“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.
Hulda Garborg wrote a lot, alternating between articles for journals and novels, but she concentrated particularly on various theatre genres. Much of her work was written in connection with the nynorsk movement, which in the 1880s and 1890s received increased impetus, with Hulda Garborg as one of its prominent figures. From 1910 until 1912, Hulda Garborg was the leader of a touring theatre company, Det Norske Spellaget, which travelled along the Norwegian coast. The success of the tour gave Hulda Garborg the courage to set up a permanent stage in Christiania for nynorsk drama.The very next year saw Det Norske Teatret (The Norwegian Theatre) become a reality. She sat on the board for many years, and she also occasionally directed shows, but what she really wanted to be was a writer. She uses material from Norwegian national literature and the Norse heritage, but she was also inspired by mysticism and Eastern philosophy of religion.
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.
The far too rapid and crude modernisation and urbanisation of Iceland had psychological consequences and caused cultural upheavals. The Icelandic women writers of the period 1930-1965 attempted to analyse the processes they were exposed to, and attempted to trace connections back and forth in time in order to find a meaning in their strange daily lives.Many issues were discussed by women during those years, in a rejection of the post-war ideology of women as carers and housewives. There were also many small out-bursts of frustration and opposition to the arrogance and obvious misogyny of the male literary elite. But the arrogance and contempt nevertheless had an effect, and the younger women’s literature of the 1950s and 1960s is often characterised by caution, distance, and self-censorship. Ambitious debuts were few and far between, and the women’s novels became in general shorter, sparer – every single word was carefully weighed.The short stories of Unnur Eiríksdóttir, Drífa Viðar, and Ásta Sigurðardóttir are all marked by linguistic self-awareness, formal inventions, and absurd or grotesque touches. Modernism was emerging, and it was the young urban women who prepared the way for it.
With the Modern Breakthrough in the Nordic region in the 1880s, feverish female activity could be perceived everywhere. Women joined together in national women’s societies, working doggedly and energetically to put women’s issues on the agenda of the legislative authorities in order to ensure the implementation of laws. Writing in newspapers, journals, and literary works, it was young middle-class women – well-versed in languages, conversation, and good manners – who presented issues pertaining to women’s status as a social problem.Many women writers of the Modern Breakthrough experienced the new departure in the form of personal and artistic failure. They broke their backs or their pens on the modern paradox. But the emancipation project was not abandoned. For the women who continued to write for the rest of the century, and for those who made their debut around the turn of the century, the tension between ideals and disillusion, between movement and moment, was merely put in a different form.
“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