Eeva Joenpelto, Anu Kaipainen, and Eila Pennanen have all focused on women’s lives, on patriarchy, and on gender roles in their prose works, whether Eeva Joenpelto’s snapshots of the time in her Lojo series from the 1970s, Anu Kaipainen’s historic mythical novels, or Eila Pennanen’s insight into the life of Saint Bridget of Sweden in Pyhä Birgitta (1954; Birgitta the Visionary), or into middle-class life in her Tammerfors trilogy, set at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden made her debut in 1968 with the poetry collection f.eks. juli (July for instance), a brazen new book that challenged the established conventions of Norwegian poetry. She is a pioneer among the feminist poets who explore language as a mechanism of power, as well as exploring the possibilities of the poetic form.Eldrid Lunden often associates femininity with metaphors involving water, rain, mucus, and mouths; whereas masculinity is connoted by “tougher” metaphors such as cars, insects, and the pulse. In Lunden’s texts, however, this rhetorical interaction is also open and dynamic. In fact, one of the key aspects of her poetry is to avoid fixed meaning, and instead break down the conventional perceptions that can cement the gender role pattern. Movement, music, and melancholy, but also rebellion, flow like a blue wave through Eldrid Lunden’s work: nothing is allowed to settle down in this language; poetry is eternally impatient.
The focus of women’s works shifted from the sexual aspects of motherhood in the 1930s to children as the targets of wanton violence during the war. The time had come, they thought, to manifest the responsibility for society that Fredrika Bremer and Ellen Key had posited as women’s contribution to civilisation. The focus had shifted, however, from pleading the cause of women to that of children.The focus on children and the social responsibility of mothers was the last attempt by modern women writers to launch a new ethic of human relations and envisage a political utopia of peace. The broad-based, multi-genre effort did not dissipate until the 1960s when motherhood was stripped of its revolutionary content and redefined as either autocratic or powerless. Female characters assumed the position of helpless children in relation to men, and militant mothers were relegated to the status of frustrated housewives.
Stina Aronson, who published seventeen books, is best known for her depictions of life in the ‘wasteland’ of Norrbotten province. She acquired a wide readership with her novel Hitom himlen (1946; This Side of Heaven) after many years of a distinguished writing career. Among the innovative features of Aronson’s tales from northern Sweden is the paucity of plot in the generally accepted sense of the word. Discovery of the world, its serenity and sudden horror, is the primary event.The greatest inner tension in Aronson’s later works is between the modernist description of the world and a moral or ethical attitude towards it. Aronson’s stories of northern Sweden offer the gift of resonance that transforms alien silence into familiar intimacy, which somehow remains fundamentally unknown and unknowable.
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.
With Män kan inte våldtas (1975; Men Cannot Be Raped; Eng. tr. Manrape), Märta Tikkanen hurled herself headlong into the ongoing discussion of gender roles and became one of the figurehead writers of the new women’s movement, not just in her native Finland but in all of the Nordic countries. In a number of books she would thematise not just a series of acute women’s problems, but also her own private life story in a way that met with great response. In book after book, Märta Tikkanen investigates the ties that bind women – or herself – to husband, children, lovers, and parents. “Where is the logic?” she asks, and in both novels and poems, she systematically works her way through layer after layer of ties in order to, if possible, find the story of logic in the lives of women. Time and again she seeks to capture the female life-text, her life story, just to show the impossibility of the project. It always evades capture. She continually approaches her story in new ways, and throughout her oeuvre one can trace how her approach becomes increasingly complex and sophisticated.
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.
Swedish author Sonja Åkesson made her debut in 1957 with Situationer (Situations) and published one other collection during the 1950s. In the early works her writing style wavered between the refined metaphors of nature- and village-poetry and the grotesques depicting human nature that she would later develop. In August 1960 she co-authored the manifesto “Front mot formens tyranni” (Front Against the Tyranny of Form), which was an important step out of the Modernism of the 1950s towards the Realism of the 1960s. Sonja Åkesson found her own special tone within the frame of the new simple aesthetic through inspiration from Concretism. Her dominating style is a raw, narrating realism. The characters passing through her poems deliver a lively narrative about other people. But the satire of society is just as important a genre for Sonja Åkesson as the character portraits. The most conspicuous trait in Sonja Åkesson’s works is her grotesque irony.
In the 1980s, the historical novel, a centuries-old favourite among female readers, underwent a process of serious revision. The female heroes were brought up to date. The heroines were adapted to the contemporary world, and together with the new romance literature, the new feminist historical novel captured the interest of women readers.New women writers throughout the Nordic region began to write about hidden, forgotten, overlooked, or entirely unknown women from past centuries, and the books were welcomed by huge audiences (and by reviewers) with such overwhelming interest that it began to look like just the genre for which they had all been searching for so many years.
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.