In the 1810s the talented Baroness Sophie von Knorring had published six novels. She now only holds a place as a footnote in literary history. The reason may be that she was a paradox? An aristocrat of a nearly Gustavian stamp, yet also an unsparing critic of the arrogance of birth, she belongs to the most refined milieus, which she exposes without mercy. Her critics refer to her outmoded view of women and believe that her main topic is the indissolubility of marriage.To a modern reader, the real purpose of Knorring’s novelistic art is to describe the issues connected with female eroticism and the idealising power of passion. The message of the moral double standards, as well as the subtle nuances that distinguish ‘pure’ from ‘bad’ women, is what Knorring tirelessly analyses. When in her novels Sophie von Knorring examines how women’s passions become ‘criminal’ compared with men’s moral double standards, she is in the good company of the great authors of world literature. Germaine de Staël, Rousseau, and Johanna von Schopenhauer.
Fredrika Bremer has won respect as a personality, as a letter writer, and as a writer of travel accounts. But as soon as it comes to her novels, reservations usually begin to make their appearance. The only exceptions made are usually for Grannarne (1837; Eng. tr. The Neighbours) and Hemmet (1839; Eng. tr. The Home). With these books, she became one of the world’s most read novelists. No Swedish author, not even Selma Lagerlöf, has enjoyed as much success in the English-speaking world. Few Swedish authors have been translated into so many languages.All of Fredrika Bremer’s production may be read in the light of a Realist and a Romantic code. On the one hand, she examines the woman’s position in society, her right to education and personal development. On the other hand, she is preoccupied with the right of the inner life as opposed to the outer life and with the possibilities for passion, the female heart, and the female fire to overturn the existing state of things. It is not balance that constitutes Fredrika Bremer’s originality. Rather, it is the very agitation in the books that captures the reader. She was a passionate being – both as an intellectual and in her search for freedom.
Wendela Hebbe, who was active in the 1840s at Aftonbladet, the biggest and most scandalous newspaper in Sweden, has gone down in history as the country’s first permanently employed female journalist. But she was much more than that: she was Sweden’s first female publicist. Her small salon in her office in the Gamla Stan quarter of Stockholm soon became a meeting-place for the men of the new spirit. A circle of free publicists involved a politicised literary culture.In Wendela Hebbe’s journalism, the social tendency of the period is noticeable, but it can be more difficult to discover in her fiction, which employs an unusually high number of voices and experiments with various genres, from Romantic texts and everyday prose to depictions of the lives of common people. In the period from 1846 through 1850, Wendela Hebbe published a number of articles that aimed at publicly exposing the extreme poverty that women in particular could be living in. At the same time, Wendela Hebbe’s literary production is an interesting example of how difficult it was for the female life experience to find its literary form. She did not have an adequate genre for this.
The most renowned female author of the Swedish Romantic period was Euphrosyne, the pseudonym of Julia Christina Nyberg. She made her debut in 1817 with a couple of poems in Poetisk kalender, one of the most important literary journals of the Swedish Romantic movement. The critics who swore to the aesthetic ideals of Romanticism usually spoke about her texts with sympathy and appreciation. Her literary fame seems to have been at its peak in the 1820s.She often found her motifs in fairy tales, folk tales, and myths – completely in agreement with the taste of the period. Nature was another source of inspiration to her. Flowers, birds, and the changing seasons became the subject of several of her most beautiful poems. It was love that she by preference and most ardently sung about, but in several poems Euphrosyne also wrote about the contemporary literary establishment, often satirically. The only prose text that she published was “Den sköna Cunigunda” (The Fair Cunigunda). To a modern reader, this is perhaps the most interesting of her texts. Here, she lets a number of female figures, taken from the Bible and ancient Egyptian mythology, from contemporary literature, and from the contemporary literary debate, mirror, amplify, or counterbalance each other.
Magdalena Sofia, ‘Malla’, Silfverstolpe hosted the most well-known learned salon in Sweden, frequented during the 1820s and 1830s by famous male authors of the time. Through her contact with these famous men Malla Silfverstolpe has gone down in history, whereas her own person and her individual contributions to the salon culture have been marginalised.Her great memoirs, published posthumously in four volumes, are at one and the same time the most important document about the Swedish salon culture and the most interesting literary text by a woman that has issued from this cultural milieu. This latter dimension has been neglected, and the work has primarily been highlighted as a historical source of knowledge about the period’s famous men. Yet, with her close examination of the conditions of emotion, she offers a unique insight into the contradictions of women’s lives and women’s culture in the early nineteenth century.