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.
Sår som ennu blør (Wounds That Still Bleed), a novel in verse by Karo Espeseth, is an account of a sexual sadist and his relationship with a young woman. The novel exposes the connection between gender and war in inter-war Europe. The man is driven by the accumulation of repressed rage, hatred, vengeance, and desire. Espeseth demonstrates his affinity with a general culture of violence that has long been linked to ideals of masculinity and sexuality.Unfortunately, the subsequent debate revolved more around sexual morality, superficial ideals, and literary decadence than the question that Espeseth tries to raise: what is the cause and dynamic of violent sex? In the wake of the pitiless criticism and lack of comprehension that Sår som ennu blør aroused in Norway, Espeseth stopped writing poetry. Not until 1983 did she break her self-imposed silence.
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.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
Although Swedish writer Victoria Benedictsson is uncompromising in her repudiation of the advocates of ‘free love’, she is herself a true Modern Breakthrough author. She does not shy away from addressing the most forbidden issues. It is not the ideas of the time but the conditions of the body in the new morality that increasingly becomes her great theme. The body becomes her instrument and artistic barometer, and she minutely registers its signals. The experiment is risky and requires her to aim at the foremost advocate of the Modern Breakthrough in Denmark, Georg Brandes. Stora boken (The Big Book), her posthumously published diary, details the fateful encounter. Victoria Benedictsson takes one step further than her female colleagues when she points out the price to be paid for the period’s ‘free love’, namely the obliteration of female desire and the destruction of the female body. In her zeal for truth, as a ‘modern’ author, she overlooks the patriarchal resistance. Stora boken is a unique documentation of the historical moment when the female object becomes a subject and, threatened with extermination, begins to speak. For this insight and for this work of art, Victoria Benedictsson paid with her life.
There are many indications that women were largely responsible for the oral tradition in Norse literature, not least the eddic narrative poems which by and large thematise women’s experience and have a female perspective. The poetry was linked to the art of divination known as seid and to the healing arts, both of which were predominantly female spheres; that is to say, poetry, seid and healing arts were components of one and the same system, forming a ritual unit. In range, Norse literature spans the transition from paganism to Christianity and from an oral to a written culture. There is a concurrent movement from a strongly women-centric to a virtually one-sided male-dominated culture. With monotheism, and later Christianity, monasteries, writing, and schools, this women-centric culture was repressed and/or usurped by the male culture. The introduction of Christianity deprived women of many important roles in the execution of pagan rituals, and they did not learn to write, either. This meant that the women’s oral tradition was, in a very literal sense, silenced by the pens of the male culture.