How come a daughter of the liberal, albeit conservative ultra-respectable professor and hofmedicus (court physician) Carl Henrik Horn Nebelong was fooling about like a bohemian in Copenhagen cafés with her female friends and aspiring writers, and also writing audacious novels about the straitened circumstances of women’s desire in petit-bourgeois and double-standards patriarchal Denmark?
Agnes Henningsen’s world is like a geographical and ideological map. Denmark is mirrored in Europe, Danish province in Copenhagen city, ingrained middle-class in radical bohemian; and the widely different attitudes of the times converge – social, political, religious – assembled in a hot-spot: that of love and independence, which in Agnes Henningsen’s writings are the absolute premise of female desire.She takes issue with the sanctimonious institutionalisation of love – which causes hypocrisy, martyrdom, hysteria, and furtiveness, while continually threatening any natural development of the female sexual life.
Ingeborg Stuckenberg saw Johannes Jørgensen’s, Helge Rode’s, and Viggo Stuckenberg’s renouncement of the Modern Breakthrough as a betrayal of everything they had believed in and fought for. She had inspired, critiqued, composed music for her friends’ poems, and written texts for her husband’s literary output. And yet she had no opportunity for countering their deceit. No, she would not be muse, not priestess, not Valkyrie for others – she would be her own soldier.She saw no prospect of being this in turn-of-the-century Denmark. In the spring of 1903, she left everything behind, went to Bremen, and boarded an emigrant ship bound for New Zealand. The following year, on 12 August 1904, she committed suicide, thirty-eight years old.
The bohemian authors aspired to a sense of life and art that could break open the boundaries both for oppressive bourgeois respectability and fatuous modernity. This applied to the women of the bohemia as well. But for them, freedom and liberation were not synonymous with the feminists’ demand for the right to vote, but a question of self-realisation in love and art.If the male figure-heads of the bohemian milieu caused scandal, the women did too – and to no less a degree. As bohemians they offended against every norm of what constituted a decent life for a woman as wife, as mother, as the heart and mind of the home. At the same time, it was for this femininity that they were fetishised in the bohemian milieu.
Icelandic writer Ásta Sigurðardóttir had a fondness for self-presentation that took her contemporaries’ breath away. All her short stories reflect a tension between, on the one hand, the longing for normality, security, and bourgeois acceptance and, on the other hand, rebellion, a need for freedom, and a deep-seated rejection of bourgeois values.She loved to perform, but no-one else should write her roles for her. Journeying is a recurrent motif in Ásta Sigurðardóttir’s texts, and her characters are alone, in both a physical and an existential sense. Her late texts lack the intensity that characterised her first short stories. The pride, the self-assertion, the queenly arrogance are gone. The gaze is dull, self-hatred is dominant. There is no longer anything worth describing.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway