During the 1990s and 2000s, the so-called Nordic queens of crime and their femi-crime novels conquered the bestseller lists. In feminist-inspired crime fiction, gender roles are often reversed or presented as ambivalent and common themes include male violence against women, rape, child abuse, prostitution and trafficking. The most well-known queens of crime are, amongst others, Susanne Staun, Gretelise Holm, Anne Holt and Liza Marklund.
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.
With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
With the Hilke Thorhus books, Kim Småge created a predecessor to what would, both nationally and internationally, explode as an independent genre in the 1980s and 90s: crime novels with female main characters. She truly made a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated field of Norwegian crime literature. Kim Småge and the women who followed in her footsteps have shown that the woman’s point of view can both enrich and rejuvenate crime intrigue.Since her debut in 1983, Elin Brodin has been a prolific prose writer, writing not only novels but also books for children and young adults, as well as debate books. Her socially critical involvement spans from criticism of conditions for children and young people, through treatment of drug addiction and disease. Thematically, she focuses on the problem of evil in a culture without norms and in which violence and destruction of nature prevail. Her project is to crush idealism.The works of Mari Osmundsen (pseudonym for Anne Kristine Halling) in many ways resemble those of Elin Brodin. As politically conscious cultural critics, they are both concerned with issues such as human suffering and guilt in our modern, alienating society, and they are both solidly planted in the literary tradition of social realism. But whereas Elin Brodin writes about disasters, Mari Osmundsen appears to be more concerned with communicating a belief that even the most insignificant person can mobilise an unfathomable strength and love.
Throughout her long and popular writing career, Martha Christensen built on social realism and a critical involvement in how society treats the weak. In her stories, the social system itself becomes a powerful character that prevails over individual will.Martha Christensen’s critical socio-psychology is not directly political in the same way as Dea Trier Mørch’s stories about the relationship between the individual and society. In her work, the system becomes the necessary organisation and the holistic entity that forms cohesion in individuals’ lives and takes care of them. However, her attitudes and her entire body of work are a critical depiction of the modern welfare society and its view of humanity.Her texts remain within the social structure she criticises, whereas the critic of modernism Anne Marie Løn, following her urban novel Veras vrede (1982; Vera’s Anger), journeys through time, the country, and other types of social life in her search for a positive counterpart to the destructive city.
Icelandic writer Svava Jakobsdóttir’s fantastical narratives are witty, their humour and irony emerging not least from their intertextual dialogues. The Bible acts as something of an internal text within her entire oeuvre, but she also refers to world literature, myths, adventures, and women’s magazines. Her epic texts are at their most gruesome and grotesque when she tackles traditional clichés and stock phrases, which people use without thinking: ‘sacrificing oneself’, ‘giving someone a hand’.Svava Jakobsdóttir’s oeuvre is often divided into two parts, the realistic and the fantastical, and it is the fantastical stories that have attracted the most attention. This division, however, is a simplification of Svava Jakobsdóttir’s radical project. She has, in fact, never rejected the realistic art of storytelling, or its social and political references.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
With the twenty-four stories in En Hverdags-Historie (An Everyday Story) from 1828, Thomasine Gyllembourg consolidated a new literary tradition – the realistic prose story. She shows her reader around in the external forum where everyday life takes place, ornamented with particulars that might seem like knick-knacks, but which all share in the function of making her universe recognisable actuality. While En Hverdags-Historie shows family life in a concave mirror, a number of Gyllembourg’s other short stories reflect family life in a magic mirror.When Thomasine Gyllembourg wrote her everyday stories, the nuclear family was still a new phenomenon, and she herself had lived through a considerable part of its cultural genesis. With En Hverdags-Historie, she positions herself midstream between the old family with its awareness of lineage and the new family with its orientation towards the individual, and from this vantage point she views the evolution of the family, weighs up loss and gain, and exposes the inherent cracks in the foundation of the nuclear family. The trends identified by Thomasine Gyllembourg in the 1840s thus anticipate the particular modern way of life that would be put to debate some decades later in the literature of the Modern Breakthrough.
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.
Virtue is discussed everywhere in eighteenth-century women’s literature; and we do not have to look very far in the contemporaneous references to women authors and writers before we find feminine virtue cited as justification for her writing and the purpose of her work. Whether a writing woman’s role is that of well-read lady, confidential diarist, religious confessor, or experienced writer, feminine virtue is and will remain her destiny.