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.
With her debut collection, Indeni – udenfor (1967; Within – Without), Danish writer Kirsten Thorup succeeded in placing herself from the outset at the centre of the literary arena. Here and in her subsequent collections she explored the positions of alienation, powerlessness, and objectification in a markedly personal voice. With her remarkable novel Baby (1973) it became clear that Kirsten Thorup had something more to say. This novel was a stylised and compact prelude to a comprehensive body of contemporary literature that has made her one of the most widely read authors in Denmark.Kirsten Thorup presents us with an unmerciful and paradoxically loving portrait of the apocalyptic images that constitute contemporary culture.
Karin Boye’s most inspired poems are born at the juncture of “the world of appearances – a world that depicts”, and “the other world, the heavy, transformational world that did not ask for superficial flourishes”. Their tension oscillates between “that which breaks” and “that which bars” and is instantaneously released in a euphoric cry of freedom, for “fear can live no longer”, and the ego surrenders unconditionally to “the trust that creates the world”.Her suicide in 1941 has affected the way that people look at her life and her art. She has been portrayed as “tragic” and “consecrated to death”. Her work has been interpreted throughout as that of someone who struggled heroically against her “death wish”. Her writing often resides between sleeping and waking, an unreal kingdom in which dream and desire reign, a place that human beings never completely leave and always yearn for deep within.
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.
Inge Eriksen, who lives in constantly critical confrontation with the doctrines of 1968, may also be the Danish author and cultural personality who most consistently promotes the world view of the 1970s. She perceives the world politically, and has been involved in the Danish and international debate regardless of whether it concerned international politics, cultural visions, or the potential of the science fiction genre. With all her criticism, she has remained champion of the whole life, and her novels always navigate between politics, drama, aesthetics, and passion.Another Danish writer, Grete Roulund, had a sharp eye for Western culture. Her tough style, which confused the critics so much that they doubted her gender, was rooted in the body- and gender-consciousness of the 1970s, but the orchestration was new. The tone in Grethe Roulund’s stories is tough, but also filled with unsentimental and dark humour. The texts are less interested in empathy with the victims than in the psychology and ethics that can be studied in the both unfeeling and tormented men. Violence and brutality represent the sickness of a culture that in its fear of the foreigners, of the opposite sex, and of death must constantly face its own downfall.
Social criticism and new consciousness in Norwegian women’s literature of the 1970s.
Modernism and Women in post-war Norwegian Poetry
Elsa Gress’s pen is, in her own word, heretical. The root cause and partial explanation for the repeated theme of being left out is a reflection of her personal experience of feeling like the odd one out, of feeling misunderstood, of speaking but not being heard. In her books of memoirs, the enforced feeling of otherness during her childhood and adolescence is seen as the background against which she establishes herself in the role of “professional outsider”.Her writing career is characterised by the clash between wanting to maintain a marginal position – being an outsider, who sees more clearly – and wanting to be heard and understood. That a woman writer, and particularly a woman who participates in the public debate, will be subject to prejudice is, in Elsa Gress’s view, a fate common to women who pick up a pen.Her own works were either praised as being “just as substantial and perceptive as a man’s” or she was called “acutely malicious as only an intelligent woman can be”. As castigator of society, culture, and gender, she certainly made sure the readers were “listening” – but she did not get them to toe her line.
“I am no woman”, Edith Södergran wrote. Her poetry is about the power of self-definition. Her contribution to a new world is to take leave of women’s marginal role and plant herself proudly on the world stage.She spent her brief career as a poet in a state of relative disgrace. The critical debate often centred around the question of whether she was a raving lunatic or merely off her rocker.Södergran’s writing is an ongoing process that seeks to demonstrate the inability of language to mirror the experience of being composed of good and evil, femininity and masculinity, executioner and victim.
There are many indications that women were largely responsible for the oral tradition in Norse literature, not least the eddic narrative poems which by and large thematise women’s experience and have a female perspective. The poetry was linked to the art of divination known as seid and to the healing arts, both of which were predominantly female spheres; that is to say, poetry, seid and healing arts were components of one and the same system, forming a ritual unit. In range, Norse literature spans the transition from paganism to Christianity and from an oral to a written culture. There is a concurrent movement from a strongly women-centric to a virtually one-sided male-dominated culture. With monotheism, and later Christianity, monasteries, writing, and schools, this women-centric culture was repressed and/or usurped by the male culture. The introduction of Christianity deprived women of many important roles in the execution of pagan rituals, and they did not learn to write, either. This meant that the women’s oral tradition was, in a very literal sense, silenced by the pens of the male culture.