In the 1970s, the indigenous Sami people of the Cap of the North (the northwesterly arctic tip of Europe consisting of counties in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia), and minorities, such as the Swedish Tornedalians, began to mobilise and form organisations. The first literary work written by a Sami woman in a Sami language was published in 1971 and since then, many female authors have followed with works that thematise contradictions between majority and minority cultures. In these works, old Sami myths and oral hand-me-downs are brought to bear in the investigation of a particular female Sami identity. Leading female authors include Rauni Magga Lukkari, Synnøve Persen, Maren Uthaug and Rosa Liksom.
Sara Stridsberg was born in Stockholm in 1972. Her debut novel, Happy Sally, was published in 2004, and she was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize for her novel, Drömfakulteten (2006; The Dream Faculty), in 2007.
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.
Kerstin Ekman is a literary successor to Elin Wägner, and is close to her biting criticism of society and strong pathos. Her oeuvre began with a number of detective novels, but developed away from the detective genre, and the writer brought the detective genre with her into her later novels.In her works, one finds controversial perceptions of God and indications of the metaphysical that delineate a rebellion against the male ideologies, which for thousands of years have absorbed woman into a pattern wherein she must basically fight herself. Kerstin Ekman’s books are very different from each other. She keeps trying out new forms. However, they all concern themselves with lovelessness and love. And with a journey in language through continued transformation towards a core point in the human being: “a point where she is at home with herself.”
A Literary Debate on Motherhood
The Women Writer’s Group in Ostrobothnia
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.
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.
Stina Aronson, who published seventeen books, is best known for her depictions of life in the ‘wasteland’ of Norrbotten province. She acquired a wide readership with her novel Hitom himlen (1946; This Side of Heaven) after many years of a distinguished writing career. Among the innovative features of Aronson’s tales from northern Sweden is the paucity of plot in the generally accepted sense of the word. Discovery of the world, its serenity and sudden horror, is the primary event.The greatest inner tension in Aronson’s later works is between the modernist description of the world and a moral or ethical attitude towards it. Aronson’s stories of northern Sweden offer the gift of resonance that transforms alien silence into familiar intimacy, which somehow remains fundamentally unknown and unknowable.
The gloominess of post-war Finland created a deep thirst for art and literature. A great deal of poetry was published and an unusual percentage of the first-timers were women, both Swedish- and Finnish-speaking. The women’s poetry, however, did not centre on politics or patriotism, but on the self, personal experience, family, home, children, the world, and humanity. Post-war poetry sought to create forms that differed from the classical approach, whose status had grown during the war. Young women, who frequently were more eager than their male colleagues to discover fresh perspectives and to emerge from the shadow of war, found their voice earliest and most naturally.The work of female poets may be interpreted as a commentary on a genre that was in flux, as well as an elaboration of creative strategies. A remarkable number of women were able to forge distinctive identities and write their own brand of modern poetry – clear evidence of their importance and strength in the shadow of the war.