Based on the new research in women’s studies being conducted at Danish universities in the 1970s, a league of female reviewers arose who wrote about new – and old – women’s literature. They functioned as the propagators of reader experiences as well as the new norm-setters with regard to interpreting women’s literature.The notion of the importance of the woman’s experience, in particular, became an artistic driving force. It led to the creation both of the confessional genre, in which the subjective experience served as a way for the writer and the reader to conquer identity and ‘I’-power, as well as of emancipation literature, in which experience paradigmatically leads to awareness, resistance, and liberation, from marriage or from mental self-oppression.
In 1937 Tove Ditlevsen first had a poem published. The poem can be read as an allegory of her writing career, which was to produce one of the most significant bodies of work written by a woman in the Danish post-war period. Underneath the extremely simple surface, the poem anticipates recurring themes such as female identity, memory, and creativity. Loss of childhood, and especially of the symbiotic relationship to the mother, is the foundation of Tove Ditlevsen’s melancholy poetics.Her writing is one long memory process, first in the form of fiction, but gradually also in essays with an autobiographical reference point and in essayistic fragments of memory, until she published her autobiographical works proper. Once the autobiographical material had been exhausted and all the key characters in her childhood universe – her mother, her father, and her brother – were dead and her husband had left her, Tove Ditlevsen ended her life as she had presaged.
When Sweden introduced universal suffrage in the 1920s, a number of established authors used the autobiographical genre to tell their story and forge their artistic identity. Largely due to well-established authors like Selma Lagerlöf, Mathilda Malling, Helena Nyblom, and Marika Stiernstedt, women’s autobiographies acquired greater literary status in the Sweden of the 1920s. The trend peaked in the 1940s and reflected both growing interest and greater feminine self-assuredness. At first glance, such works may appear to be simply margin notes – documentary evidence of their lives behind, alongside of, or prior to their art. Not unexpectedly, however, the autobiographies fully reflect the professions of their authors. They vary greatly, but what all these autobiographers had in common, however, was that they focused more on their writing than their personal lives. Of equal importance is that they furnish their readers with clear instructions for interpreting their works.
L. Onerva belonged to the new generation of academically trained women, and penned more than thirty works. Her first book, Sekasointuja (1904; Jangled Harmonies), was a poetry collection, and she is most remembered for a poem that “associates joie de vivre with suffering”.As a prosaist, however, she has been called “too intelligent, too analytical” Nevertheless, she wrote the first modern Finnish novel.
The lustre of the Victorian feminine ideal wore off. Owing to the new civil rights that had been accorded to women, along with their growing prominence in public debate and social service professions, the New Woman was an increasingly popular phrase in the 1890s.Patriarchal attitudes gradually shifted from tacit misogyny to explicit anti-feminism. A war broke out over how the New Woman should be characterised. Was femininity healthy or unnatural? Was the New Woman a nymphomaniac? Or an old maid? In either case, she was Unnatural. Masculinism celebrated its first major triumphs in this thickening atmosphere of open gender war. And the women hit back.
After a marriage to celebrated Danish writer Jeppe Aakjær that did not last, Marie Bregendahl coped with life as a single mother by keeping house for her brother who owned a dairy in the Nørrebro district of Copenhagen. Nor was she able to go back; exodus and city were forever part of her make-up. The tension between the rural culture of her childhood and the anonymised city life, in which the individual had to create an identity for her- or himself, became the empirical sounding board for her entire body of works.In this, she carried on the Modern Breakthrough’s naturalistic portrayal of reality, but in her very own distinctive way in which the traditional narrative forms and the modern woman’s chaos of conflicting experience both found a voice.
On the threshold to the twentieth century, the doors to the world stood open. At last the individual had the prospect of liberation from the restrictive bindings of religion, class, and gender. With the new world picture as its mental sounding board, the new century opened up for a progressive process of integration.Women and ordinary people gained access to bourgeois written culture, and they then of course made their mark on this culture.While male writers and scientists were shoring up their threatened masculinity by categorising “Woman” under “primordial Nature”, the women were surely and steadily gaining ground in the men’s bastions of power.
Gender and Class in Icelandic Women’s Literature of the 1970s
“Once the woman has risen,” wrote the Norwegian author Amalie Skram enthusiastically in 1880 of Henrik Ibsen’s Et Dukkehjem (1879; A Doll’s House), “she can no longer be stopped.” And stop – that was not on the agenda of Amalie Müller, as she was called at the time.In 1884, she married the Danish writer Erik Skram and moved with him to Copenhagen. And this is when she began writing in earnest – but she was never really akin to the Danish women of the Modern Breakthrough: her passion set her apart. While other women writers put themselves on the outside, Amalie Skram related totally to her material – with ruthless exploitation and self-exploitation. The blasé attitude versus the passionate attitude. As creative artist and woman, she was in an outsider position. Too intense for her Danish colleagues and categorically blacklisted in Norway.Amalie Skram’s stories are just as passionate studies of the depths of the mind as those of her contemporary, Freud, and her body of works thus goes beyond the Modern Breakthrough – towards the madness and knowledge of the twentieth century.
City and Text