Eeva Joenpelto, Anu Kaipainen, and Eila Pennanen have all focused on women’s lives, on patriarchy, and on gender roles in their prose works, whether Eeva Joenpelto’s snapshots of the time in her Lojo series from the 1970s, Anu Kaipainen’s historic mythical novels, or Eila Pennanen’s insight into the life of Saint Bridget of Sweden in Pyhä Birgitta (1954; Birgitta the Visionary), or into middle-class life in her Tammerfors trilogy, set at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Existential Resistance Stories
Tales from the Outskirts of Society
“The first Bomb detonated at the ‘Trinity’ site was called a ‘baby’. When the scientific fathers of the Manhattan-project telegraphed President Truman after the ‘birth’ on 16 July 1945, the telegram read: ‘The child was well-shaped’. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was called ‘Little Boy’. And today they are creating ‘fifth generation’ rockets,” writes Norwegian author and psychologist Wera Sæther in 1985.Can such a ‘civilisation’ ever be saved? Only with the language of love, Wera Sæther thinks, can evil be conquered and life worshipped – in place of death. In this striving, man and woman are not separated from each other: only by a united effort can powerlessness be conquered.
The Women Writer’s Group in Ostrobothnia
In the 1960s, the strong Icelandic ‘rímur’ (rhymes or ballads) tradition made way for a ‘free form’ modern poetry, which itself was part of an international revolution within poetic language. At the age of nineteen, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir appeared at the crossroads between modernism and the 1970s confrontation with modernism’s inaccessibility.Her authorship has received a lot of attention, and is characterised by a unique lightness and linguistic playfulness. The combination of isolation with a many-sided self, a theme that occasionally emerges in her poems and prose works, is the result of a reflection on time, its nature, and its transitoriness. In this way, a search for time goes hand in hand with a search for the self. Today, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir is a beacon of Icelandic literature. Her thematic concerns have been picked up by other Icelandic writers, including Vigdís Grímsdóttir and Álfrún Gunnlaugsdóttir.
Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden made her debut in 1968 with the poetry collection f.eks. juli (July for instance), a brazen new book that challenged the established conventions of Norwegian poetry. She is a pioneer among the feminist poets who explore language as a mechanism of power, as well as exploring the possibilities of the poetic form.Eldrid Lunden often associates femininity with metaphors involving water, rain, mucus, and mouths; whereas masculinity is connoted by “tougher” metaphors such as cars, insects, and the pulse. In Lunden’s texts, however, this rhetorical interaction is also open and dynamic. In fact, one of the key aspects of her poetry is to avoid fixed meaning, and instead break down the conventional perceptions that can cement the gender role pattern. Movement, music, and melancholy, but also rebellion, flow like a blue wave through Eldrid Lunden’s work: nothing is allowed to settle down in this language; poetry is eternally impatient.
With her debut collection, Indeni – udenfor (1967; Within – Without), Danish writer Kirsten Thorup succeeded in placing herself from the outset at the centre of the literary arena. Here and in her subsequent collections she explored the positions of alienation, powerlessness, and objectification in a markedly personal voice. With her remarkable novel Baby (1973) it became clear that Kirsten Thorup had something more to say. This novel was a stylised and compact prelude to a comprehensive body of contemporary literature that has made her one of the most widely read authors in Denmark.Kirsten Thorup presents us with an unmerciful and paradoxically loving portrait of the apocalyptic images that constitute contemporary culture.
Three female Finland-Swedish authors who are generally included among the second wave of modernists began writing in Helsinki during the 1930s: Solveig von Schoultz, Mirjam Tuominen, and Eva Wichman. The war sliced through their lives and rewrote the terms of their careers.They explored new means of describing their experience, renewed the short story genre, and modified modernist poetry in various ways. Schoultz turned the spotlight on what she later called “society’s smallest cell, interpersonal relationships”, while Tuominen illumined the fundamental ethical issues of the age with the passion of Cassandra, and Wichman – whom the war radicalised – wrote political battle songs.
The focus of women’s works shifted from the sexual aspects of motherhood in the 1930s to children as the targets of wanton violence during the war. The time had come, they thought, to manifest the responsibility for society that Fredrika Bremer and Ellen Key had posited as women’s contribution to civilisation. The focus had shifted, however, from pleading the cause of women to that of children.The focus on children and the social responsibility of mothers was the last attempt by modern women writers to launch a new ethic of human relations and envisage a political utopia of peace. The broad-based, multi-genre effort did not dissipate until the 1960s when motherhood was stripped of its revolutionary content and redefined as either autocratic or powerless. Female characters assumed the position of helpless children in relation to men, and militant mothers were relegated to the status of frustrated housewives.