Korpfolksungen (The Raven People’s Child) is the Finland-Swedish author and artist Irmelin Sandman Lilius’s fortieth book. She made her debut aged nineteen in 1955 and has since then established herself as one of Finland’s internationally best known writers of children’s books. Korpfolksungen unites several of the typical elements in Irmelin Sandman Lilius’s oeuvre: sliding between the real and the fantastical, between childhood and the world of the adult, between mythical time, historic time, and the present makes her a boundary-breaking, multi-layered writer for readers of all ages.In the society that Irmelin Sandman Lilius builds in book after book the protagonists are the poor of the back lanes. The world of the poor is a minutely described women’s world, wherein the girls take on the tasks of women, take on adult responsibilities, and provide for themselves. In her later works, Irmelin Sandman Lilius far more often steps into a more autobiographically determined reality. In exquisite little illustrated books, she returns to her childhood and youth.
With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
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.
In Greenland and the Sami Language Area, women’s modern literary production began with the political trends in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Greenland and northern Scandinavia were discovered as regions, and the Greenlandic and Sami peoples began to view themselves as ethnic minorities: no longer must they feel inferior to the dominating cultures, now the people’s own voice should be heard in its own language.A new generation of writers emerged in protest against the cultural invasion of the Danes, the Norwegians, and so on, and the women also got involved. This was the same period as the decade of the women’s movement. Women writers in Greenland, Kalaallit Nunaat, and the Sami Language Area, Sápmi, made their entry on the literary stage.
The Norwegian author Herbjørg Wassmo made her debut as a poet in the 1970s, and has since written both drama and documentary literature. The five great novels that came out in the 1980s and 1990s have, in all their complexity and apparent differences, one overall theme: the neglected child. However, Herbjørg Wassmo’s intention was apparently not to criticise inadequate or unloving parents nor to castigate an alienating society in a modern sense. The actual conflict takes place at a deeper level.In addition to telling the story of the young and unfinished person in a complicated socialisation process, “the neglected children” represent primarily the “childhood injuries” we all carry around with us – regardless of age, time, and situation.
Vibeke Grønfeldt’s body of work has grown steadily and is now very comprehensive. However, despite the weight, despite the attention and respect surrounding her work, it stands strangely isolated in the literary debate. Just as the author still lives on the small Danish island of her birth, Samsø, so her work similarly insists on remaining on the fringe of culture.
Inge Eriksen, who lives in constantly critical confrontation with the doctrines of 1968, may also be the Danish author and cultural personality who most consistently promotes the world view of the 1970s. She perceives the world politically, and has been involved in the Danish and international debate regardless of whether it concerned international politics, cultural visions, or the potential of the science fiction genre. With all her criticism, she has remained champion of the whole life, and her novels always navigate between politics, drama, aesthetics, and passion.Another Danish writer, Grete Roulund, had a sharp eye for Western culture. Her tough style, which confused the critics so much that they doubted her gender, was rooted in the body- and gender-consciousness of the 1970s, but the orchestration was new. The tone in Grethe Roulund’s stories is tough, but also filled with unsentimental and dark humour. The texts are less interested in empathy with the victims than in the psychology and ethics that can be studied in the both unfeeling and tormented men. Violence and brutality represent the sickness of a culture that in its fear of the foreigners, of the opposite sex, and of death must constantly face its own downfall.
The Danish author Jette Drewsen’s work from the 1970s has become a symbol of the upheaval in literature, politics, and private life which the new women’s movement sparked. Her novels are about, and speak to, the newly conscious middle-class woman; they gave rise to discussions about the new form of women’s literature and its message – and over time they became reflections on a female aesthetic which is under constant change.Whereas Jette Drewsen’s women throughout her 70s novels find a survival strategy, Anne Marie Ejrnæs begins her writing career with two novels about women whose lives fall apart due to the gap between ideals and social reality. The crisis is a central, and by now not wholly negative, concept in her oeuvre, which in latter years displays a particular interest in history.