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.
During the 1920s, Finnish Katri Vala was the central figure of a literary group called the Torchbearers, which represented the first generation of authors after Finland obtained its independence. Their goal was to overturn existing literary conventions.She made her debut with Kaukainen puutarha (1924; The Faraway Garden). The most innovative feature of Vala’s poetry is its visual lucidity. Another characteristic is its free verse, which took hold in Finland partly due to her. Her imagery reflects the use of primitive and exotic elements by early twentieth century modernists. In primitive cultures they found the original life force that art needed for renewal, and they countered the prevailing culture with exoticism.Spending time in prison was a crucial event in the life of Elvi Sinervo (1912-1986), who started off with a book of short stories entitled Runo Söörnäisistä (1937; A Poem from Sörnäs). The most important prose author in the left-wing Kiila (Wedge) group, she was sentenced in 1941 to four years at a house of correction for participating in illegal political activities. The themes of the book place it squarely in the anti-Fascist literary tradition.
Swedish author Sonja Åkesson made her debut in 1957 with Situationer (Situations) and published one other collection during the 1950s. In the early works her writing style wavered between the refined metaphors of nature- and village-poetry and the grotesques depicting human nature that she would later develop. In August 1960 she co-authored the manifesto “Front mot formens tyranni” (Front Against the Tyranny of Form), which was an important step out of the Modernism of the 1950s towards the Realism of the 1960s. Sonja Åkesson found her own special tone within the frame of the new simple aesthetic through inspiration from Concretism. Her dominating style is a raw, narrating realism. The characters passing through her poems deliver a lively narrative about other people. But the satire of society is just as important a genre for Sonja Åkesson as the character portraits. The most conspicuous trait in Sonja Åkesson’s works is her grotesque irony.
With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
Ulrika Eleonora’s court circle was in contact with key figures in the Pietistic reform movement, and was thus a parallel to the spiritual movements on the continent, which were attempting to put the demand of freedom and human worth for the woman into practice.Many poems in Der Nordische Weihrauch manifest distaste for the pomp and splendour of court life and reveal a focus on the inner person.
In Greenland and the Sami Language Area, women’s modern literary production began with the political trends in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Greenland and northern Scandinavia were discovered as regions, and the Greenlandic and Sami peoples began to view themselves as ethnic minorities: no longer must they feel inferior to the dominating cultures, now the people’s own voice should be heard in its own language.A new generation of writers emerged in protest against the cultural invasion of the Danes, the Norwegians, and so on, and the women also got involved. This was the same period as the decade of the women’s movement. Women writers in Greenland, Kalaallit Nunaat, and the Sami Language Area, Sápmi, made their entry on the literary stage.
The Norwegian author Herbjørg Wassmo made her debut as a poet in the 1970s, and has since written both drama and documentary literature. The five great novels that came out in the 1980s and 1990s have, in all their complexity and apparent differences, one overall theme: the neglected child. However, Herbjørg Wassmo’s intention was apparently not to criticise inadequate or unloving parents nor to castigate an alienating society in a modern sense. The actual conflict takes place at a deeper level.In addition to telling the story of the young and unfinished person in a complicated socialisation process, “the neglected children” represent primarily the “childhood injuries” we all carry around with us – regardless of age, time, and situation.
The Danish author Vita Andersen’s prose poetry was nicknamed knækprosa (broken prose) because the poems were apparently nothing more than narratives made up of lines of uneven length. However, her narrative and characterising poetry is more complex than it initially appears. It is in itself a staging of everyday language, an exhibition of the force, the roles, and the confinement in the lives and speech of the characters, but by no means an artless repetition. The gender roles as a guarantee against a happy interaction between the genders is a central theme in her texts.Charlotte Strandgaard made her debut in 1965, and throughout the 1960s and 70s she wrote a number of collections of poetry and documents that focused on typical problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, social outcasts, and losers. Her universe is ruled by suffering, misunderstandings between those who want to love each other, guilt, and hopelessness. The tone (and the position) is compassionate, and there is a willingness to find an explanation and a solution. Her adults, like those of Vita Andersen, are wounded children; however, in Charlotte Strandgaard’s world there is a steady insistence on reconciliation and redemption alongside the pain.
Cecilie Løveid’s first three lyrical prose novels make a radical break from the social realist novel dominant in Norway in the 1970s. Løveid insists on her modernist aesthetics, in which fragments, collage, intertextuality, and polyphony are preferred to the codes of realism. Her fundamental affinity is with poetry, and because she remains a modernist poet no matter what genre she approaches, it becomes impossible for her to submit to a social realist idiom.The same is true of Kari Bøge, whose experimental debut work Asmorelda, from 1971, makes a radical break from the realistic narrative tradition and represents one of the first significant attempts at a new female modernist prose in Norway. Her insistence on an ahistorical individualism and an aesthetics of emptiness marks a departure from other women writers of the period around 1970. However, she also embarks on themes that were and are central to feminist-oriented writing: the question of identity, the relationship to the husband, and the relationship to writing.
On the New Language-Conscious Literature of the 60s and 70s