There has been talk of a turning point in the literary climate of Sweden around 1975. New poets make their debut in part thanks to state publishing subsidies. Space is found for a more nuanced and changing prismatic view of what poetry is and can be. Inner reality begins to be accorded its full significance, as do specifically female experiences.Modernism’s full, rich arsenal of expressions – rooted in symbolism and Romanticism – is available to those women poets making their debuts in the second half of the 1970s who will become the foremost of their generation. They are contemporary with the new women’s movement, and they depict sensuality, eroticism, the dark language of gender, and the peculiar spiritual and bodily landscape of motherhood in very different ways.
A number of Kerstin Söderholm’s traits qualify her as a Finland-Swedish counterpart to Karin Boye and Virginia Woolf: the privilege of working at the core of avant-gardism, as well as vulnerability, failing physical and mental health, and a death wish that eventually led to suicide.Like many other Finland-Swedish modernists, Söderholm wrote poetry that largely centred on nature themes. Poetry is her way of defining a tentative self and an evasive, inaccessible other.
Karin Boye’s most inspired poems are born at the juncture of “the world of appearances – a world that depicts”, and “the other world, the heavy, transformational world that did not ask for superficial flourishes”. Their tension oscillates between “that which breaks” and “that which bars” and is instantaneously released in a euphoric cry of freedom, for “fear can live no longer”, and the ego surrenders unconditionally to “the trust that creates the world”.Her suicide in 1941 has affected the way that people look at her life and her art. She has been portrayed as “tragic” and “consecrated to death”. Her work has been interpreted throughout as that of someone who struggled heroically against her “death wish”. Her writing often resides between sleeping and waking, an unreal kingdom in which dream and desire reign, a place that human beings never completely leave and always yearn for deep within.
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.
The New Women’s Forum of the 70s
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.
Elsa Gress’s pen is, in her own word, heretical. The root cause and partial explanation for the repeated theme of being left out is a reflection of her personal experience of feeling like the odd one out, of feeling misunderstood, of speaking but not being heard. In her books of memoirs, the enforced feeling of otherness during her childhood and adolescence is seen as the background against which she establishes herself in the role of “professional outsider”.Her writing career is characterised by the clash between wanting to maintain a marginal position – being an outsider, who sees more clearly – and wanting to be heard and understood. That a woman writer, and particularly a woman who participates in the public debate, will be subject to prejudice is, in Elsa Gress’s view, a fate common to women who pick up a pen.Her own works were either praised as being “just as substantial and perceptive as a man’s” or she was called “acutely malicious as only an intelligent woman can be”. As castigator of society, culture, and gender, she certainly made sure the readers were “listening” – but she did not get them to toe her line.
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.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
Camilla Collett’s major work Amtmandens Døttre (The District Governor’s Daughters) is the first realistic ‘propaganda novel’ in the annals of Norwegian literature, and the first Norwegian novel to take a broad and critical look at conditions offered to women in the better-off strata of society. The work was no run-of-the-mill novel when it was published in 1854-55. Many people were affected by the thematic line of the book: the attack on marriages of convenience and marriages contracted solely to provide for the woman, the complaints about the restricting parameters of life for women. Even the male critics were delighted in the innovation of her style.After Amtmandens Døttre and a volume of Fortællinger (Short Stories), Camilla Colett stopped writing fiction. Instead, she used the 1860s to explore the grey area between autobiography, memoirs, and travel writing. She then took the plunge and concentrated on polemical writings, publishing two new volumes of Sidste Blade (Last Leaves) in 1872 and 1873, and in 1877 the collection that was to be her breakthrough as feminist cultural critic, Fra de Stummes Leir (From the Camp of the Mute).Her writing career drew to a close with two new collections of essays, and a number of one-off articles on a range of subjects. She must be given a large measure of credit for the strong feminist influence exercised on the Norwegian Modern Breakthrough, and she contributed to avoidance of the deep divide between the female and male outlook on sexual morality that marked Danish cultural life in the 1880s.