The lustre of the Victorian feminine ideal wore off. Owing to the new civil rights that had been accorded to women, along with their growing prominence in public debate and social service professions, the New Woman was an increasingly popular phrase in the 1890s.Patriarchal attitudes gradually shifted from tacit misogyny to explicit anti-feminism. A war broke out over how the New Woman should be characterised. Was femininity healthy or unnatural? Was the New Woman a nymphomaniac? Or an old maid? In either case, she was Unnatural. Masculinism celebrated its first major triumphs in this thickening atmosphere of open gender war. And the women hit back.
After she liberates herself from the inspiration from Herman Bang and from her husband’s ‘guardianship’, the author Karin Michaëlis finds the combination of epistolary and diary novel that she would go on to develop into her sphere of excellence. She becomes famous, and much in demand for public lectures. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, Karin Michaëlis simply had to reach for her journalist’s pen. As reporter, she makes no secret of her contempt for war, and calls attention to the enormous human costs.As a reporter, she carefully chooses her figurative language, and can for once give free rein to the pathos which, in her fiction, must constantly be held in check. She consigned the myth of the good mother to the grave. The portraits of real-life damaged women and the visions showing children as levers for a new world are rooted in the indignant pathos that was the weakness at the beginning of her writing career, but which later became its strength.
Norwegian writer and participant in the public debate Nini Roll Anker hid behind the eloquent pseudonym Jo Nein (a play on Yes/No). The daughter of a family of civil servants from Western Norway, she wrote with great commitment about power and contradiction in bourgeois society. Her social commitment spanned a half-century and produced a wealth of fiction. Being a prominent figure in the arts, Nini Roll Anker’s was a crucial voice in the Norwegian debate on art and society. She supported the women’s cause and the mushrooming labour movement, but her key position was that of critical intellectual.Her literary universe sees nature and play, dream and passion as quality rating for a meaningful life. These vital “imaginary” values, as she called them, often get into conflict with the characters’, particularly the women’s, devotion to duty and loyalty to family. Nini Roll Anker’s books appeal to women’s responsibility for upbringing and their social responsibility. She sees women’s complicity in war, but regards the hostilities as men’s work. In her criticism of the established Church, she pays particular attention to the way in which patriarchal techniques of governance couple religion and sexuality.
From 1910 until 1922, Gyrithe Lemche was a leading light of the Danish women’s movement. As national president of Dansk Kvindesamfund and as editor of Kvinden og Samfundet, she was the strategist and foremost ideologist in the turbulent years during which the campaign for the vote was on the agenda.In the large-scale autobiographical series Tempeltjenere I-III (1926-28; The Temple Servants) she gave a fictionalised version of the contradictions within the Danish women’s movement, as she saw them. The work is not the foremost work from her pen, but it is the master key to an understanding of the artistic upheaval that occurred from 1910 until 1922 when she had left her study in favour of the women’s cause.It is the split between poet and realist that colours Gyrithe Lemche’s writing. To her, being the realist means going into her day and age and taking its problems and tasks to heart. Being the poet, on the other hand, means abandonment to imagination and using visionary visualising energy to breathe life, emotion, and interpretation into the past. She wants both aspects, but constantly experiences the one stepping in the way of the other.
Súsanna Helena Patursson one of a number of women writers in the national movement. She wrote the first Faroese theatre play, Veðurføst (Layover Because of Bad Weather), which was performed in 1889. She encouraged women to participate in the public discussion forum, to get an education, and she instructed them as to how house and home should be organised. She edited and published the first Faroese women’s magazine, Oyggjarnar (1905-08; The Islands), making housekeeping, interior design, and cooking recipes a national and political issue.Among Paturssons female successors may be counted women such as Billa Hansen, Andrea Reinert, and Maria Mikkelsen. While these women travelled out into the world in order to learn, get ideas and, not least, experience, Johanna Maria Skylv Hansen’s writing took her back to the old rural community.
Hulda Garborg wrote a lot, alternating between articles for journals and novels, but she concentrated particularly on various theatre genres. Much of her work was written in connection with the nynorsk movement, which in the 1880s and 1890s received increased impetus, with Hulda Garborg as one of its prominent figures. From 1910 until 1912, Hulda Garborg was the leader of a touring theatre company, Det Norske Spellaget, which travelled along the Norwegian coast. The success of the tour gave Hulda Garborg the courage to set up a permanent stage in Christiania for nynorsk drama.The very next year saw Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theatre) become a reality. She sat on the board for many years, and she also occasionally directed shows, but what she really wanted to be was a writer. She uses material from Norwegian national literature and the Norse heritage, but she was also inspired by mysticism and Eastern philosophy of religion.
Agnes Henningsen’s world is like a geographical and ideological map. Denmark is mirrored in Europe, Danish province in Copenhagen city, ingrained middle-class in radical bohemian; and the widely different attitudes of the times converge – social, political, religious – assembled in a hot-spot: that of love and independence, which in Agnes Henningsen’s writings are the absolute premise of female desire.She takes issue with the sanctimonious institutionalisation of love – which causes hypocrisy, martyrdom, hysteria, and furtiveness, while continually threatening any natural development of the female sexual life.
The bohemian authors aspired to a sense of life and art that could break open the boundaries both for oppressive bourgeois respectability and fatuous modernity. This applied to the women of the bohemia as well. But for them, freedom and liberation were not synonymous with the feminists’ demand for the right to vote, but a question of self-realisation in love and art.If the male figure-heads of the bohemian milieu caused scandal, the women did too – and to no less a degree. As bohemians they offended against every norm of what constituted a decent life for a woman as wife, as mother, as the heart and mind of the home. At the same time, it was for this femininity that they were fetishised in the bohemian milieu.
On the threshold to the twentieth century, the doors to the world stood open. At last the individual had the prospect of liberation from the restrictive bindings of religion, class, and gender. With the new world picture as its mental sounding board, the new century opened up for a progressive process of integration.Women and ordinary people gained access to bourgeois written culture, and they then of course made their mark on this culture.While male writers and scientists were shoring up their threatened masculinity by categorising “Woman” under “primordial Nature”, the women were surely and steadily gaining ground in the men’s bastions of power.
The few Icelandic women writers to appear around the turn of the twentieth century travel from the countryside to Reykjavík. But it is not contemporary Iceland that frames, in their literary works, their depiction of Icelandic women’s struggles of the modern age.They choose the past as a time frame, the journey back to the patriarchal farming community from which the contemporary identity conflicts and attempted exoduses spring. From this perspective, they thematise the conflicts between duty and freedom and the ambivalence concerning women’s new liberation.