Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf achieved her international breakthrough when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909. At this point, she was already one of the most reputable and respected writers in the Nordic countries. The loss of her beloved childhood home, Mårbacka, resonates as a pain point in her work – a recurring theme that undergoes a number of variations in one novel after another. And through this essential lack in life, the enforced exile, Lagerlöf, who ostensibly had nothing left to lose, entered a world of memories and retrieved from it an original language which permeated everything she wrote, and which spoke to all social strata and to both children and adults. She wrote that she wanted to be read by all, including the farmwives in rural areas.And she still is.
Hulda Garborg wrote a lot, alternating between articles for journals and novels, but she concentrated particularly on various theatre genres. Much of her work was written in connection with the nynorsk movement, which in the 1880s and 1890s received increased impetus, with Hulda Garborg as one of its prominent figures. From 1910 until 1912, Hulda Garborg was the leader of a touring theatre company, Det Norske Spellaget, which travelled along the Norwegian coast. The success of the tour gave Hulda Garborg the courage to set up a permanent stage in Christiania for nynorsk drama.The very next year saw Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theatre) become a reality. She sat on the board for many years, and she also occasionally directed shows, but what she really wanted to be was a writer. She uses material from Norwegian national literature and the Norse heritage, but she was also inspired by mysticism and Eastern philosophy of religion.
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 few Icelandic women writers to appear around the turn of the twentieth century travel from the countryside to Reykjavík. But it is not contemporary Iceland that frames, in their literary works, their depiction of Icelandic women’s struggles of the modern age.They choose the past as a time frame, the journey back to the patriarchal farming community from which the contemporary identity conflicts and attempted exoduses spring. From this perspective, they thematise the conflicts between duty and freedom and the ambivalence concerning women’s new liberation.
Gender and Class in Icelandic Women’s Literature of the 1970s
The far too rapid and crude modernisation and urbanisation of Iceland had psychological consequences and caused cultural upheavals. The Icelandic women writers of the period 1930-1965 attempted to analyse the processes they were exposed to, and attempted to trace connections back and forth in time in order to find a meaning in their strange daily lives.Many issues were discussed by women during those years, in a rejection of the post-war ideology of women as carers and housewives. There were also many small out-bursts of frustration and opposition to the arrogance and obvious misogyny of the male literary elite. But the arrogance and contempt nevertheless had an effect, and the younger women’s literature of the 1950s and 1960s is often characterised by caution, distance, and self-censorship. Ambitious debuts were few and far between, and the women’s novels became in general shorter, sparer – every single word was carefully weighed.The short stories of Unnur Eiríksdóttir, Drífa Viðar, and Ásta Sigurðardóttir are all marked by linguistic self-awareness, formal inventions, and absurd or grotesque touches. Modernism was emerging, and it was the young urban women who prepared the way for it.
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.
The work of collecting material from the oral tradition of nineteenth-century Finland received financial support from the government and resulted in one of the world’s largest collections, not only of oral poetry, but also of women’s poetry. At least half of the recorded texts come from women: female singers and narrators.The collection efforts focused on content; rarely was any attention paid to the bearers of the tradition – the people who sang the songs or told the tales. We know that many were women, but virtually all of them remained anonymous and faceless.This article will only look at part of the extensive tradition: the ancient runes, documented in Kalevala meter (lyrical poems and ballads), and itkuvirsi (lamentations), which were sung exclusively by women. In all, there are approximately 145,000 texts in the first group, and approximately 3000 in the second.
The Female Pattern in Folk Poetry and Folklore Collection