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.
Swedish Sophie Sager’s production is small. She became known for her statements in a case of assault and battery, in which she was the victim. These statements were first published in 1848 as a serial in the newspaper Stockholms Dagblad, and in the same year they appeared with a preface and comments by Sophie Sager under the title Sagerska målet (The Sager Case). Her statements are marked by her strong ambition and desire to receive satisfaction for the offence she had suffered. The offence primarily concerns her right as a woman to reject sexual invitations.It is the way in which she differs from the passive, nice femininity of the time and causes offence through her activities that makes her interesting to us today. Through the story of her life and through her texts we are able to study the development of a female consciousness – how she is initially driven to fight for her own cause, and how at a later point she is roused to extend the fight to the women’s cause in general.
The writing career of Sara Elisabeth Wacklin is a good example of how difficult it was for one of the narrative talents of the semi-public salons to become an author. Just before her death, the three volumes of her lifework, Hundrade minnen från Österbotten (A Hundred Memories from Ostrobothnia), were published. Since it contains examples of all the period’s prose styles, the work forms an interesting link in the history of both the Finnish and the Swedish novel.Even if the book may be regarded as belonging to the contemporary literary tradition of native realists, it can also be interpreted in terms of a searching and experimental effort. This plurality may be a result of Wacklin’s attempt to also offer an unaffected depiction of the Ostrobothnian woman and her conditions of life. The publication of Hundrade minnen från Österbotten became a lengthy affair. The Finnish publisher insisted on a subscription list to guarantee the sales. This never proved necessary, for the work became a considerable success.
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.
Approaching her forties, Thekla Knös published some poems that essentially conform to a cheerful, pious, and snug – homey – idealism. By her contemporaries she was regarded as a typical exponent of everyday culture. The contemporary literary critics commended Knös’s poems and saw in her lyric poetry a confirmation of the thesis that the ‘historical period of art’ had ended. This did not mean that the poem, or poetry, had had its day, but that it had been given a new function, namely to embellish everyday life.Accordingly, the field of poetry was opened up to the female poet as well. Her interest in children is striking. Not only does she write about children, she also writes for children, and her career as a female author is thus typical of the period. Unfortunately she vanished to the place where so many creative and frustrated women formerly ended their lives, the asylum.
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.