Finnish writer Minna Canth became a single mother, businesswoman, and author all at once. Instead of being satisfied with the simple and retired life of a widow, as was customary at the time, she became the most controversial of Finnish authors and shaped the direction of the country’s drama. Obituaries described her as a national hero, and her plays are still among the most popular on Finnish stages.
Four women poets made their mark on literary Sweden on the threshold of the twentieth century. Jane Gernandt-Claine’s writing, which consisted of five short story collections and twelve novels, in addition to poetry, was her link to Sweden. Ever since her debut in 1893, the topics for her prose had come from other countries. All of Gernandt-Claine’s writing reveals a strong commitment to women while portraying heterosexual love as the ultimate goal and greatest pleasure that life has to offer.Anna Cederlund argued for the importance of beauty in everyday life. The last poem in her book testifies to a powerful force outside herself, that of love. Harriet Löwenhjelm’s oeuvre consists of twenty-two diaries with vignettes, etchings, and drawings, book manuscripts, letters, and poems. She is known for playing the jester and hiding behind various disguises. She knew where her poses came from: the first link in the chain was commedia dell’arte. Karin Ek wanted to reach all Swedish people. Her dearest wish was to convey her love for poetry, a “source of universal happiness.” Her own song grew out of both passion and suffering; poetry was her lifeline.
A man writes when he wishes and is inspired to do so, a woman, at least one with children and a household, when she can and has time, happy and able at having been able to, as it were, purloin such a joy for herself, remarks the Finnish author Fredrika Runeberg in her memoirs, Min pennas saga (The Story of my Pen).Her husband J. L. Runeberg was already a well-known author when they married, and he was ensconced as the national poet of Finland when her three works – her historical novels Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar (Lady Catharina Boije and her Daughters) and Sigrid Liljeholm, as well as her book of short stories Teckningar och drömmar (Sketches and Dreams) – were brought out. His attitude to literature by women was benevolent but condescending. Zacharias Topelius and Johan Vilhelm Snellman, two other opinion-makers of the mid-nineteenth century, looked at matters similarly. Given that Fredrika Runeberg did not promote notions of women’s emancipation, they were all for her writing.While dreaming about writing women’s history, she deferred to the expectations of the leading male opinion-makers. She refrained from publishing her views on emancipation and waited fifteen years before bringing out her first novel. Her diaries and the pieces she composed at her kitchen table compared women’s status with slavery.
The authors of ecclesiastical history tend to be theologians and church leaders. Traditionally speaking, they are usually men, and women play a relatively obscure role in their writings. But many women were active in the multitude of revival movements that sprang up in the nineteenth century. New structures gave rise to different kinds of literature, and the spiritual currents of the Nordic countries rippled with female writers, hymnists, and preachers.As a major ingredient of Norwegian spiritual and cultural life, Haugianism was one of the many Nordic revival movements that emerged in the nineteenth century. Haugianism paved the way for Camilla Collett’s indefatigable struggle and for other forces of women’s liberation in Norway.
The Finnish author Hagar Olsson’s debut from 1916 was brought out the same year as Edith Södergran’s first poetry collection. According to literary historians, the twin events marked the birth of Finland-Swedish modernism. Dagens Press (The Daily Press) hired Olsson as its literary critic in 1918, providing her with a venue to wage her celebrated campaign for ‘modernity’ in art and literature. Her entire literary project is about faith in the life force, the power of the spirit to transform the world, and the artist’s holy calling. She achieved the most significant formal renewal in her dramatic works. Olsson was largely interested in creating political theatre that preaches and agitates.The theme of “the new woman” and associated issues was more conspicuous with each novel Olsson wrote in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Her association with the group that published the radical feminist magazine Tidevarvet and with the Women´ s College for Civic Training at Fogelstad whetted her appetite for women’s issues.
The Danish author Karen Blixen’s writing career came late and against a backdrop of heavy personal losses: financial problems forced her to abandon the coffee farm in Kenya, and the great love of her life, Denys Finch-Hatton, died in a plane crash. The losses are not just something linked to personal biography. In her re-workings, they grow into manifestation of a modern experience of loss of worth, a divided mind, and emptiness.Although Karen Blixen’s losses were profound and concrete, her realisation of life was also extraordinary and rich. This combination makes for a conflict that prompts her to go behind the tradition of realism and back to a narrative tradition stemming from the Arabian Nights, from Boccaccio, and from Cervantes’s stories in Don Quixote (1605 and 1615). A tradition which she combines with the eighteenth-century philosophical novels that have a narrator who deliberately plays with illusion and story, as we see in, for example, Diderot’s Jacques le fataliste et son maître (1796; Jacques the Fatalist and his Master). Furthermore, she finds inspiration in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tales with their compressed accounts of human psychology and transformation.Alongside the general atmosphere of loss and interruption and distorted human relations, the characters have an incentive in the question of where and how humankind can find hope.
Sweden was the first among the Nordic countries to allow women access to a university education. Female students ostensibly lived under the same conditions as their male counterparts: they shared ideas, instructors, visions of the future. In reality their situations could not have been more at odds. Men were the beneficiaries of longstanding traditions and the innate right to public support. Like extraterrestrial creatures, women found themselves in an alien world. Women asked themselves whether they should try to blend in and focus on what they had in common with men or accentuate their own special qualities. In the 1880s and early 1890s, any term or concept suggesting that they somehow deviated from the norm was scrupulously avoided. Just before the turn of the century, they switched strategy, placing ‘femininity’ in the spotlight and adding the notion of ‘difference’ to their repertoire. The tide turned in 1896, the year Ellen Key published Missbrukad kvinnokraft (Misused Female Power). Demands for emancipation and equal opportunity were supplanted by the concept that women should enrich society and culture with their unique qualities. Love and emotional liberation took centre stage. Women acquired a fresh sense of dignity, as well as new responsibilities, by virtue of their gender. And the women academics of the time did not remain unaffected.
In 1944, fifteen years after Arnold Norlind’s death, his wife, the author and historian of religion Emilia Fogelklou wrote a biography of him. She was 66 years old. The book Arnold became the first volume of Emilia Fogelklou’s autobiographical trilogy, the high point of her prolific output.The books may seem out of order at first. Why does she not tell her story chronologically or in flashbacks? Arnold answers that question. Meeting Norlind was both the culmination and the beginning of her life. The book is one of the great love stories in Swedish literature, and a singular coming-of-age narrative.
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.
“I am no woman”, Edith Södergran wrote. Her poetry is about the power of self-definition. Her contribution to a new world is to take leave of women’s marginal role and plant herself proudly on the world stage.She spent her brief career as a poet in a state of relative disgrace. The critical debate often centred around the question of whether she was a raving lunatic or merely off her rocker.Södergran’s writing is an ongoing process that seeks to demonstrate the inability of language to mirror the experience of being composed of good and evil, femininity and masculinity, executioner and victim.