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.
With the twenty-four stories in En Hverdags-Historie (An Everyday Story) from 1828, Thomasine Gyllembourg consolidated a new literary tradition – the realistic prose story. She shows her reader around in the external forum where everyday life takes place, ornamented with particulars that might seem like knick-knacks, but which all share in the function of making her universe recognisable actuality. While En Hverdags-Historie shows family life in a concave mirror, a number of Gyllembourg’s other short stories reflect family life in a magic mirror.When Thomasine Gyllembourg wrote her everyday stories, the nuclear family was still a new phenomenon, and she herself had lived through a considerable part of its cultural genesis. With En Hverdags-Historie, she positions herself midstream between the old family with its awareness of lineage and the new family with its orientation towards the individual, and from this vantage point she views the evolution of the family, weighs up loss and gain, and exposes the inherent cracks in the foundation of the nuclear family. The trends identified by Thomasine Gyllembourg in the 1840s thus anticipate the particular modern way of life that would be put to debate some decades later in the literature of the Modern Breakthrough.
Camilla Collett’s major work Amtmandens Døttre (The District Governor’s Daughters) is the first realistic ‘propaganda novel’ in the annals of Norwegian literature, and the first Norwegian novel to take a broad and critical look at conditions offered to women in the better-off strata of society. The work was no run-of-the-mill novel when it was published in 1854-55. Many people were affected by the thematic line of the book: the attack on marriages of convenience and marriages contracted solely to provide for the woman, the complaints about the restricting parameters of life for women. Even the male critics were delighted in the innovation of her style.After Amtmandens Døttre and a volume of Fortællinger (Short Stories), Camilla Colett stopped writing fiction. Instead, she used the 1860s to explore the grey area between autobiography, memoirs, and travel writing. She then took the plunge and concentrated on polemical writings, publishing two new volumes of Sidste Blade (Last Leaves) in 1872 and 1873, and in 1877 the collection that was to be her breakthrough as feminist cultural critic, Fra de Stummes Leir (From the Camp of the Mute).Her writing career drew to a close with two new collections of essays, and a number of one-off articles on a range of subjects. She must be given a large measure of credit for the strong feminist influence exercised on the Norwegian Modern Breakthrough, and she contributed to avoidance of the deep divide between the female and male outlook on sexual morality that marked Danish cultural life in the 1880s.
In the course of a long life the Norwegian author and pastor’s wife Hanna Winsnes wrote – both for entertainment and edification – poetry and religious texts in verse, novels, short stories, and tales for children. She had no real artistic ambition, but liked to tell her ‘stories’ within the family circle and was always interested in the communication of ideas. Hanna Winsnes was well-read and well-versed in the literature of the past and of her modern day. Hanna Winsnes’s written world is generally harmonious and well-arranged, because she never expresses doubt as to the foundation for what is right and what is wrong. She repeatedly returns to the fact that love – between mother and child and between man and woman – along with belief in God and humility have the highest priority in life. Above all, Hanna Winsnes is famous, loved – and criticised – as Norway’s cookbook writer. From its very first edition in 1845, her Lærebog i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen (A Guide to the Various Aspects of Housekeeping) proved to be popular reading.
In their everyday stories, essays, and novels, the female Romantic prose writers had to express themselves in relation to a male Romantic rhetoric that, in the work of a number of male theologians, served to provide the myth of innocence with substance and sociality in the bourgeois home. Female worthiness becomes a central issue for many female writers of the day.
Female writers of the Romantic movement did not have the academic training in literary tradition enjoyed by the majority of their male colleagues; this did not, however, mean that they approached literature with no prior aptitude whatsoever. If anything, being voracious readers they were stuffed with the male writers’ descriptions of the world and of themselves. They had an overwhelming urge to supplement and correct these pictures of women and the world according to their own minds. The female writers displayed a strong sense of having something new to tell.They were, naturally, aware that they were inscribing themselves in a literary institution that neither bid them welcome to the profession nor accepted their texts as authoritative. It was not easy to win readers for the images of woman and world that the female writers were attempting to project. Furthermore, the gender dualism and idealisation of intimate sphere-femininity of romanticism meant that the women writers struggled to integrate their writing self in their female self-image.
The ideal of womanhood, as described in the eighteenth-century moral tales and bourgeois stage comedies, was not hushed and inarticulate. But it became so. For many women writers of the period, putting pen to paper seems to have been a welcome opportunity to break the silence that had descended on women’s lives in the first half of the nineteenth century – a rhetoric of silence.Novels and stories written by Nordic women in the mid-1800s often give a quiet, powerful female figure a central position in the gallery of characters. The good womanliness was hushed and self-sacrificing; but the women who began to speak and write also saw themselves as good women and envisaged that their voice and action could be the ideal, that the camp of the mute had something to say that could be of benefit to the nation and to human society.
Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s novel Det går an. En tavla ur livet (It Can Be Done! A Picture out of Life; Eng. tr. Sara Videbeck) is a sharp and sweeping rejection of the Romantic image of the woman and a simple and elegantly presented utopia of love. It gave rise to the most heated and profound gender-political dispute on the literary scene in nineteenth-century Sweden, until the ‘morality controversy’ a few decades later. Some of the writers defended Almqvist, but most of them criticised him strongly.Without exception, the female authors who participated in the debate regarded Det går an as a male fantasy. The fact that Almqvist attached such great importance to the separation of sexuality from the institution of marriage made it almost impossible for the women to embrace his book wholeheartedly, although they shared his feminist views on other issues.
Swedish Emilie Flygare-Carlén’s first novel, Waldemar Klein (1838), to a great extent plagiarises the well-known style of Knorring’s novels. But later on she developed a profile all her own. The discussion of sexuality, men, and women that von Knorring had introduced was to be further developed, in a modern direction, by Flygare-Carlén. She did not shy away from calling the man’s egotism vis-à-vis the other sex by its rightful name, or from exposing the woman’s strategic duplicity with regard to engagement and marriage.Whereas Knorring describes sexuality as passionate and pent-up at one and the same time, Flygare-Carlén more explicitly sees it as a necessary but fatal drive. As her writing career progresses, she also shows how a determined woman may not always be able to change her situation but is at least able to influence it. It is undoubtedly her courage in giving a positive depiction also of vigorous women that is the secret of her great financial success as a bestselling author. In 1862 Emilie Flygare-Carlén was awarded the Swedish Academy’s large gold medal, and in 1865 her last important work appeared, the autobiographical trilogy Skuggspel (Shadow Play).