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.
With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
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.
Queen Christina was the reigning queen of Sweden between 1644 and 1654. Her reign ended when she abdicated, after which she converted to Catholicism – an action which has greatly tasked historians in their attempts to offer an explanation. Her interest in cultural and scientific topics started at an early age, and she associated and corresponded with a number of the most eminent scholars of the era.Christina’s literary works consist of two collections of aphorisms, an autobiography, two essays – one on Alexander the Great and one on Julius Caesar – and her letters. The Queen did not publish these works during her lifetime. They were first published by Johan Arckenholtz in Mémoires concernant Christine, reine de Suède, pour servir d’éclaircissement à l’histoire de son regne et principalement de sa vie privée (1751-1760; Memoirs of Christina, Queen of Sweden, to Shed Light on Her Reign and Especially Her Private Life).Christina wrote in French, the language used by educated people of the day.
Birgitta of Vadstena (Saint Bridget of Sweden), founder of the influentiel Birgittine order of nuns, is by virtue of her individuality considered to be one of the first Swedish writers. She emerges as a strong-minded woman who viewed the gradual changes of her day with open eyes, but at the same time she had no clear awareness of her own self. She allowed herself to be encircled and absorbed by making God her hiding-place. A sense of self gradually developed, meanwhile, through identification with Christ.
No woman and no deity in the Middle Ages attracted the poets like the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ. Marian poetry was initially written in the international language of religion, Latin, and might later have been translated. Original poetry was also written, in many genres and in the ‘vernacular’.Lyrical, epic, and dramatic Marian poetry is found throughout the Nordic area. There are approximately fifty extant Marian texts in the Norse language. Some of these Norse Marian poems might have been written in Norwegian monasteries. In Sweden, poems to the Virgin Mother were written in Latin and in Swedish. Swedish-language Marian poetry exercised influence on its Danish counterpart through, in particular, the Birgittine order. Marian poetic work in Denmark comprises Latin poems written by Danes as well as original and translated poems in the Danish language.