Finnish writer Minna Canth became a single mother, businesswoman, and author all at once. Instead of being satisfied with the simple and retired life of a widow, as was customary at the time, she became the most controversial of Finnish authors and shaped the direction of the country’s drama. Obituaries described her as a national hero, and her plays are still among the most popular on Finnish stages.
The Language Debate in Finland
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.
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.
A man writes when he wishes and is inspired to do so, a woman, at least one with children and a household, when she can and has time, happy and able at having been able to, as it were, purloin such a joy for herself, remarks the Finnish author Fredrika Runeberg in her memoirs, Min pennas saga (The Story of my Pen).Her husband J. L. Runeberg was already a well-known author when they married, and he was ensconced as the national poet of Finland when her three works – her historical novels Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar (Lady Catharina Boije and her Daughters) and Sigrid Liljeholm, as well as her book of short stories Teckningar och drömmar (Sketches and Dreams) – were brought out. His attitude to literature by women was benevolent but condescending. Zacharias Topelius and Johan Vilhelm Snellman, two other opinion-makers of the mid-nineteenth century, looked at matters similarly. Given that Fredrika Runeberg did not promote notions of women’s emancipation, they were all for her writing.While dreaming about writing women’s history, she deferred to the expectations of the leading male opinion-makers. She refrained from publishing her views on emancipation and waited fifteen years before bringing out her first novel. Her diaries and the pieces she composed at her kitchen table compared women’s status with slavery.
The authors of ecclesiastical history tend to be theologians and church leaders. Traditionally speaking, they are usually men, and women play a relatively obscure role in their writings. But many women were active in the multitude of revival movements that sprang up in the nineteenth century. New structures gave rise to different kinds of literature, and the spiritual currents of the Nordic countries rippled with female writers, hymnists, and preachers.As a major ingredient of Norwegian spiritual and cultural life, Haugianism was one of the many Nordic revival movements that emerged in the nineteenth century. Haugianism paved the way for Camilla Collett’s indefatigable struggle and for other forces of women’s liberation in Norway.
Sweden was the first among the Nordic countries to allow women access to a university education. Female students ostensibly lived under the same conditions as their male counterparts: they shared ideas, instructors, visions of the future. In reality their situations could not have been more at odds. Men were the beneficiaries of longstanding traditions and the innate right to public support. Like extraterrestrial creatures, women found themselves in an alien world. Women asked themselves whether they should try to blend in and focus on what they had in common with men or accentuate their own special qualities. In the 1880s and early 1890s, any term or concept suggesting that they somehow deviated from the norm was scrupulously avoided. Just before the turn of the century, they switched strategy, placing ‘femininity’ in the spotlight and adding the notion of ‘difference’ to their repertoire. The tide turned in 1896, the year Ellen Key published Missbrukad kvinnokraft (Misused Female Power). Demands for emancipation and equal opportunity were supplanted by the concept that women should enrich society and culture with their unique qualities. Love and emotional liberation took centre stage. Women acquired a fresh sense of dignity, as well as new responsibilities, by virtue of their gender. And the women academics of the time did not remain unaffected.
Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf achieved her international breakthrough when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909. At this point, she was already one of the most reputable and respected writers in the Nordic countries. The loss of her beloved childhood home, Mårbacka, resonates as a pain point in her work – a recurring theme that undergoes a number of variations in one novel after another. And through this essential lack in life, the enforced exile, Lagerlöf, who ostensibly had nothing left to lose, entered a world of memories and retrieved from it an original language which permeated everything she wrote, and which spoke to all social strata and to both children and adults. She wrote that she wanted to be read by all, including the farmwives in rural areas.And she still is.
People’s attitude towards life is the essential thing in Minda Ramm’s oeuvre. Empathy, art, and philosophical wisdom can teach them how to put up with the contradictions that they encounter day by day. Thus, Ramm’s literary credo was the necessity of study and observation.
“My entire being has almost been shattered by the overwhelming power of love.” The power of love in this 11 November 1918 diary entry by Finnish author Aino Kallas was the very wellspring of her artistry.Maila Talvio’s writing found itself at the epicentre of the Nordic debate about sexual morality and was inspired by Ellen Key and others. Beneath the concept of enlightenment and liberation, however, lurks a coherent narrative of sexual fear, pessimism, and longing for death.