Contemporary Nordic narratives of insanity and psychiatry are about gender-ambivalence and creativity. Unlike before, much contemporary literature is concerned with how to fundamentally break away from gender in a bid to rediscover a pre-gender condition, where the gendered body and sexual desire are not one and the same.Exponents for this literary tendency are, amongst others, Lotte Inuk, Christel Wiinblad, Beate Grimsrud and Linda Boström Knausgård.
In Swedish women’s prose of the 1980s, we find an attitude that is focused on the self and is explicitly critical of language, as well as a thematisation and revision of monstrous and angelic traits that relate to the tradition of women’s literature.
An important theme in Finnish Women’s Literature is the criticism of child-rearing. The idyllic surface is broken, and no family member is exempt. One of the theorists who influenced the new literature is Alice Miller, whose works were translated into Finnish in the 1980s. In the new family tales the mother often turns out to be the exploiter, but a child might equally well be found in the role of the unappeasable tyrant. Standard impressions and interpretations of growing up a girl are twisted and turned, and myths are reinterpreted.Many important women writers in Finland in the 1970s and 1980s concentrate on the eternal existential questions that go with being human. Often, the human being is placed in borderline situations, separate from others, or near to grief and death. The main themes are guilt, identity, frustration, mental breakdowns, and the possibility of changing in one way or another. In the background are problems relating to growing up, living in a marriage, or professional life.
The Swedish author Carola Hansson’s oeuvre is at the centre of the aesthetic turn of the tide and epistemological turbulence of the 1980s, but her novels still deviate from the main literary path. The books, like so much of the decade’s prose, deal with an identity in dissolution, a lost language, and the evasive nature of memory. The focus of Carola Hansson’s novels is the modernist anti-hero: a homeless, alienated human being seeking his identity without ever finding it.This same dissolved identity becomes a theme in the work of Åsa Nelvin, who already in her debut children’s book, De vita björnarna, (1969; The White Bears), depicts the conflict between the self and the world that will underpin her entire body of works. The hackneyed and ironic traits in her texts multiply and destabilise the ‘I’. They also draw the reader’s attention to the fact that the depiction of this dissolved female ‘identity’ is a means for Åsa Nelvin to discuss women’s relations to language, creativity, and a possible but not yet realisable new femininity.
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.
Three female Finland-Swedish authors who are generally included among the second wave of modernists began writing in Helsinki during the 1930s: Solveig von Schoultz, Mirjam Tuominen, and Eva Wichman. The war sliced through their lives and rewrote the terms of their careers.They explored new means of describing their experience, renewed the short story genre, and modified modernist poetry in various ways. Schoultz turned the spotlight on what she later called “society’s smallest cell, interpersonal relationships”, while Tuominen illumined the fundamental ethical issues of the age with the passion of Cassandra, and Wichman – whom the war radicalised – wrote political battle songs.
All of Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s works revolve around the feelings of coercion, desperation, and revolt that the world of her childhood fostered. Her quest took her from the depressive chronicle of mental breakdown to a utopian dream of redemptive femininity.Her novels ask questions that women living through a period of sexual transition found both difficult and urgent: what role did sexuality play in female identity? How could women arrive at a life-affirming sensuality, free from the inherited baggage of sexual paranoia, misogyny, and denial of female desire? The strength of her storytelling is the ability to portray repressed and forbidden feelings, the secret of its suggestiveness and appeal, as well as its power to offend, alarm, and disgust the reader.
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.
The Danish author Vita Andersen’s prose poetry was nicknamed knækprosa (broken prose) because the poems were apparently nothing more than narratives made up of lines of uneven length. However, her narrative and characterising poetry is more complex than it initially appears. It is in itself a staging of everyday language, an exhibition of the force, the roles, and the confinement in the lives and speech of the characters, but by no means an artless repetition. The gender roles as a guarantee against a happy interaction between the genders is a central theme in her texts.Charlotte Strandgaard made her debut in 1965, and throughout the 1960s and 70s she wrote a number of collections of poetry and documents that focused on typical problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, social outcasts, and losers. Her universe is ruled by suffering, misunderstandings between those who want to love each other, guilt, and hopelessness. The tone (and the position) is compassionate, and there is a willingness to find an explanation and a solution. Her adults, like those of Vita Andersen, are wounded children; however, in Charlotte Strandgaard’s world there is a steady insistence on reconciliation and redemption alongside the pain.