Late-modern children’s literature and young adult fiction in the Nordic countries is bold, vibrant and diverse. Questions surrounding gender, sexuality, identity and the body play a large role and offer children and young adults alternatives to (existing) gender stereotypes. Examples of female authors who have innovated children’s literature and young adult fiction are Dorte Karrebæk, Lene Kaaberbøl, Inga Sætre, Pija Lindenbaum and Anna Höglund.
In the 1970s, the indigenous Sami people of the Cap of the North (the northwesterly arctic tip of Europe consisting of counties in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia), and minorities, such as the Swedish Tornedalians, began to mobilise and form organisations. The first literary work written by a Sami woman in a Sami language was published in 1971 and since then, many female authors have followed with works that thematise contradictions between majority and minority cultures. In these works, old Sami myths and oral hand-me-downs are brought to bear in the investigation of a particular female Sami identity. Leading female authors include Rauni Magga Lukkari, Synnøve Persen, Maren Uthaug and Rosa Liksom.
The Language Debate in Finland
The Swedish author Carola Hansson’s oeuvre is at the centre of the aesthetic turn of the tide and epistemological turbulence of the 1980s, but her novels still deviate from the main literary path. The books, like so much of the decade’s prose, deal with an identity in dissolution, a lost language, and the evasive nature of memory. The focus of Carola Hansson’s novels is the modernist anti-hero: a homeless, alienated human being seeking his identity without ever finding it.This same dissolved identity becomes a theme in the work of Åsa Nelvin, who already in her debut children’s book, De vita björnarna, (1969; The White Bears), depicts the conflict between the self and the world that will underpin her entire body of works. The hackneyed and ironic traits in her texts multiply and destabilise the ‘I’. They also draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the depiction of this dissolved female ‘identity’ is a means for Åsa Nelvin to discuss women’s relations to language, creativity, and a possible but not yet realisable new femininity.
A Literary Debate on Motherhood
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.
The focus of women’s works shifted from the sexual aspects of motherhood in the 1930s to children as the targets of wanton violence during the war. The time had come, they thought, to manifest the responsibility for society that Fredrika Bremer and Ellen Key had posited as women’s contribution to civilisation. The focus had shifted, however, from pleading the cause of women to that of children.The focus on children and the social responsibility of mothers was the last attempt by modern women writers to launch a new ethic of human relations and envisage a political utopia of peace. The broad-based, multi-genre effort did not dissipate until the 1960s when motherhood was stripped of its revolutionary content and redefined as either autocratic or powerless. Female characters assumed the position of helpless children in relation to men, and militant mothers were relegated to the status of frustrated housewives.
The gloominess of post-war Finland created a deep thirst for art and literature. A great deal of poetry was published and an unusual percentage of the first-timers were women, both Swedish- and Finnish-speaking. The women’s poetry, however, did not centre on politics or patriotism, but on the self, personal experience, family, home, children, the world, and humanity. Post-war poetry sought to create forms that differed from the classical approach, whose status had grown during the war. Young women, who frequently were more eager than their male colleagues to discover fresh perspectives and to emerge from the shadow of war, found their voice earliest and most naturally.The work of female poets may be interpreted as a commentary on a genre that was in flux, as well as an elaboration of creative strategies. A remarkable number of women were able to forge distinctive identities and write their own brand of modern poetry – clear evidence of their importance and strength in the shadow of the war.
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.
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.