A number of social and ideological features became prevalent in the European transition from eighteenth to nineteenth century – the establishment of the middle-class family as culture-bearing and the Romantic idealisation of woman as partly the mother of God and nature and partly the unconscious and alien aspect of the man’s humanness. These features contributed to a union of the previous periods’ female types, the housewife and the salon hostess, in the woman of the Romantic intimate sphere. In this way, Romanticism gave the woman a cultural position by virtue of gender alone – a position which she had not had before and would soon lose again. The Romantic intimate sphere was, unlike the salon, a home, but not therefore simply a (petit) bourgeois nuclear family. It was a community of the sexes, which would realise the Romantic philosophy and religious attitude to life. By absorbing and conveying inspiration from the wider European movement, women’s literature played a key role in structuring this new identity of the intimate sphere.
The lustre of the Victorian feminine ideal wore off. Owing to the new civil rights that had been accorded to women, along with their growing prominence in public debate and social service professions, the New Woman was an increasingly popular phrase in the 1890s.Patriarchal attitudes gradually shifted from tacit misogyny to explicit anti-feminism. A war broke out over how the New Woman should be characterised. Was femininity healthy or unnatural? Was the New Woman a nymphomaniac? Or an old maid? In either case, she was Unnatural. Masculinism celebrated its first major triumphs in this thickening atmosphere of open gender war. And the women hit back.
The number and quality of treatises discussing women’s talents or lack there of was high sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe. The works were divided up by genre and were available in both printed and handwritten form. It is an established fact that readers in the Nordic countries were familiar with European concepts such as “Feminae illustres” (illustrious women), “Feminae doctae” (learned women), “Musa decimal” (the tenth muse), and so forth. Awareness of “feminae illustres” or “feminae doctae” seems to have been linked to the Renaissance period. There were, of course, earlier examples of learned women, but the desire to count them and classify them, and even promote them, would seem to have been a Renaissance inclination that surfaced among the progressive male learned circles.
The nineteenth century was the century of reading, and from the outset women – as readers and writers – captured a large part of the rapidly expanding literary market. Given that it was the women who had formerly been left out of the (Latin) academic culture, these women now formed the majority of all the new readers. Readers were particularly enthusiastic about entertaining prose fiction. Of the new varieties now put into production by the media, the main genres were first the fantastical (Gothic) and later the realistic novel. Women writers had access to the media, if, that is, they could tap into the readers’ desires and needs – and this they could.From the end of the eighteenth century onwards, female authors put their stamp on European popular literature in a manner that literary history has by no means chronicled to any adequate extent.
In the seventeenth century, les précieuses formed their own salons in protest against the vulgarity of the court of Henri IV. These salons were coveted gathering places for the cultural elite. The focal point of the salon was the witty conversation, often taking place in the boudoir, the intimate space. Between the court culture’s ceremonial salon hall and the bourgeoisie’s private parlour, the salon culture gave place to specialised forms of fellowship created and run by the brilliant and witty hostesses. One did not converse, but discussed earnestly and heartily subjects of an intimate, political, and cultural nature.The précieuses and the pre-Romantic salons alike inspired the Scandinavian salon culture. Sophisticated Nordic culture of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was multilingual. Developments in Europe were thus speedily adopted in their corresponding Nordic settings. The salon culture has not been dealt with to any great extent in the annals of literary history. When a hostess is named it is because of the men she has assembled around her; however, the hostesses were creative artists in their own right.
Madame de Sévigné turned the epistolary genre into a women’s genre, not in the sense that it was mostly populated by women, but because the women in this one genre had the status of role models, both for men and for women.Starting with Madame de Sévigné, and moving through numerous collections of letters written by women (and men, too), we eventually reach, a good one hundred years later, Charlotta Dorothea Biehl, in whom we find an amazingly undiluted Nordic counterpart to Madame de Sévigné. Madame de Sévigné created a female genre, Miss Biehl executed it ‘to the letter’.
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.
Queen Christina was the reigning queen of Sweden between 1644 and 1654. Her reign ended when she abdicated, after which she converted to Catholicism – an action which has greatly tasked historians in their attempts to offer an explanation. Her interest in cultural and scientific topics started at an early age, and she associated and corresponded with a number of the most eminent scholars of the era.Christina’s literary works consist of two collections of aphorisms, an autobiography, two essays – one on Alexander the Great and one on Julius Caesar – and her letters. The Queen did not publish these works during her lifetime. They were first published by Johan Arckenholtz in Mémoires concernant Christine, reine de Suède, pour servir d’éclaircissement à l’histoire de son regne et principalement de sa vie privée (1751-1760; Memoirs of Christina, Queen of Sweden, to Shed Light on Her Reign and Especially Her Private Life).Christina wrote in French, the language used by educated people of the day.
“Gynaeceum” is Greek and means ‘women’s chamber’. In the Renaissance the word was used as a genre designation for a literary historical category: a catalogue of women who were notable by virtue of their writings or some other form of artistic or intellectual activity.The gynaecea typically had a systematic or alphabetic structure, making them suitable as reference works. By looking up a famous woman’s name, the reader is introduced to her family via a few laudatory adjectives and her own intellectual achievements. The information is often kept brief.The Nordic region has an excellent collection of home-grown gynaecea. The genre is particularly well represented in Denmark. This small collection of Swedish biographies, and the quite numerous Danish and Norwegian biographies included in the Danish gynaecea, makes for a picture of active artistic and intellectual circles of women in these Nordic countries during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. And we can only presume that the same could be said of Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Finland. And that there were women in the Nordic region who considered themselves members of the European ‘club’ of cultured women.
The view taken by the Christian Church of women who wrote on holy matters, evangelised, preached, prophesised or in other ways acted as God’s mouthpiece has been inconstant: at times accepting, at times non-committal. Opinions have been determined by the Church’s need for messengers and by pressure exerted on the Church by various interest groups. We can identify four periods of relative latitude as regards these speaking and writing women. First, the period preceding the official establishment of an organised Church (c. second century AD); secondly, the expansion of the Church in Europe during the seventh to ninth centuries; thirdly, lay Pietism of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and fourthly, the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Pietist movements in the wake of Reformation and Counter Reformation.