Ulrika Eleonora’s court circle was in contact with key figures in the Pietistic reform movement, and was thus a parallel to the spiritual movements on the continent, which were attempting to put the demand of freedom and human worth for the woman into practice.Many poems in Der Nordische Weihrauch manifest distaste for the pomp and splendour of court life and reveal a focus on the inner person.
The work of collecting material from the oral tradition of nineteenth-century Finland received financial support from the government and resulted in one of the world’s largest collections, not only of oral poetry, but also of women’s poetry. At least half of the recorded texts come from women: female singers and narrators.The collection efforts focused on content; rarely was any attention paid to the bearers of the tradition – the people who sang the songs or told the tales. We know that many were women, but virtually all of them remained anonymous and faceless.This article will only look at part of the extensive tradition: the ancient runes, documented in Kalevala meter (lyrical poems and ballads), and itkuvirsi (lamentations), which were sung exclusively by women. In all, there are approximately 145,000 texts in the first group, and approximately 3000 in the second.
The number and quality of treatises discussing women’s talents or lack there of was high sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. The works were divided up by genre and were available in both printed and handwritten form. It is an established fact that readers in the Nordic countries were familiar with European concepts such as “Feminae illustres” (illustrious women), “Feminae doctae” (learned women), “Musa decimal” (the tenth muse), and so forth. Awareness of “feminae illustres” or “feminae doctae” seems to have been linked to the Renaissance period. There were, of course, earlier examples of learned women, but the desire to count them and classify them, and even promote them, would seem to have been a Renaissance inclination that surfaced among the progressive male learned circles.
Märta Berendes’ story of her life and Christina Regina vom Birchenbaums song “Een Annor Ny wijsa” reflect the language models and interpretive patterns of the times. The texts are examples of the many independent and resilient seventeenth-century women, brought up in an era of numerous wars and obliged to take care of family and property.
Agneta Horns autobiography, which she called “Description of my wretched and much-troubled wanderings” is a ‘memory of lament’ recounting the story of a criticised, neglected, and little-loved girl who nonetheless manages to assert her will and give her opponents as good as she gets.Agneta Horns lefverne is fundamentally an account of Agneta Horn’s relationship with her father and with paternal power, of the identity as dutiful daughter that she and the times considered to be the ideal. Between the lines we can read disgreement between Agneta Horn and her stepmother, Sigrid Bielke. Objectively, the conflict revolved on the inheritance from Agneta’s father; ideologically, it revolved on Agneta Horn’s obedience to her father’s resolve.
In the history of Swedish literature, Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht is usually credited with introducing subjective poetry. She was the first writer in Swedish literature to view her writing as a vocation, an assignment, a cultural calling in itself. This is in turn linked to her status as one of the first Swedish cultural personages to live by her pen. As Levertin writes of Mrs Nordenflycht: “She is the first modern individual in Swedish literature.”Throughout her writing career, Mrs Nordenflycht pleaded for an improvement in women’s status. She spent much time and energy refuting the contention of women’s weakness, demonstrating that the woman is just as mentally capable as the man, and arguing that she, like him, should be permitted to use her abilities and mental powers.
Charlotta Dorothea Biehl was the most productive Danish woman writer of the eighteenth century. She repeatedly made effective use of the letter in her writing. Not least in a year-long and extensive correspondence with her close friend Lord Chamberlain Johan Bülow. At his request Biehl wrote Mit ubetydelige Levnets Løb (My Insignificant Life) in the form of a large-scale letter, intended to be distributed and read among Bülow’s circle of friends and influential persons of rank.Her private letters would not have been written with the intention of circulation, but surely Biehl had hoped that Johan Bülow would keep the private letters for the benefit of posterity. If so, she was not mistaken. To this very day they are kept among Johan Bülow’s papers, carefully preserved for anyone who would like to make the acquaintance of “the spinster scribe”.
Madame de Sévigné turned the epistolary genre into a women’s genre, not in the sense that it was mostly populated by women, but because the women in this one genre had the status of role models, both for men and for women.Starting with Madame de Sévigné, and moving through numerous collections of letters written by women (and men, too), we eventually reach, a good one hundred years later, Charlotta Dorothea Biehl, in whom we find an amazingly undiluted Nordic counterpart to Madame de Sévigné. Madame de Sévigné created a female genre, Miss Biehl executed it ‘to the letter’.
Professor J. S. Sneedorff highlighted the Danish translation of German author Margaretha Klopstock’s Briefe von Verstorbenen an Lebendige (Letters from the Dead to the Living) as an example of the modern national language he wished to promote.One reason for the eighteenth-century’s growing interest in women writers, and particularly letter-writers whether new or old, well-known or less well-known, was that women wrote in the national language and could thus be used as illustrations of practical usage in the occasionally highly abstract debate about what the national language ought to be. Moreover, women were not rigorously schooled in the Latin tradition of scholarship – the confinement from which liberation was sought.
The eighteenth century can exhibit many pictures of women who, directly and in particular indirectly, are occupied with their own literary creation, and the stage-management of the creative woman in these portraits has been very carefully thought through and is sometimes extremely detailed.