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.
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.
Around the year 1800, Danish-German aristocratic circles in Denmark and in the state of Schleswig-Holstein enjoyed a flourishing ‘salon culture’. Seen in a Scandinavian context, the most interesting salon was that of Charlotte Schimmelmann, which was much-visited and known throughout Europe. As wife of Ernst Schimmelmann, Denmark’s Minister of Finance, and for a period also Privy Councillor, Charlotte Schimmelmann presided over many official social functions. She always made sure there were scholars and artists in attendance.By gathering the royal court, nobility, diplomatic corps, and the higher official class in her salon, Charlotte Schimmelmann positioned herself at the heart of political events. She won her reputation as salon hostess, however, by being considered a ‘bel-esprit’, widely-read and well-informed about the latest European currents in scholarship, philosophy, and literature, and as the driving force behind her husband’s activities as patron of the arts. As salon hostess, she built bridges between central Europe and provincial Denmark, between high politics and intellectual life. But in the final decade of its existence, the Schimmelmann salon was but a faint reflection of its former self.
Friederike Brun presided over her salon for more than forty years. Here, she gathered together such famous cultural figures as C. E. F. Weyse, D. F. R. Kuhlau, Jens Baggesen, Adam Oehlenschläger, Just Mathias Thiele, Bertel Thorvaldsen, J. L. Heiberg, and many foreign guests; the salon was a sort of open house.The golden age of the salon was during the period from 1810 to 1816. The weekly evening reception was a particularly bustling affair. During dinner, and later in the evening during intervals between music, tableaux vivants, and readings, the guests conducted cultured aesthetic conversation. The entertainment was supplied by visiting artists, and by Friederike’s daughter Ida. Brun wrote throughout her entire life, and published fifteen volumes of miscellaneous works, of which the early texts in particular were well received.Friederike Brun has to be viewed as a transitional figure – just as the whole salon culture is a transitional phenomenon – between a predominantly feudal and a predominantly bourgeois culture. She and her salon manifest a lived Utopia of a third way: between feudalism and capitalism, between the female and the male as keenly defined spheres. The salon provided, for a brief period, a forum for contrasts.
In the seventeenth century, les précieuses formed their own salons in protest against the vulgarity of the court of Henri IV. These salons were coveted gathering places for the cultural elite. The focal point of the salon was the witty conversation, often taking place in the boudoir, the intimate space. Between the court culture’s ceremonial salon hall and the bourgeoisie’s private parlour, the salon culture gave place to specialised forms of fellowship created and run by the brilliant and witty hostesses. One did not converse, but discussed earnestly and heartily subjects of an intimate, political, and cultural nature.The précieuses and the pre-Romantic salons alike inspired the Scandinavian salon culture. Sophisticated Nordic culture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was multilingual. Developments in Europe were thus speedily adopted in their corresponding Nordic settings. The salon culture has not been dealt with to any great extent in the annals of literary history. When a hostess is named it is because of the men she has assembled around her; however, the hostesses were creative artists in their own right.
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.
Eighteenth-century diaries, like the letters, were written with one or more readers in mind – be they children, family, or future generations. These readers were sometimes addressed directly in the text. The eighteenth-century diary does not have the private or outright secret quality that it acquires in the course of the nineteenth century, when it is often written as a journal intime as the writers become more analytical and self-scrutinising.Queen Hedvig Elisabeth Charlotta’s diary is the only extant nineteenth-century diary to offer more incisive analyses of personal feelings. She was well-read and cultured, with a good understanding of the French art of letter-writing, and she had most likely learnt to analyse emotions from the examples of both Richardson and Rousseau. Her diary thus forges a natural transition to Romanticism’s journal intime and the emerging new view of human nature.
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.