A secure idyll that covers up a frightful abyss but always cracks eventually is a typical scenario in works by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. The picture books Hur gick det sen? and Vem ska trösta Knyttet? (Eng. tr. Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley) outline the utopia that emerged from Jansson’s traumatic experience of the war’s meaninglessness, creating a Moomin world.Maternal sensibility rules and family bonds extend to everyone. But Jansson’s writing does not end with the dream of a happy family. Her last Moomin books and adult fiction deconstruct this mythology.
Many women writers in Sweden in the 1970s wanted to speak for themselves and deliver testimony of their own experiences in their own voice. In order to achieve this, they recreated an old genre, the confessional novel, which can trace its ancestry back as far as Augustine’s Confessiones (Eng. tr. Confessions) from approximately 400 AD, and whose modern form was shaped by Rousseau. The confessional novel continued the documentarism of the 1960s. The reportage book that had then treated of the larger spheres of life, with travel books and sociological depictions of social classes and spaces, was now turned to depicting the intimate sphere of life: the home, feelings, and personal development. Just as it was important in the 1960s to document personal participation and research, so in the 1970s it was equally important that described experiences and adventures were absolutely authentic. Where the ideal of the 1960s was objective depiction, the 1970s becomes the decade of subjective representation. Fiction makes claims to authenticity.
Female poets of the early twentieth century discreetly described sexual experiences in terms of grass that smoulders or is flattened like a mat beneath the lovers. Eventually, the euphemisms grew unnecessary and Eros’ significance to a generation of female poets becomes obvious in the work of Berit Spong, Ingeborg Björklund, Greta Knutson, Martha Larsson, Maria Wine, Ingeborg Erixson, and Elsa Grave, among others.
Sår som ennu blør (Wounds That Still Bleed), a novel in verse by Karo Espeseth, is an account of a sexual sadist and his relationship with a young woman. The novel exposes the connection between gender and war in inter-war Europe. The man is driven by the accumulation of repressed rage, hatred, vengeance, and desire. Espeseth demonstrates his affinity with a general culture of violence that has long been linked to ideals of masculinity and sexuality.Unfortunately, the subsequent debate revolved more around sexual morality, superficial ideals, and literary decadence than the question that Espeseth tries to raise: what is the cause and dynamic of violent sex? In the wake of the pitiless criticism and lack of comprehension that Sår som ennu blør aroused in Norway, Espeseth stopped writing poetry. Not until 1983 did she break her self-imposed silence.
The Åland islands author Sally Salminen made her debut with the novel Katrina (1936; Eng. tr. Katrina), which became one of the biggest Nordic bestsellers of all time. The social critique implicit to the book aroused strong feelings in her native village of Vargata on Vårdö Island.The novel opened the door to a literary career, but grew to be a burden as well. Sally Salminen ended up publishing a total of seventeen novels, travelogues, and autobiographies. But Katrina overshadowed everything she did. Her last four books were autobiographical, and among these, Upptäcktsresan, has been called one of the best Finland-Swedish novels about the 1920s.
Finnish author Eeva Kilpi made her debut in 1959 with the collection of short stories Noidanlukko (Moonwort), and during the 1960s she published a number of novels and short story collections in which the pairs of opposites – man and woman, body and intellect, but even more city and countryside – were the mainstay. With the collection of poems Laulu rakkaudesta (1972; Songs of Love) and the novel Tamara (1972; Eng. tr. Tamara), Eeva Kilpi became one of the leaders of the Finnish women’s literature scene. One of the central themes of her oeuvre is the assertion that the city and modern technology kill not only plants and animals but also people. She has a singular mix of longing for the village and militant eco-activism, and her organic and holistic vision of life is clearly expressed in her writings. With her autobiographical trilogy she writes the history of WWII from the perspective of women and the Finnish home front. She enables the reader’s own memory work while describing her own, and she consistently completes the critique of civilisation that has been the driving force throughout her works.
With Män kan inte våldtas (1975; Men Cannot Be Raped; Eng. tr. Manrape), Märta Tikkanen hurled herself headlong into the ongoing discussion of gender roles and became one of the figurehead writers of the new women’s movement, not just in her native Finland but in all of the Nordic countries. In a number of books she would thematise not just a series of acute women’s problems, but also her own private life story in a way that met with great response. In book after book, Märta Tikkanen investigates the ties that bind women – or herself – to husband, children, lovers, and parents. “Where is the logic?” she asks, and in both novels and poems, she systematically works her way through layer after layer of ties in order to, if possible, find the story of logic in the lives of women. Time and again she seeks to capture the female life-text, her life story, just to show the impossibility of the project. It always evades capture. She continually approaches her story in new ways, and throughout her oeuvre one can trace how her approach becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated.
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 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.
Korpfolksungen (The Raven People’s Child) is the Finland-Swedish author and artist Irmelin Sandman Lilius’s fortieth book. She made her debut aged nineteen in 1955 and has since then established herself as one of Finland’s internationally best known writers of children’s books. Korpfolksungen unites several of the typical elements in Irmelin Sandman Lilius’s oeuvre: sliding between the real and the fantastical, between childhood and the world of the adult, between mythical time, historic time, and the present makes her a boundary-breaking, multi-layered writer for readers of all ages.In the society that Irmelin Sandman Lilius builds in book after book the protagonists are the poor of the back lanes. The world of the poor is a minutely described women’s world, wherein the girls take on the tasks of women, take on adult responsibilities, and provide for themselves. In her later works, Irmelin Sandman Lilius far more often steps into a more autobiographically determined reality. In exquisite little illustrated books, she returns to her childhood and youth.