One of Astrid Lindgren’s most effective techniques is to let imagination engulf reality. The interpretation of the world by a ‘lying’ child triumphs. The most extravagant childish dream of omnipotence comes true in the story of Pippi. With irrefutable logic, Lindgren demonstrates what a solitary child needs to avoid being crushed in a world of hard-headed pragmatism.Most of Lindgren’s writing inhabits the borderland of reality and fantasy. While some of her works are demonstrably realistic, they are nevertheless about the ability of fanciful children to live in a world of play and imagination. Lindgren’s sensitivity to children’s feelings and perspectives, along with her uncompromising willingness to take their side, is a modernist trait that links her work to the radical psychology of permissive child rearing that made inroads in Sweden between the wars.
Torborg Nedreaas made her publishing debut at a relatively late age – thirty-nine years old – with two collections of short stories. She was immediately recognised as a writer of note. The short story genre is as if made for her sure stylistic sense of sculpting a central event into a defined textual parameter. She is consistent in following her selected characters, always sticks to the chronology, and rarely plots parallel storylines. The reader should not be puzzled, reading should not be like solving a rebus, reasoned the author.She writes about outsiders and ordinary people under the yoke of war and capitalism, and she writes from various vantage points. She is concerned with the humbler members of the community, and these are often women and children – the weakest groups.She moves between the working class and the middle class, and major events such as the two World Wars and the inter-war period of the twentieth century form the foundation for her characters’ development and inter-personal relationships. The role of love in the individual’s prospects to act, to do something about personal circumstances and those of others, is always a central consideration.
After she liberates herself from the inspiration from Herman Bang and from her husband’s ‘guardianship’, the author Karin Michaëlis finds the combination of epistolary and diary novel that she would go on to develop into her sphere of excellence. She becomes famous, and much in demand for public lectures. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, Karin Michaëlis simply had to reach for her journalist’s pen. As reporter, she makes no secret of her contempt for war, and calls attention to the enormous human costs.As a reporter, she carefully chooses her figurative language, and can for once give free rein to the pathos which, in her fiction, must constantly be held in check. She consigned the myth of the good mother to the grave. The portraits of real-life damaged women and the visions showing children as levers for a new world are rooted in the indignant pathos that was the weakness at the beginning of her writing career, but which later became its strength.
It was a novel written by a woman, Mathilde Fibiger’s Clara Raphael. Tolv Breve (Clara Raphael. Twelve Letters), that provoked the debate about marriage and the comparative status of man and woman within marriage in Denmark.The novel caused annoyance in every political camp. Within a year, the book had generated almost twenty-five newspaper and periodical items, and ten pamphlets had been published on the matter. The demands for equality provoked particular furore.Mathilde Fibiger contributed two pamphlets to the controversy, and they made it even more apparent that fortifying women’s self-awareness was indeed her key intention. Clara Raphael. Tolv Breve has always been looked upon as the first manifesto of the women’s movement in Denmark. The novel’s message might well be ambiguous, but the attempt to express a total female subjectivity speaks to us over and across the radical changes that have since shaped women’s lives.
The number and quality of treatises discussing women’s talents or lack there of was high sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. The works were divided up by genre and were available in both printed and handwritten form. It is an established fact that readers in the Nordic countries were familiar with European concepts such as “Feminae illustres” (illustrious women), “Feminae doctae” (learned women), “Musa decimal” (the tenth muse), and so forth. Awareness of “feminae illustres” or “feminae doctae” seems to have been linked to the Renaissance period. There were, of course, earlier examples of learned women, but the desire to count them and classify them, and even promote them, would seem to have been a Renaissance inclination that surfaced among the progressive male learned circles.
With the twenty-four stories in En Hverdags-Historie (An Everyday Story) from 1828, Thomasine Gyllembourg consolidated a new literary tradition – the realistic prose story. She shows her reader around in the external forum where everyday life takes place, ornamented with particulars that might seem like knick-knacks, but which all share in the function of making her universe recognisable actuality. While En Hverdags-Historie shows family life in a concave mirror, a number of Gyllembourg’s other short stories reflect family life in a magic mirror.When Thomasine Gyllembourg wrote her everyday stories, the nuclear family was still a new phenomenon, and she herself had lived through a considerable part of its cultural genesis. With En Hverdags-Historie, she positions herself midstream between the old family with its awareness of lineage and the new family with its orientation towards the individual, and from this vantage point she views the evolution of the family, weighs up loss and gain, and exposes the inherent cracks in the foundation of the nuclear family. The trends identified by Thomasine Gyllembourg in the 1840s thus anticipate the particular modern way of life that would be put to debate some decades later in the literature of the Modern Breakthrough.
The ideal of womanhood, as described in the eighteenth-century moral tales and bourgeois stage comedies, was not hushed and inarticulate. But it became so. For many women writers of the period, putting pen to paper seems to have been a welcome opportunity to break the silence that had descended on women’s lives in the first half of the nineteenth century – a rhetoric of silence.Novels and stories written by Nordic women in the mid-1800s often give a quiet, powerful female figure a central position in the gallery of characters. The good womanliness was hushed and self-sacrificing; but the women who began to speak and write also saw themselves as good women and envisaged that their voice and action could be the ideal, that the camp of the mute had something to say that could be of benefit to the nation and to human society.
By the mid-1790s the Swedish author Anna Maria Lenngren was already a major name. She bridged the two great literary golden ages in the history of Swedish literature: on the one side, the Gustavian epoch, and on the other side, Romanticism, which had its breakthrough in 1809.Between 1793 and 1800, Anna Maria Lenngren wrote one-hundred-and-twenty poems. Thereafter, they flowed more sparsely from her pen. In 1800, the Swedish Academy awarded her an annual pension. In 1798, she began preparing a list of the texts that might be considered for inclusion in a collected edition of her works. Her proud programmatic poem “Invocation”, published in 1809, which outlined her aesthetics and was addressed to Apollo, would suggest that she took her writing most seriously. If all that her lyre has produced is “capricious fancy”, she says in the final stanza, then it deserves to be crushed! It is a highly self-assured and self-important voice speaking, and in the face of incipient Romanticism’s “delirium” the voice asks for Enlightenment “courage”.
The Swedish press became an established medium during the eighteenth century. The second half of the century produced a number of periodicals expressly designed for a female readership; Frustugo Bibliothek, Fruntimmers-Tidningar (the Women’s News), Blad för Fruntimer (Magazine for Women), and many more. A number of these periodicals address the reader in what sounds like a female voice.The publishers and writers were, however, on the whole anonymous, hidden behind signatures and pseudonyms; games with a gender-crossing play on names were legion at the time. Male writers often adopted a female identity with a woman’s name, or wrote from a female position as woman’s intimate and best friend. Conversely, the legal and social circumstances were such that, in those cases where it actually was a woman wielding the pen, she was seldom able to sign the text in her own name.At the time of the launch of a literature that invited intimacy, addressed specifically to women readers, the female voice was thus often still disguised.
On Danish Eighteenth-Century Periodicals and Libraries