Sår som ennu blør (Wounds That Still Bleed), a novel in verse by Karo Espeseth, is an account of a sexual sadist and his relationship with a young woman. The novel exposes the connection between gender and war in inter-war Europe. The man is driven by the accumulation of repressed rage, hatred, vengeance, and desire. Espeseth demonstrates his affinity with a general culture of violence that has long been linked to ideals of masculinity and sexuality.Unfortunately, the subsequent debate revolved more around sexual morality, superficial ideals, and literary decadence than the question that Espeseth tries to raise: what is the cause and dynamic of violent sex? In the wake of the pitiless criticism and lack of comprehension that Sår som ennu blør aroused in Norway, Espeseth stopped writing poetry. Not until 1983 did she break her self-imposed silence.
Nuoren opettajattaren varaventtiili (The Young Teacher’s Safety Valve) by Hilja Valtonen was the first modern Finnish light novel, a trendsetter for its humour and cheekiness. She published close to thirty bestsellers between 1926 and 1975. Her heroines are career women, often self-taught, and marriage is described as an attractive option, if not the only one. A number of the novels are incisive analyses of inequality in marriage, portraying the modern man as “old-fashioned at heart”.The new wave of popular Finnish novels by women dauntlessly combined romantic intrigue with analyses of inner conflicts. The novels of Elsa Soini examine the status of the modern woman in inter-war society. She depicts several generations of women from turn-of-the-century suffragettes to modern tomboys with upper secondary or university degrees. Her works call the sharp dividing line between femininity and masculinity into question.
Finnish female authors were active participants in the 1930s discussion of birth control and abortion that gathered momentum during the early years of the Depression. Katuojan vettä, the first popular success by novelist Helvi Hämäläinen, was a plea for motherhood as a natural event in the course of a woman’s life. Hämäläinen’s demands on behalf of motherhood combined with a satisfying sex life approach Ellen Key’s ideal.Ruumiin ikävä (1930; The Body’s Yearnings) by Iris Uurto is about a woman who leaves her husband. Such a bold depiction of sexuality by a young female author scandalised conservative cultural circles. Her description of instinct and the libido were inspired by the new psychology of the age. Inevitably, her books were fodder for 1930s controversies about morals in literature.
The Åland islands author Sally Salminen made her debut with the novel Katrina (1936; Eng. tr. Katrina), which became one of the biggest Nordic bestsellers of all time. The social critique implicit to the book aroused strong feelings in her native village of Vargata on Vårdö Island.The novel opened the door to a literary career, but grew to be a burden as well. Sally Salminen ended up publishing a total of seventeen novels, travelogues, and autobiographies. But Katrina overshadowed everything she did. Her last four books were autobiographical, and among these, Upptäcktsresan, has been called one of the best Finland-Swedish novels about the 1920s.
Women writers of the so-called primitivist movement write about lawless passion. The female characters of their novels often pay with their lives for their forbidden passion. The novels formulate a more or less explicit critique of the way that patriarchal society links ownership of the earth to that of women as sexual objects while maintaining a level of erotic ambivalence – a strategy that successfully attracted wide female readership.The novels reflect thoroughgoing knowledge of the joys and hardships associated with tilling the soil. Nor do they skip over the role that women’s crafts played when it came to ensuring survival of the family farm. Both male and female primitivists wrote about sexuality in a frank and open manner. Female primitivism decoupled the ambivalence of the sentimental literary tradition from its religious, patriarchal assumptions and turned it into a sensual code that stood on its own.Female desire in these books burns down villages, devastates marriages, slaughters farmers, and allows women to affirm themselves by listening to their bodies. Eventually, they and their offspring are punished mercilessly, often with death.
Finnish author Eeva Kilpi made her debut in 1959 with the collection of short stories Noidanlukko (Moonwort), and during the 1960s she published a number of novels and short story collections in which the pairs of opposites – man and woman, body and intellect, but even more city and countryside – were the mainstay. With the collection of poems Laulu rakkaudesta (1972; Songs of Love) and the novel Tamara (1972; Eng. tr. Tamara), Eeva Kilpi became one of the leaders of the Finnish women’s literature scene. One of the central themes of her oeuvre is the assertion that the city and modern technology kill not only plants and animals but also people. She has a singular mix of longing for the village and militant eco-activism, and her organic and holistic vision of life is clearly expressed in her writings. With her autobiographical trilogy she writes the history of WWII from the perspective of women and the Finnish home front. She enables the reader’s own memory work while describing her own, and she consistently completes the critique of civilisation that has been the driving force throughout her works.
With Män kan inte våldtas (1975; Men Cannot Be Raped; Eng. tr. Manrape), Märta Tikkanen hurled herself headlong into the ongoing discussion of gender roles and became one of the figurehead writers of the new women’s movement, not just in her native Finland but in all of the Nordic countries. In a number of books she would thematise not just a series of acute women’s problems, but also her own private life story in a way that met with great response. In book after book, Märta Tikkanen investigates the ties that bind women – or herself – to husband, children, lovers, and parents. “Where is the logic?” she asks, and in both novels and poems, she systematically works her way through layer after layer of ties in order to, if possible, find the story of logic in the lives of women. Time and again she seeks to capture the female life-text, her life story, just to show the impossibility of the project. It always evades capture. She continually approaches her story in new ways, and throughout her oeuvre one can trace how her approach becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated.
Four women poets made their mark on literary Sweden on the threshold of the twentieth century. Jane Gernandt-Claine’s writing, which consisted of five short story collections and twelve novels, in addition to poetry, was her link to Sweden. Ever since her debut in 1893, the topics for her prose had come from other countries. All of Gernandt-Claine’s writing reveals a strong commitment to women while portraying heterosexual love as the ultimate goal and greatest pleasure that life has to offer.Anna Cederlund argued for the importance of beauty in everyday life. The last poem in her book testifies to a powerful force outside herself, that of love. Harriet Löwenhjelm’s oeuvre consists of twenty-two diaries with vignettes, etchings, and drawings, book manuscripts, letters, and poems. She is known for playing the jester and hiding behind various disguises. She knew where her poses came from: the first link in the chain was commedia dell’arte. Karin Ek wanted to reach all Swedish people. Her dearest wish was to convey her love for poetry, a “source of universal happiness.” Her own song grew out of both passion and suffering; poetry was her lifeline.
In the early 1950s one of the great oeuvres in Swedish literature was initiated when the young Birgitta Trotzig published Ur de älskandes liv (1951; Out of the Lives of Lovers). The novel contains a striving to reach beyond the limitations of the I, to reach the You that is indispensable to life, and this will remain the basic theme and stylistic movement of Trotzig’s works. Is not Birgitta Trotzig really a lyricist? The most intense parts of her work take the shape of poetic prose fragments or of lyrical vision. But narrating the “path between birth and death” stands as a necessity. “The great problem is terribly simple. A brief run between birth and death. That human life should be a community of love. Why doesn’t this exist?” she writes in the essay “Hållpunkter, hösten 1975” (“Fixed Points, Autumn 1975”). This attention to the progression of life as a whole is found in all her stories.
A number of social and ideological features became prevalent in the European transition from eighteenth to nineteenth century – the establishment of the middle-class family as culture-bearing and the Romantic idealisation of woman as partly the mother of God and nature and partly the unconscious and alien aspect of the man’s humanness. These features contributed to a union of the previous periods’ female types, the housewife and the salon hostess, in the woman of the Romantic intimate sphere. In this way, Romanticism gave the woman a cultural position by virtue of gender alone – a position which she had not had before and would soon lose again. The Romantic intimate sphere was, unlike the salon, a home, but not therefore simply a (petit) bourgeois nuclear family. It was a community of the sexes, which would realise the Romantic philosophy and religious attitude to life. By absorbing and conveying inspiration from the wider European movement, women’s literature played a key role in structuring this new identity of the intimate sphere.