An important theme in Finnish Women’s Literature is the criticism of child-rearing. The idyllic surface is broken, and no family member is exempt. One of the theorists who influenced the new literature is Alice Miller, whose works were translated into Finnish in the 1980s. In the new family tales the mother often turns out to be the exploiter, but a child might equally well be found in the role of the unappeasable tyrant. Standard impressions and interpretations of growing up a girl are twisted and turned, and myths are reinterpreted.Many important women writers in Finland in the 1970s and 1980s concentrate on the eternal existential questions that go with being human. Often, the human being is placed in borderline situations, separate from others, or near to grief and death. The main themes are guilt, identity, frustration, mental breakdowns, and the possibility of changing in one way or another. In the background are problems relating to growing up, living in a marriage, or professional life.
Tales from the Outskirts of Society
In the 1960s, the strong Icelandic ‘rímur’ (rhymes or ballads) tradition made way for a ‘free form’ modern poetry, which itself was part of an international revolution within poetic language. At the age of nineteen, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir appeared at the crossroads between modernism and the 1970s confrontation with modernism’s inaccessibility.Her authorship has received a lot of attention, and is characterised by a unique lightness and linguistic playfulness. The combination of isolation with a many-sided self, a theme that occasionally emerges in her poems and prose works, is the result of a reflection on time, its nature, and its transitoriness. In this way, a search for time goes hand in hand with a search for the self. Today, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir is a beacon of Icelandic literature. Her thematic concerns have been picked up by other Icelandic writers, including Vigdís Grímsdóttir and Álfrún Gunnlaugsdóttir.
One of Astrid Lindgren’s most effective techniques is to let imagination engulf reality. The interpretation of the world by a ‘lying’ child triumphs. The most extravagant childish dream of omnipotence comes true in the story of Pippi. With irrefutable logic, Lindgren demonstrates what a solitary child needs to avoid being crushed in a world of hard-headed pragmatism.Most of Lindgren’s writing inhabits the borderland of reality and fantasy. While some of her works are demonstrably realistic, they are nevertheless about the ability of fanciful children to live in a world of play and imagination. Lindgren’s sensitivity to children’s feelings and perspectives, along with her uncompromising willingness to take their side, is a modernist trait that links her work to the radical psychology of permissive child rearing that made inroads in Sweden between the wars.
A secure idyll that covers up a frightful abyss but always cracks eventually is a typical scenario in works by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. The picture books Hur gick det sen? and Vem ska trösta Knyttet? (Eng. tr. Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley) outline the utopia that emerged from Jansson’s traumatic experience of the war’s meaninglessness, creating a Moomin world.Maternal sensibility rules and family bonds extend to everyone. But Jansson’s writing does not end with the dream of a happy family. Her last Moomin books and adult fiction deconstruct this mythology.
Many women writers in Sweden in the 1970s wanted to speak for themselves and deliver testimony of their own experiences in their own voice. In order to achieve this, they recreated an old genre, the confessional novel, which can trace its ancestry back as far as Augustine’s Confessiones (Eng. tr. Confessions) from approximately 400 AD, and whose modern form was shaped by Rousseau. The confessional novel continued the documentarism of the 1960s. The reportage book that had then treated of the larger spheres of life, with travel books and sociological depictions of social classes and spaces, was now turned to depicting the intimate sphere of life: the home, feelings, and personal development. Just as it was important in the 1960s to document personal participation and research, so in the 1970s it was equally important that described experiences and adventures were absolutely authentic. Where the ideal of the 1960s was objective depiction, the 1970s becomes the decade of subjective representation. Fiction makes claims to authenticity.
Young adult fiction underwent dramatic changes in the 1960s and the following decades. New ways of depicting the experiences of young people were on display in the social-realist young adult fiction of the 1970s. In contrast to the older, often moralising literature, the modern young adult book breaks down both systems and taboos.No theme is off limits, and traditional gender roles, relationships to authorities, and social structures are criticised more and more openly. The points of view and sympathies of the new generation of writers are with the books’ young, often maladjusted and rebellious main characters, who are in discord with themselves and with the adult world around them.
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.
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.