In the early 1950s one of the great oeuvres in Swedish literature was initiated when the young Birgitta Trotzig published Ur de älskandes liv (1951; Out of the Lives of Lovers). The novel contains a striving to reach beyond the limitations of the I, to reach the You that is indispensable to life, and this will remain the basic theme and stylistic movement of Trotzig’s works. Is not Birgitta Trotzig really a lyricist? The most intense parts of her work take the shape of poetic prose fragments or of lyrical vision. But narrating the “path between birth and death” stands as a necessity. “The great problem is terribly simple. A brief run between birth and death. That human life should be a community of love. Why doesn’t this exist?” she writes in the essay “Hållpunkter, hösten 1975” (“Fixed Points, Autumn 1975”). This attention to the progression of life as a whole is found in all her stories.
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.
The Cultural Duality of Emigrant Literature
The works of Danish author and controversialist Suzanne Brøgger tell an unmistakable tale about the dark side of revolt and the consequences of NO. Efter orgiet, in which the characters Organ, Rigor, Vulva, and Mortis perform an incestuous, Oedipal death dance in a Brøggerean version of the Greek tragedy’s rhetoric, sparked the same shock and dismay as twenty years ago when Suzanne Brøgger wanted to free us from love.Her oeuvre began with a NO in 1973, but the publication of Ja in 1984 turned the problem from the previous books on its head, and marked Suzanne Brøgger’s popular breakthrough. Ja turns out to be an artist’s novel in which the female artist is resurrected from the burial chamber of femininity. Suzanne Brøgger’s transition from NO in 1973 to her YES in 1984 is basically about a personal journey to an authorship, an artistic way of life.
Throughout her work, Inger Christensen deals with the same fundamental conditions: the organic connections of existence, gender, the body, and consciousness with nature and the cosmos – and, by virtue of language, humanity’s special status in relation to this.Art is more than just the place where these conditions are referred to and described – as in early modernism. In the work of Inger Christensen, art is also the place where existence, gender, body, and consciousness can be put into play, explored, and tested, because they form the foundation of poetic articulation.
The Finnish author Hagar Olsson’s debut from 1916 was brought out the same year as Edith Södergran’s first poetry collection. According to literary historians, the twin events marked the birth of Finland-Swedish modernism. Dagens Press (The Daily Press) hired Olsson as its literary critic in 1918, providing her with a venue to wage her celebrated campaign for ‘modernity’ in art and literature. Her entire literary project is about faith in the life force, the power of the spirit to transform the world, and the artist’s holy calling. She achieved the most significant formal renewal in her dramatic works. Olsson was largely interested in creating political theatre that preaches and agitates.The theme of “the new woman” and associated issues was more conspicuous with each novel Olsson wrote in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Her association with the group that published the radical feminist magazine Tidevarvet and with the Women´ s College for Civic Training at Fogelstad whetted her appetite for women’s issues.
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.
Many Norwegian women writers living under the mid-twentieth-century shadow of war ask this question: what is it like to live at a time when everything has been so drastically changed after a war?Some of these writers address the Second World War directly in their novels, while others work through the psychological crises that have followed in the wake of war. This is true of Solveig Christov, Aslaug Groven Michaelsen, Bergljot Hobæk Haff, and others.
In 1937 Tove Ditlevsen first had a poem published. The poem can be read as an allegory of her writing career, which was to produce one of the most significant bodies of work written by a woman in the Danish post-war period. Underneath the extremely simple surface, the poem anticipates recurring themes such as female identity, memory, and creativity. Loss of childhood, and especially of the symbiotic relationship to the mother, is the foundation of Tove Ditlevsen’s melancholy poetics.Her writing is one long memory process, first in the form of fiction, but gradually also in essays with an autobiographical reference point and in essayistic fragments of memory, until she published her autobiographical works proper. Once the autobiographical material had been exhausted and all the key characters in her childhood universe – her mother, her father, and her brother – were dead and her husband had left her, Tove Ditlevsen ended her life as she had presaged.