we look in the records of owners and publishers, however, the picture is a little more complex. On the one hand, practically all the women’s periodicals were published by men. There is only evidence of one female publisher and writer in this context: Catharina Ahlgren, who published Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer. Den ena i Stockholm Och den andra Landet I Atskillige blandade Ämnen (1772-73; Correspondence between Two Women, One in Stockholm and the Other in the Country, on Many Assorted Subjects) under the pseudonym “Adelaide”.

On the other hand, women’s names appear here and there in connection with the rest of the press. The bibliographical information on, for example, Carlscronas Wekoblad (the Karlskrona Weekly), a successful local newspaper published from 1754 and far into the nineteenth century, suggests a matrilineal owner and publisher dynasty behind the many male names.

Johan Vinqvist was the owner and founder of Carlscronas Wekoblad, which was first published in January 1753. Although he died two months later, the newspaper continued to thrive and expand. Brita Christina Laurelia, his widow, was now the official owner. But Anders Tranefelt, a lieutenant of the admiralty whom she married four years later, was thenceforth listed as the owner and publisher, relegating her to the background until he died in 1766. She appeared once more in the publisher’s register and remained there until 1769 when Paul Strandell took over the newspaper and printing house. As a chief mate and lieutenant, he presumably spent extended periods at sea, but he was married to Maria Christina, Laurelia’s daughter. After Strandell died in 1785, Maria Christina took over as owner and publisher. Carl Fromhold Swinhufvud, whom she married in 1790, was now listed as owner, but she regained the title after he died in 1818. She published the newspaper until her death and willed it to her foster daughter Beata Ulrika Hallén, the widow of Carl Adolf Gyllenskepp, a lieutenant of the admiralty. Per Erik Flygare, whom Hallén subsequently married, was the publisher until his death in 1837, after which she took over once again.

Johan Tobias Sergel: Fru Ullman och John Hill, NMH Z 39/1957, Nationalmuseum, Stockholm

We also detect a strong female competence behind the solidly male ownership structures set up by the well-known newspaper and publishing Momma family. Peter Momma launched a new era in the newspaper, printing, and publishing business. In 1742, his Stockholm Gazette broke the Postoch Inrikes’ century-long monopoly on political news dissemination, and in 1745 he launched Sweden’s first local newspaper, Stockholms Weckoblad (the Stockholm Weekly). He introduced a series of innovations in the printing process, and he opened a successful exchange bookshop in Stockholm.

When twenty-seven-year-old Peter Momma bought his first printer’s office in 1738, he had recently married Anna Margareta von Bragner, who was probably born in the Netherlands and was ten years his senior. According to general information on the history of the press, it was she who edited the Stockholm Gazette during the early years of its existence, and she is usually ascribed authorship of the only Swedish moral periodical with a female signature. In 1738, Peter Momma published the anonymous Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga. Nyligen ankommen til de dödas Rjke (Conversation Between Argus’ Shadow and the Shadow of an Unknown Woman Newly Arrived in the Kingdom of Death), believed by many – not least because of its poor language – to have been penned by Margareta Momma.

Over the course of a few decades, the Momma couple built up an extensive and successful family publishing business, working with printing presses, newspapers, and books. In 1771, the year before both Peter and Margareta died, they handed it all over to their son Wilhelm. He, however, almost instantly picked up the till and ran, and so their son-in-law Henric Fougt, who had married their daughter Elsa in 1762, took over as owner of the business. Henric Fougt is described as an unusually enterprising printer and publisher. He launched a number of new typefaces in Sweden, including Baskerville, and he increased the publication of fiction. When he died in 1782, the firm passed to his widow; under Elsa Momma-Fougt’s leadership it expanded even further. She raised the profile of the fiction list, and made a number of fortunate gambles on what proved to be future classics such as Cajsa Wargs kokbok. Hjelpreda I Hushållningen För Unga Fruentimber (Cajsa Warg’s Cookery Book. Assistant in Housekeeping for Young Women) and Kronprinsens ABC-bok (The Crown Prince’s Book of ABC). Elsa Momma-Fougt ran the publishing house until, at the age of sixty-seven, she handed it over to her son. He went bankrupt two decades later; the business then went on to become a key component in the publishing house Norstedt och Söner.

The socio-economic structure and social conventions have a tendency to render women like Brita Vinqvist, Margareta Momma and Elsa Fougt invisible; at other junctures, however, they create women who do not exist. En Fri-Murares lefvernes beskrifvning, utgifven af et fruntimer (The Life of a Freemason, Published by a Woman) is the title Anders Säfström gave to the novel – for the most part translated from the French author Antoine Prévost – that he had published in Brita Vinqvist’s Carlscronas Wekoblad in 1754. The narrative tradition of intimate, sensitive, and moralising literature, in which Säfström/Prévost write, continually invokes the woman: often as writer, but above all as the target reader and the key topic.

James Gillray: The fashionable mamma, 1796, The Royal Library, Copenhagen

Woman and femininity are perpetually recurring subjects in the privatising narrative tradition that was a feature of the moral periodicals and which continued in the bourgeois family novel, women’s periodicals, and other intimate literature. The problems she faces in the new bourgeois society are addressed over and over again. Her defects and shortcomings and desirable virtues are discussed time after time. Thoughts about her, interest in her, and aggressiveness towards her are overwhelming, fascinating, and repulsive.

“Noble women, it has occurred to me that if someone had boxed my ears every time fury had reared up against me this year and embraced me every time I had regained favour, Argus would not have undergone so many changes that galled some woman’s mind for the whole day. However that may be, I hope that I now enjoy the favour of reasonable and virtuous women, just as I also hope, God be praised, to be despised by all shrews, hussies, slatterns, gossips, show-offs, and lascivious creatures. The satisfaction of my magnanimous readers and the displeasure of the other crowd is all that my hungry ambition desires.”

Thus wrote Olof von Dalin in 1732, in Then Swänska Argus (The Swedish Argus), Sweden’s only truly influential moral periodical.

Like Anna Maria Lenngren, Argus addresses some words to his dear but non-existent daughter: “My young Cloris, take note: / Nature has created a masterpiece in you,” he writes to the child of one of his friends:

A beacon in your house,
A jewel in your sex.
Make not your husband a slave
If he does not deserve it.
Teach them to praise God
Whom God to you entrusts:
But do not take sides about
Matters you can’t understand.
A boy’s path to joy
Is different than a girl’s.

It was clearly modelled on The Tatler and The Spectator, but unlike its Swedish predecessor SedoLärande Mercurius (1730-31; The Moralistic Mercury), and its countless successors, Then Swänska Argus was not a product of translation; it was Swedish in every respect. The periodical attracted a huge amount of attention as a result of its outspokenness and its satirical clout in a time of rigorous political control and censorship. Dalin himself remained anonymous throughout the entire period of publication, from 1732 to 1734. The periodical has primarily gone down in history, however, on account of its free and witty use of the Swedish language. The Swedish language was close to Dalin’s heart, but his main focus was moral decay in general. He returned time and again to the disasters called affectation, pedantry, and indolence, continually discussing these female characteristics.

Then Swänska Argus, like the other moral periodicals, speaks to women about women. In 1738, however, a woman made bold to embark – albeit in the obscurity of the underworld – on a discussion with him: “Thank you so much, my dear Argi Skugga, for your deference to a real woman, who might be the first and last one who has taken the liberty to speak to you with uncovered face, since you have spoken so much about my sex to the world in general.”

“You must be very curious,” Dalin’s putative Argi Skugga says to Margareta Momma’s Fruntimbersskuga when they meet in the valley of the underworld and she can finally join the discussions with men from which she was barred in earthly existence. And Margareta Momma has her alter ego reply, “Yes, they say that about my family, and I am too honest to deny it; but you know the reason yourself, namely the ignorance and unconsciousness that is more commonly ascribed to us than to menfolk, and the greater it is, the more inevitably it awakens the passion of curiosity.”

Thus wrote Margareta Momma in the final issue of Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga. Nyligen ankommen til de dödas Rjke. The shadow of the woman is the only female voice to get a hearing in the moral periodicals’ discussion of politics, ethics, and the nature of woman. And not only does she put the man in the genre-determined female position of listener, but once the woman’s shadow gets going, poor Argi Skygge (Argus’ shadow) does not get many words in. In several respects, she also writes a provocatively alternative manifesto. At a time of aggressive Swedish nationalism, she speaks disparagingly of the way in which warlike murderous action is described as heroic endeavour; in her opinion, war is a gigantic waste of resources. She also attacks a number of other phenomena, ranging from the slave trade in America to Swedish alcohol consumption. Margareta Momma’s periodical is saturated with an ongoing rebellion against all authorities.

“I later found in my work that there are means other than authority to make one wise,” says the shadow of a woman in Margareta Momma’s periodical Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga. Nyligen ankommen til de dödas Rjke (1738; Conversation Between Argus’ Shadow and the Shadow of an Unknown Woman Newly Arrived in the Kingdom of Death).

She attacks learned boors, philosophers, clergy and ‘truth preachers’ of every observance, and she rejects the idealistic view of knowledge and learning that was prevalent in her day. Learning, in her opinion, comes through experience, not by appropriating other people’s ideas. Her philosophy of life was generally materialistic. Desire and self-interest are the motivating forces of everything: the human being has ”nothing without her senses and her experience. Because her senses are not subject to anything that cannot be understood through pleasure or pain, it follows that nobody covets without the former and everybody shuns the latter.” The human being is “a simple creature or a being that has feeling and therefore seeks nothing other than carnal pleasure and voluptuousness.”

A consequence of this view, which was totally unique for its time and Swedish standards, was that Margareta Momma also became the advocate of a different approach to writing than that promoted by Dalin and Then Swänska Argus. She did not believe in the fault-seeking, distancing, and critical method, which vividly describes evil for purposes of deterrence. The pleasant and personal conversation that seeks out good is a far better strategy through which to attain the knowledge that gives insight and improvement. “I simply want to note that intimate, informative conversation on the proper occasion makes an impression. On the other hand, error that depicts in a certain way often teaches much that was unknown before and leads to the same salutary effect as oil on fire,” she wrote at the very end of her periodical.

“If Margareta Momma was really the author of such things, she must have been an extremely uncommon woman for her time when it came to both her worldview and her knowledge,” wrote Swedish press historian Otto Sylwan in 1896, in a brief comment on Samtal emellan Argi Skugga och en obekant Fruentimbers Skugga. Nyligen ankommen til de dödas Rjke

Pehr Hilleström: Två fruntimmer, 1780s, oil painting, private collection. From Gerda Cederblom: Pehr Hilleström som kulturskildrare 1-2, Uppsala 1927-29

Like its predecessors, from The Tatler to Then Swänska Argus, Margareta Momma’s periodical took the form of a conversation. But the tone of her woman’s conversation is different to that of the others; it is less aggressive, and the female shadow is more intent on agreement than on difference of opinion. Margareta Momma championed the good more than she exposed and criticised the bad. She was more sensitive than mischievous, and she had not one jot of the satirical distance characteristic of Dalin and Then Swänska Argus. In Margareta Momma’s work, we can see how the genre was moving towards the really intimate conversational tone that developed in the women’s periodicals of the 1770s.

In these periodicals, the editor has moved out of the exclusively male company of the gentleman’s club, where women were but a topic of conversation, and into the ladies’ drawing room with the intention of speaking with them, while also speaking of them: “Gentle and fair sex, your nature is truly to add sweetness to our lives, to charm us through your allurement, to improve us through your virtues. This paper is dedicated to you,” wrote the man behind FruntimmersTidningar in 1772, and the publisher of Fruntimmers Nöjen (Women’s Pleasures) from the same year conjured up the image of “a young beautiful and courteous gentleman” reading the periodical aloud for the young woman “at the bedside table, the lace pillow or the sewing stool”.

“Since one has tried so long to enlighten and improve the stiff-necked male sex, unfortunately without discerning any noticeable result for the most part, one turns hereby to the other sex in confidence that the work of transformation will succeed much better in them.”

FruntimmersTidningar (1772; Women’s News)

In 1781 Johan Fischerström puts himself in the editor’s chair and in female company at Fruntimmers PortFeuillen (Women’s Portfolio), writing in his preliminary remarks: “Henceforth I shall have as few dealings as possible with the gentlemen.”

“Never have I enjoyed more pleasant hours than in the company of women. If I meet forthcoming and sensible women, they direct my observations to various good and salubrious objects. If I meet one of the boisterous, babbling, and capricious creatures, my reflections are occupied in another manner. In a word, I almost always find pleasure in the company of the fair sex, and therefore I am always both obligated and willing to return any possible favour.”

Fischerström, who, like the other publishers, remained anonymous, also noted that fortunately he was helped in his undertaking by “two respectable ladies”, Baroness C*** and Mrs M***. They were to be his “examiners and judges”, and Fischerström soon also let other women have a say in the text. When, in the manner of the old moralist periodicals, he starts attacking the modern housewife who only thinks about “fashions and finery”, Countess D*** steps forward in defence of women, and eventually the cheerful, down-to-earth and generous Mrs S*** is his good example: “It cannot be reiterated often enough: that a virtuous and sensible woman is a precious treasure. Such is the lovely Mrs S***. She never forgets the meticulous attention she should always have directed to her own person.”

In Fruntimmers PortFeuillen the editor always speaks directly to the female readers, and he is always on a familiar footing with them: “Perhaps, My Ladies, we should more carefully consider the topics that will actually be mentioned on these pages,” writes Fischerström by way of introduction to his second issue, for example, and it is as if he unceasingly and exclusively associates with women: the women readers, and the other women he then tells them about. He is a woman’s best friend, the only man among her acquaintances, nearest to the woman herself, and in the text, he time and again draws back in order to take on his female friends’ opinions as his own.

“Truth to say, it is rather unjust and below the dignity of a noble-minded people to subject the most attractive half of the human race to general ridicule. If our women do not fulfil the many obligations that adhere to them, they should be held less to account; it is the fault of their upbringing,” wrote Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht’s beloved, Johan Fischerström, in his periodical Fruntimmers PortFeuillen.

In Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer, which Catharina Ahlgren published under the pseudonym “Adelaide” from 1772 to 1773, however, the man seems a rather peripheral interlocutor. The real intimacy here is between the women, and the man’s entrance into the parlour is more of an interruption.

“My incomparable friend. Due to the arrival of an unknown man, I was prevented from completing my latest letter,” opens the first letter in the periodical, with Adelaide’s sister writing to her friend Selima. Her spontaneous reaction to the man’s visit is one of irritation. He interrupts her letter-writing, the intimate dialogue between female friends, and she sends him away, telling him to come back in the afternoon. Adelaide herself is even more detached when, in a later letter, she describes a male guest: “My most noble friend,” she writes to her sister: “I have not laughed so much in many years as I did just now…. Ah, I must catch my breath…I’m still laughing, because I’m going to tell you about a visit that I had today”. The man who has made his way into Adelaide’s parlour happens to interrupt her in the middle of a written assessment of Sunday’s epistle; he is just as far removed from her reticence, sensitivity, and religiosity as she is from his French words, bragging and outward show. “Self-centredness shone from his gestures, speech and mien; alas! I thought, if only you knew how little amiable you are,” writes Adelaide. And the men in Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer are generally described with a degree of wait-and-see suspicion: “[…] they have sparkled for a moment, and have then vanished like lightning.”

“What refuge do we not have in friendship’s sanctuary. There we can escape the male sex, which is generally deceitful, false and inconstant.”

Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer (1772-73; Correspondence between Two Women)

Daniel Chodowiecki: Johann Bunkels liv, 1778

The letters between sisters and between female friends, however, have no reservations. They radiate perfect trust and total devotion. My sweet friend, my incomparable, my chosen and only friend, the women write to one another. Adelaide’s sister, Adelaide herself, and their friends Selima, Sylvia and many others, create – despite communication in the much-visited parlour in which they are sitting – their own completely private, female space of high-flown emotionality, pure friendship, and heartfelt love. “My most noble friend, how exquisite it is for me to be alone,” writes Adelaide’s sister once she is finally alone and, with the help of her pen, can ‘talk’ with her incomparable Selima:

“[…] how delicious is solitariness when I cannot be in the company of the one I love. Now I have a while to delight in and give free reign to my thoughts in silence. Solitariness is among my highest pleasures when I don’t have the good fortune of being alone with my chosen friend.”

The friends write to each other about all manner of ‘tender topics’; their most important topic, however, is friendship itself. Friendship is their gospel, and they return to the subject time and again, praising it, invoking it, pouring out their gratitude for it, and expounding its greatness:

“[…] friendship! Ah, holy name… Oh, dear name, so little known in our age… what a comfort for us, what reward! What voluptuousness to taste it within ourselves, if I wrote a thousand letters, friendship, like the most succulent fruit of virtue, is always mixed up in them; friendship, love, and virtue are their only objects.”

Thus wrote Adelaide’s sister in her first letter, and gradually the male signature “Altid Ömhjärtad” (always tender-hearted) also appears in the columns. He is enticed in by the intimate tone between the female friends and wants to be involved, but in his very first letter we can already detect his fundamental lack of understanding when he criticises Adelaide’s many interrupted sentences and emotional style: “[…] the style of writing would seem somewhat transient and unsettled,” to his mind. Adelaide retorts that style of writing is a question of disposition, and her attitude towards “Altid Ömhjärtad” is somewhat wait-and-see. Nonetheless, she will not reject a man who is looking for friendship, and in order to oblige him, she publishes a letter on this topic that she had received from her later friend, “Hyrdinden i Norden” (The Shepherdess in the North) a good ten years earlier. The letter is signed with Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht’s moniker: “Uranie”.

However, “Altid Ömhjärtad” becomes just a bit too enthusiastic and Adelaide fears that he is more tender in relation to her person than to friendship as such, which provokes his promise to “reef his sails”. “At the lady’s slightest signal, I shall slacken speed,” he writes, but instantly slips up by hoping that “the gentle westerly wind” will nonetheless guide him into Adelaide’s “delightful harbour”, “Capo de bonne Esperance”. Adelaide knows nothing of “the westerly wind”; she can, however, recognise “the northerly wind” from the coldness it brings with it: “She doesn’t know about Capo de bonne Esperance either, but she knows where the Swedish towns of Lidingö and Värmdö are located, and I think it would be more advantageous to wend one’s way there […]”

“Altid Ömhjärtad” is struck from the pages and must make way for “Altid går Sanningens Wäg” (always follow the path of truth). He, or she, has quite a different understanding of both Adelaide’s style and the nature of friendship, and Adelaide is all aflame after the first letter: “[…] noble hearts that are susceptible to compassion, and shed tears thereby, might allow themselves the voluptuous feeling of reading about true friendship; I save my answer for the incomparable female author of this letter, or the male author (if a man can be so tender): but …. but… Alas…my answer shall not dally long… my heart says that it is a woman.”

The tender tone in the letter from “Altid går Sanningens Wäg” leads Adelaide to spot a woman behind the signature. And in Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer, woman is generally ascribed the particular emotional faculty that is the basis for the wonder and true humanity of friendship. The men might indeed, at times or in part, demonstrate something of this aptitude too, but they basically have dual natures. They help out the women financially, pay them their respects, and lie at their feet, but they also have, as Adelaide writes, a “wolf’s nature”, and ought to be viewed with a degree of suspicion. Now and then it would even seem as if the men are simply written out of the good, emotional world of intimacy and friendship depicted in Adelaide’s exchange of letters. And in the periodical De Nymodiga Fruntimren Eller Sophias och Belsindes Tankespel (1773; The Modern Women, or Sophia’s and Belsinde’s Play of Thought), which was launched immediately after Adelaide had tearfully put down her pen, this process was taken a step further.

Young and wealthy Sophia, who is constantly receiving offers of marriage from a variety of men, is “so cold, so cold” to the idea of “familiarité” with the opposite sex that would of necessity accompany such a union. She has “an innate aversion” to that kind of thing, whereas the intimacy of friendship is seen as unadulteratedly positive: “[…] but friendship, ah! you God’s gift, you are the reason for my existence!” she writes to the older woman Belsinde, and the implied purpose of their correspondence is to find out if their feelings for one another are a strong enough base upon which to build a life together.

“Heavens! Women may love each other for a few years […] but virtue, the power that uplifts noble hearts, has illumined us. What joy to be an example of friendship […] although it exists rather rarely, but when our bones are moulding, our descendants shall speak of it as a miracle.”

Brefwäxling Emellan Twänne Fruntimmer (1772; Correspondence Between Two Women)

In De Nymodiga Fruntimren the women no longer count on the men, they receive their visits and accept their attentions. They also move among them, but they do not look for their understanding. In one little satirical gem, Belsinde tells Sophia how she has been in conversation with two gentlemen who have read their correspondence. They are certain that she knows the writers – surely, they ask, two men are actually hiding behind the female pseudonyms. “No,” replies Belsinde, “they really are women” – and she answers further questions by letting it be known that these women are not even married: “for they are not womanish enough to need the male sex, they themselves have the mind and the strength so they have no need of leaders.” In response to this, the two men burst into the moral periodical’s complaint about the sorry state of the modern woman, but she has to admit that she had no interest in letting them in on her dissent: “I do not reveal these thoughts; I took a pinch of snuff to hide my smile.”

The women’s periodicals of the 1770s have a shimmering surface of authenticity: a conversation is going on. The letters are being written right now, thoughts leap around … there is a knock at the door, the writer is interrupted. Under this authentic surface, however, the words are generally working with a number of conventions from the genre of fictional prose. Catharina Ahlgren’s periodical is almost an epistolary novel. In Adelaide’s correspondence, there is a letter in a letter in a letter, like Chinese boxes fitted one within the other. Letters are constantly being copied, forwarded, and quoted, and between letters there is a seemingly unending serial on the subject of “Det olyckliga Fruntimret eller Elisabeth Windhams bedröfweliga öden” (The Unhappy Woman, or Elisabeth Windham’s Lamentable Fate), in which this Elisabeth Windham would also seem to be Adelaide’s, or Adelaide’s sister’s, or Selima’s alter ego.

The women in the women’s periodicals generally have names taken from novels. Adelaide is the namesake of the heroine in Madame de Tencin’s Mémoires du comte de Comminges (1735); the nom de plume Clarisse who, patently inspired by Adelaide, published four issues of Det Enfaldiga Fruntimret (The Simple-Minded Woman) in 1773, has her namesake in Samuel Richardson’s classic novel Clarissa (1748). While Madame de Tencin’s novel is more akin to the idealistic seventeenth-century novel – she dedicated her novels to her paternal aunt and namesake, one of the more famous seventeenth-century salonniéres – Richardson’s Clarissa is more akin to the bourgeois novel, in which ideals are continually confronted with the material reality, and continually suffer defeat. And although there can be no doubt whatsoever that Swedish women’s periodicals of the 1770s were offshoots of the moral periodical, and were a trivialisation of that genre and its death knell, it is evidently also the case that ideologically and stylistically, these women’s publications are more in the idealistic tradition of the seventeenth-century novel.

These periodicals nurtured the sensitivity that was the height of fashion in the seventeenth-century salons of les précieuses. Sentiment is the basis of edification and, be it reciprocated or not, it leads the individual to undreamt-of heights. Friendship and love, both platonic and passionate, are improving forces, and not destructive ones as in the bourgeois novel of disillusion. And if this last type of novel is not allowed – as the tradition of literary scholarship prescribes – to constitute the norm, then the women’s periodicals of the 1770s do not look like the end of the road, but more like an important intermediate station in the strong and unbroken tradition of romantic, high-flown, and idealistic prose running from the seventeenth-century novel and on to the modern-day popular novel.

Translated by Gaye Kynoch