Nordic novels in the 21st Century are filled with female detectives, gothic heroines and monsters. While the female protagonist in male authored narratives is often transformed into a destructive monster, female authors tend to draw upon supernatural features in order to thematise the female protagonist’s self-realisation and liberation from both the dominant gender contract and traditional family configurations. Leonora Christina Skov, Olga Ravn, Majgull Axelsson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are among some of the main exponents of the gothic novel.
During the 1990s and 2000s, the so-called Nordic queens of crime and their femi-crime novels conquered the bestseller lists. In feminist-inspired crime fiction, gender roles are often reversed or presented as ambivalent and common themes include male violence against women, rape, child abuse, prostitution and trafficking. The most well-known queens of crime are, amongst others, Susanne Staun, Gretelise Holm, Anne Holt and Liza Marklund.
Kerstin Ekman is a literary successor to Elin Wägner, and is close to her biting criticism of society and strong pathos. Her oeuvre began with a number of detective novels, but developed away from the detective genre, and the writer brought the detective genre with her into her later novels.In her works, one finds controversial perceptions of God and indications of the metaphysical that delineate a rebellion against the male ideologies, which for thousands of years have absorbed woman into a pattern wherein she must basically fight herself. Kerstin Ekman’s books are very different from each other. She keeps trying out new forms. However, they all concern themselves with lovelessness and love. And with a journey in language through continued transformation towards a core point in the human being: “a point where she is at home with herself.”
Coming-of-age novels by women after World War I often have a significant lesbian theme. The role model is frequently a single, independent career woman, described as attractive, strong, efficient, and intelligent. Coming out of the closet was not without its risks. Homosexual acts were criminal offences and Swedish psychiatrists regarded homosexuality as a disease until 1979.Finding a means of describing and expressing a sexual orientation that had been outlawed and suppressed for centuries – and that had been defined and discussed by male medical, psychiatric, and literary ‘ experts’ only – was no easy task. What the ‘new women’ of the inter-war period needed, besides visibility, was a language capable of reflecting female sexual desire and experience outside the domain of men, of describing an existence beyond the ken of traditional sexual categories.
With the Hilke Thorhus books, Kim Småge created a predecessor to what would, both nationally and internationally, explode as an independent genre in the 1980s and 90s: crime novels with female main characters. She truly made a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated field of Norwegian crime literature. Kim Småge and the women who followed in her footsteps have shown that the woman’s point of view can both enrich and rejuvenate crime intrigue.Since her debut in 1983, Elin Brodin has been a prolific prose writer, writing not only novels but also books for children and young adults, as well as debate books. Her socially critical involvement spans from criticism of conditions for children and young people, through treatment of drug addiction and disease. Thematically, she focuses on the problem of evil in a culture without norms and in which violence and destruction of nature prevail. Her project is to crush idealism.The works of Mari Osmundsen (pseudonym for Anne Kristine Halling) in many ways resemble those of Elin Brodin. As politically conscious cultural critics, they are both concerned with issues such as human suffering and guilt in our modern, alienating society, and they are both solidly planted in the literary tradition of social realism. But whereas Elin Brodin writes about disasters, Mari Osmundsen appears to be more concerned with communicating a belief that even the most insignificant person can mobilise an unfathomable strength and love.
The greatest part of Aurora Ljungstedt’s popular writings, which were published in nine volumes in the period 1872-82, consists of short stories, sometimes put together to form a greater whole thanks to a recurring gallery of characters. Her most used pseudonym, ‘Claude Gerard’, is taken from one of the Paris novels by Eugène Sue, and she may be said to have further developed in a psychological direction the tension-creating serial novels of the 1840s, with their lost letters, foundlings, scheming scoundrels, and mysterious events.Her plots are always well crafted, and she meets the public’s demand for vice to be punished and virtue rewarded. In her ample production of novels there are examples of pure horror Romanticism, but also skilfully written crime stories. Her often colourful female criminals and drab male criminal investigators reflect general tendencies in the period’s crime literature.
Swedish Emilie Flygare-Carlén’s first novel, Waldemar Klein (1838), to a great extent plagiarises the well-known style of Knorring’s novels. But later on she developed a profile all her own. The discussion of sexuality, men, and women that von Knorring had introduced was to be further developed, in a modern direction, by Flygare-Carlén. She did not shy away from calling the man’s egotism vis-à-vis the other sex by its rightful name, or from exposing the woman’s strategic duplicity with regard to engagement and marriage.Whereas Knorring describes sexuality as passionate and pent-up at one and the same time, Flygare-Carlén more explicitly sees it as a necessary but fatal drive. As her writing career progresses, she also shows how a determined woman may not always be able to change her situation but is at least able to influence it. It is undoubtedly her courage in giving a positive depiction also of vigorous women that is the secret of her great financial success as a bestselling author. In 1862 Emilie Flygare-Carlén was awarded the Swedish Academy’s large gold medal, and in 1865 her last important work appeared, the autobiographical trilogy Skuggspel (Shadow Play).