Three female Finland-Swedish authors who are generally included among the second wave of modernists began writing in Helsinki during the 1930s: Solveig von Schoultz, Mirjam Tuominen, and Eva Wichman. The war sliced through their lives and rewrote the terms of their careers.They explored new means of describing their experience, renewed the short story genre, and modified modernist poetry in various ways. Schoultz turned the spotlight on what she later called “society’s smallest cell, interpersonal relationships”, while Tuominen illumined the fundamental ethical issues of the age with the passion of Cassandra, and Wichman – whom the war radicalised – wrote political battle songs.
L. Onerva belonged to the new generation of academically trained women, and penned more than thirty works. Her first book, Sekasointuja (1904; Jangled Harmonies), was a poetry collection, and she is most remembered for a poem that “associates joie de vivre with suffering”.As a prosaist, however, she has been called “too intelligent, too analytical” Nevertheless, she wrote the first modern Finnish novel.
Sigrid Undset’s writing career spans forty years and thirty titles, mainly short stories, novels, biographies, and essays. The crowning achievement being her major novels on the medieval characters Kristin Lavransdatter and Olav Audunssøn, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. She was a dominant figure in the Norwegian literary milieu throughout the period between the World Wars, and in 1935 she was appointed chair of the Norwegian Society of Authors. She wrote numerous newspaper articles and essays drawing attention to the danger of the mushrooming fascism, and when Germany occupied Norway in 1940 she had to flee to the United States.Her writing investigates the condition of being a woman, particularly the terms on which a modern woman was expected to live her life and the options she had for creating meaning and substance to her existence. Her pen is motivated by the belief in a human ability to improve and update fundamental conditions of life. Also, there is a strong sense of the need to see the individual human life as part of a greater whole – a coherence that Sigrid Undset found when she converted to Catholicism in 1924.Her texts are never one-dimensional. Now and then she could be chastising, both in her writing and in her private activities. But she was only condemnatory where she saw her fundamental humanist values being trampled underfoot.
It was a feeling of sorrow and hopelessness that led the actress Johanne Luise Heiberg to start writing her memoirs in 1855, at the age of forty-two: Et Liv gjenoplevet i Erindringen (A Life Relived in Memory). The most highly-acclaimed Danish actress of the Romantic Age, she had become a myth in her own lifetime. But the demand for greater realism on stage gradually began to signal a new era.In her four-volume memoirs, the desire for clarification also becomes a construal in words, highlighting and illuminating those parts of the personal story needed to create the lasting monument to her life and art. A description of a life seen through sharply selective eyes. To glorify and preserve – and also to understand – that which had been, her own ephemeral art.