Social criticism and new consciousness in Norwegian women’s literature of the 1970s.
The New Women’s Forum of the 70s
Modernism and Women in post-war Norwegian Poetry
Ingeborg Refling Hagen’s stories from the 1920s demonstrate national-romantic features and also a new form of poverty-realism in which rural life is presented without any nostalgic romanticisation of an authentic culture. The novels of Gro Holm and Magnhild Haalke are also free of nostalgia. Gro Holm exposes the oppression of women in rural communities, and in Magnhild Haalke’s novels nature and life of the common people provide the setting for in-depth psychological portraits.These three writers take very different approaches; however, while casting a new and critical gaze upon the ‘old society’, their writing is deeply rooted in the culture they see under threat of disintegration.
The Norwegian author Ebba Haslund’s primary interest was the social situation and conditions of life for the middle-class woman in post-war Norway. She defended housewives, but at the same time she could see how increased prosperity and modern technology reduced the scope of their undertaking. She therefore not only defended the woman’s right to be a normal housewife but also her right to deviate from traditional gender patterns.She shows the reader the daily lives of her women. But by means of this everyday picture, she also reflects the conflicts and contradictions of a societal apparatus – many readers have thus found her books relevant. She not only made her voice heard via her pen; for many years she was an active chair for Den Norske Forfatterforening (the Norwegian Authors’ Union), and her morning causeries on Norwegian radio were very popular with the listeners.
The deaf seamstress Maria Sandel, was a feminist, an active Social Democrat, and a favourite among Ellen Key’s circle. She has been referred to as the Fredrika Bremer of the proletariat. She was “among the strangest people who have ever held a pen in their hand”. For twenty-five years, she occupied a little room with a tiled stove in supportive housing. This place served as a rich source of material.She was a Swedish pioneer when it came to writing about overcrowding, the struggle to put bread on the table, the need for women to work two or three times as hard as men. But her goal was much more ambitious than mere social realism. She cloaked her ethical commitment in literary garb. Feminism was part of her project; she wanted to “correct men’s perception of women”. Like many others, she drew inspiration from Charles Dickens’s novels. And as was the case with other contemporary proletarian authors, her thinking was shaped by the labour movement’s goal of “raising up the working class.”
Súsanna Helena Patursson one of a number of women writers in the national movement. She wrote the first Faroese theatre play, Veðurføst (Layover Because of Bad Weather), which was performed in 1889. She encouraged women to participate in the public discussion forum, to get an education, and she instructed them as to how house and home should be organised. She edited and published the first Faroese women’s magazine, Oyggjarnar (1905-08; The Islands), making housekeeping, interior design, and cooking recipes a national and political issue.Among Paturssons female successors may be counted women such as Billa Hansen, Andrea Reinert, and Maria Mikkelsen. While these women travelled out into the world in order to learn, get ideas and, not least, experience, Johanna Maria Skylv Hansen’s writing took her back to the old rural community.
After a marriage to celebrated Danish writer Jeppe Aakjær that did not last, Marie Bregendahl coped with life as a single mother by keeping house for her brother who owned a dairy in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen. Nor was she able to go back; exodus and city were forever part of her make-up. The tension between the rural culture of her childhood and the anonymised city life, in which the individual had to create an identity for her- or himself, became the empirical sounding board for her entire body of works.In this, she carried on the Modern Breakthrough’s naturalistic portrayal of reality, but in her very own distinctive way in which the traditional narrative forms and the modern woman’s chaos of conflicting experience both found a voice.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the ‘sons of the people’ formed a united front against the bourgeois culture and ‘decadence’, and a new popular realism entered Danish literature. And the daughters of the people – well, they too embarked on new paths, and a few tried their luck as authors.These women writers cannot be seen as a group in the same way as the rural male writers can. They were isolated women dotted around Denmark, and for most of them writing was a sideline to the work that put food on the table. On the other hand, their rural origin meant that they had some material in common. Acquisition of a written language meant personal liberation for women from the lower classes – a way out of the trammels of class and the anonymous gender.
The Icelandic author Unnur Benediktsdóttir Bjarklind chose the pseudonym Hulda, which means the subterranean, the hidden. In her early works, a battle is being fought in the young female artist’s soul between, on the one hand, the expectations of duty and family, and, on the other, the dreams and desires of the girl. In her later poems and short stories, motherhood is viewed as incompatible with freedom, art, and even true love.Hulda often draws on Norse mythology when she wishes to express conflicts between the desire for freedom and the need for security. In her first three poetry collections, she experimented with the form. Inspired by symbolist poetry, she prioritised rhythm and sonority over traditional prosody. She held on to alliteration, but varied the rhymes and the lengths of the stanzas. She became one of the pioneers of prose poetry within Icelandic literature.