A number of Swedish female poets in the 1980s were accused of writing impenetrably, but they become the central figures of the period. Ann Jäderlund, Birgitta Lillpers, and Katarina Frostenson emerge from a decade of straightforward everyday poetry, and now begin to investigate the slippage between language and the world. They prove its existence, use it, and play with it. Our everyday language to them appears to be an independent and arbitrary system.Many of the female poets of the 1980s also strive to block intellectual reading in order to show language in action. It can be called a language of the body and the senses. Are there other common traits? It is characteristic that the female poets cannot say I in a self-asserting manner – and perhaps do not even want to. They turn their backs on the proud modernist striving for an authentic self. The self that is found in their poems is dispersed.
Finnish female authors were active participants in the 1930s discussion of birth control and abortion that gathered momentum during the early years of the Depression. Katuojan vettä, the first popular success by novelist Helvi Hämäläinen, was a plea for motherhood as a natural event in the course of a woman’s life. Hämäläinen’s demands on behalf of motherhood combined with a satisfying sex life approach Ellen Key’s ideal.Ruumiin ikävä (1930; The Body’s Yearnings) by Iris Uurto is about a woman who leaves her husband. Such a bold depiction of sexuality by a young female author scandalised conservative cultural circles. Her description of instinct and the libido were inspired by the new psychology of the age. Inevitably, her books were fodder for 1930s controversies about morals in literature.
All of Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s works revolve around the feelings of coercion, desperation, and revolt that the world of her childhood fostered. Her quest took her from the depressive chronicle of mental breakdown to a utopian dream of redemptive femininity.Her novels ask questions that women living through a period of sexual transition found both difficult and urgent: what role did sexuality play in female identity? How could women arrive at a life-affirming sensuality, free from the inherited baggage of sexual paranoia, misogyny, and denial of female desire? The strength of her storytelling is the ability to portray repressed and forbidden feelings, the secret of its suggestiveness and appeal, as well as its power to offend, alarm, and disgust the reader.
Many contemporary women writers appear caught up in a paradox of form: on the one hand, women in contemporary literature create literary aesthetics that navigate the boundaries of genres and forms, and that do so by virtue of the subject matter and themes they work with; on the other hand, women writers are constantly evaluated in relation to relatively traditionally defined norms and expectations.Unless it is a matter of a handful of sanctioned geniuses, the most valuable literary efforts of women are still preferably accorded to their subject matter, which is more than welcome to break taboos and be daring or controversial. The aesthetic value of prose works is rarely associated with the form of the works.
The lustre of the Victorian feminine ideal wore off. Owing to the new civil rights that had been accorded to women, along with their growing prominence in public debate and social service professions, the New Woman was an increasingly popular phrase in the 1890s.Patriarchal attitudes gradually shifted from tacit misogyny to explicit anti-feminism. A war broke out over how the New Woman should be characterised. Was femininity healthy or unnatural? Was the New Woman a nymphomaniac? Or an old maid? In either case, she was Unnatural. Masculinism celebrated its first major triumphs in this thickening atmosphere of open gender war. And the women hit back.
With the Modern Breakthrough in the Nordic region in the 1880s, feverish female activity could be perceived everywhere. Women joined together in national women’s societies, working doggedly and energetically to put women’s issues on the agenda of the legislative authorities in order to ensure the implementation of laws. Writing in newspapers, journals, and literary works, it was young middle-class women – well-versed in languages, conversation, and good manners – who presented issues pertaining to women’s status as a social problem.Many women writers of the Modern Breakthrough experienced the new departure in the form of personal and artistic failure. They broke their backs or their pens on the modern paradox. But the emancipation project was not abandoned. For the women who continued to write for the rest of the century, and for those who made their debut around the turn of the century, the tension between ideals and disillusion, between movement and moment, was merely put in a different form.
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.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
The women authors of the late nineteenth century wrote in league with and as challenge to the women’s movement. The most self-assured of the women writers could be publicly involved in well-defined key issues such as electoral rights for women, and in private would form unofficial networks with other women, for example in a weekly salon where they could discuss matters of doubt.These were women who did not pigeonhole moral conduct, for the very reason that they were open and therefore deeply affected by the change in mindset that triggered the controversy about morality: the sexualisation of gender. Very few of the women writers therefore spoke out in the ideological dispute. Instead, they used fiction to find their bearings in the state of womanhood. And here, they shaped a different and more dangerous picture of female sexuality than the clichés put on display in the public debate.
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.