Professor J. S. Sneedorff highlighted the Danish translation of German author Margaretha Klopstock’s Briefe von Verstorbenen an Lebendige (Letters from the Dead to the Living) as an example of the modern national language he wished to promote.One reason for the eighteenth-century’s growing interest in women writers, and particularly letter-writers whether new or old, well-known or less well-known, was that women wrote in the national language and could thus be used as illustrations of practical usage in the occasionally highly abstract debate about what the national language ought to be. Moreover, women were not rigorously schooled in the Latin tradition of scholarship – the confinement from which liberation was sought.
Dorothe Engelbretsdatter drove a wedge into patriarchal male society. She is known as the first female hymn writer in Denmark-Norway to assume a sermonising poetic voice representative of the genre. Her verse found its way into the oral and popular tradition, the realm of most women, as well as the ceremonious, male-dominated, and learned house of God. Depictions of the virtuous and the female were themes that linked low and high, the nursery and the church. Unlike her male poet colleagues, she had no other occupation than that of writing. She faced the God of the old ‘estate society’ not as bishop, officer, or schoolmaster, but as woman. She wrote between sixty and seventy hymns and prayers, mostly collected in Siælens Sang-Offer (1678; Song Offering of the Soul) and Taare-Offer (1685; Offering of Tears), a versified rendering of devotions. She ended up making her livelihood by writing, supplemented by a paltry widow’s pension. Dorothe Engelbretsdatter thus became an early example of the professional author who made her living through the pen. This was exceptional at the time.
Hiding behind the pseudonym Stella Kleve was Mathilda Kruse, a young woman from the south-Swedish province of Scania who was later to be known as the author Mathilda Malling. She was well-educated and widely-travelled; and she wanted to follow the newest trends in her writing – her pseudonym became synonymous with loose morals.Her portraits of women provoked the public. This was something she was absolutely conscious of: she wanted to write about the modern woman who knows herself and her sexual desire, and who is even capable of controlling, coldly and calculatingly, the game between the sexes.Stella Kleve’s women were indeed playing on the very verge of the forbidden. This is why it is tempting to read her portraits as female counterparts to the decadent male heroes in the contemporary literature in, for example, England, France, and, of course, the other Nordic countries. Or, why not: as a female challenge to the mostly male-dominated modern literature.
The Modern Breakthrough in Sweden
Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s novel Det går an. En tavla ur livet (It Can Be Done! A Picture out of Life; Eng. tr. Sara Videbeck) is a sharp and sweeping rejection of the Romantic image of the woman and a simple and elegantly presented utopia of love. It gave rise to the most heated and profound gender-political dispute on the literary scene in nineteenth-century Sweden, until the ‘morality controversy’ a few decades later. Some of the writers defended Almqvist, but most of them criticised him strongly.Without exception, the female authors who participated in the debate regarded Det går an as a male fantasy. The fact that Almqvist attached such great importance to the separation of sexuality from the institution of marriage made it almost impossible for the women to embrace his book wholeheartedly, although they shared his feminist views on other issues.