During the mid-1990s, a new genre of literature came to the fore, and was subsequently labelled chick lit. It was an updated version of the classic romance novel, embracing single life and dating culture in the big cities from a gender-perspective. With well-known titles like Sex and the City and Bridget Jones’ Diary as the leading examples, authors such as Henriette Lind, Lotte Thorsen, Kajsa Ingemarsson and Siri Østli have developed their own Nordic variety of chick lit.
Around the time of the millennium, a new generation of female Nordic authors had their debut. Their signature style was perfomative experimentation with a splash of humour and irony. The authors were building upon a gender-conscious literary tradition and taking inspiration from contemporary gender theorists such as Sara Ahmed and Judith Butler. Leading voices of this generation include Christina Hagen, Kristina Nya Glaffey, Mara Lee and Trude Marstein.
From the millennium onwards, the literary scene is populated with new voices that explore themes such as, racism, whiteness, gender, adoption and migration. What the authors have in common is the use of their minority position to reflect over the experience of having a linguistic and cultural double-identity. Maja Lee Langvad, Eva Tind, Athena Farrokhzad and Jonas Hassen Khemiri are among exponents of these new voices.
The novel Uke 43 (2000; Week 43, 2002) exemplifies a central theme in the writings of Hanne Ørstavik. The novel relates the story of Solveig, a newly hired lecturer of literature at a university college in Norway. Solveig admires her elder colleague and role model, Hilde, greatly and constantly seeks her approval. Solveig feels a close affinity to Hilde, and she endeavours to use articles written by Hilde as the guiding principles in her teaching. However, as time passes, Solveig comes to realise that Hilde’s views and convictions have changed, and her disillusionment steadily increases until it reaches a final climax during a party at Hilde’s. Her illusions shattered, Solveig finally loses control in an emotional outburst, unleashing her pent-up frustration.
“The first Bomb detonated at the ‘Trinity’ site was called a ‘baby’. When the scientific fathers of the Manhattan-project telegraphed President Truman after the ‘birth’ on 16 July 1945, the telegram read: ‘The child was well-shaped’. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was called ‘Little Boy’. And today they are creating ‘fifth generation’ rockets,” writes Norwegian author and psychologist Wera Sæther in 1985.Can such a ‘civilisation’ ever be saved? Only with the language of love, Wera Sæther thinks, can evil be conquered and life worshipped – in place of death. In this striving, man and woman are not separated from each other: only by a united effort can powerlessness be conquered.
Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden made her debut in 1968 with the poetry collection f.eks. juli (July for instance), a brazen new book that challenged the established conventions of Norwegian poetry. She is a pioneer among the feminist poets who explore language as a mechanism of power, as well as exploring the possibilities of the poetic form.Eldrid Lunden often associates femininity with metaphors involving water, rain, mucus, and mouths; whereas masculinity is connoted by “tougher” metaphors such as cars, insects, and the pulse. In Lunden’s texts, however, this rhetorical interaction is also open and dynamic. In fact, one of the key aspects of her poetry is to avoid fixed meaning, and instead break down the conventional perceptions that can cement the gender role pattern. Movement, music, and melancholy, but also rebellion, flow like a blue wave through Eldrid Lunden’s work: nothing is allowed to settle down in this language; poetry is eternally impatient.
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.
In Edith Øberg’s literary novels, women’s relationships with each other increasingly come to the fore as men recede into the background. Øberg is most interested in women as creative subjects of their lives. Her later novels, which exhibit an unmistakable interest in psychoanalytical concepts, offer penetrating insights into issues surrounding female identity.Her examination of the unconscious roots of sexual needs and conflicts is particularly fascinating, placing her in the thick of the cultural debate about modernism during the interwar period. Her in-depth studies of fragmented female psyches, breeding grounds for repressed conflicts due to puritanical upbringings, traumatic childhood memories, and guilty erotic ties challenge the view perpetrated by male vitalists of women as uncomplicated instinctive creatures. Her first four novels touch on taboo subjects.
Coming-of-age novels by women after World War I often have a significant lesbian theme. The role model is frequently a single, independent career woman, described as attractive, strong, efficient, and intelligent. Coming out of the closet was not without its risks. Homosexual acts were criminal offences and Swedish psychiatrists regarded homosexuality as a disease until 1979.Finding a means of describing and expressing a sexual orientation that had been outlawed and suppressed for centuries – and that had been defined and discussed by male medical, psychiatric, and literary ‘ experts’ only – was no easy task. What the ‘new women’ of the inter-war period needed, besides visibility, was a language capable of reflecting female sexual desire and experience outside the domain of men, of describing an existence beyond the ken of traditional sexual categories.
Sår som ennu blør (Wounds That Still Bleed), a novel in verse by Karo Espeseth, is an account of a sexual sadist and his relationship with a young woman. The novel exposes the connection between gender and war in inter-war Europe. The man is driven by the accumulation of repressed rage, hatred, vengeance, and desire. Espeseth demonstrates his affinity with a general culture of violence that has long been linked to ideals of masculinity and sexuality.Unfortunately, the subsequent debate revolved more around sexual morality, superficial ideals, and literary decadence than the question that Espeseth tries to raise: what is the cause and dynamic of violent sex? In the wake of the pitiless criticism and lack of comprehension that Sår som ennu blør aroused in Norway, Espeseth stopped writing poetry. Not until 1983 did she break her self-imposed silence.