“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.
The Women Writer’s Group in Ostrobothnia
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.
One of Astrid Lindgren’s most effective techniques is to let imagination engulf reality. The interpretation of the world by a ‘lying’ child triumphs. The most extravagant childish dream of omnipotence comes true in the story of Pippi. With irrefutable logic, Lindgren demonstrates what a solitary child needs to avoid being crushed in a world of hard-headed pragmatism.Most of Lindgren’s writing inhabits the borderland of reality and fantasy. While some of her works are demonstrably realistic, they are nevertheless about the ability of fanciful children to live in a world of play and imagination. Lindgren’s sensitivity to children’s feelings and perspectives, along with her uncompromising willingness to take their side, is a modernist trait that links her work to the radical psychology of permissive child rearing that made inroads in Sweden between the wars.
A secure idyll that covers up a frightful abyss but always cracks eventually is a typical scenario in works by Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson. The picture books Hur gick det sen? and Vem ska trösta Knyttet? (Eng. tr. Who Will Comfort Toffle?: A Tale of Moomin Valley) outline the utopia that emerged from Jansson’s traumatic experience of the war’s meaninglessness, creating a Moomin world.Maternal sensibility rules and family bonds extend to everyone. But Jansson’s writing does not end with the dream of a happy family. Her last Moomin books and adult fiction deconstruct this mythology.
Much of the literature written by women after World War I bespoke a reaction to a new trend in sexual morality. The new age, the new woman, and the new sexuality echoed throughout its pages. With her “sex appeal” and “professional” relationship to traditional femininity, the new woman hovered around or simply crossed the line between the “good” and “bad” girl as defined by the old system of morality.Marika Stiernstedt’s prolific output reflects the temper of literature in Sweden in the first half of the twentieth century. She was a pacesetter in the 1920s. Her first twentieth-century novels examined infidelity and double standards in the spirit of Ellen Key. Relationships between women and men grew more complex in her later works.Her final work, Kring ett äktenskap (1953; About a Marriage), gives a no-holds-barred account of her infamous marriage to author Lubbe Nordström. The punctilious recital of the decline of an alcoholic and sexually ambivalent genius is unsparing in its directness. What good is freedom to the new woman if the new man turns out to be a cross between a hypocritical patriarch and a helpless child despite assurances of an egalitarian companionate marriage?
The Finnish author Hagar Olsson’s debut from 1916 was brought out the same year as Edith Södergran’s first poetry collection. According to literary historians, the twin events marked the birth of Finland-Swedish modernism. Dagens Press (The Daily Press) hired Olsson as its literary critic in 1918, providing her with a venue to wage her celebrated campaign for ‘modernity’ in art and literature. Her entire literary project is about faith in the life force, the power of the spirit to transform the world, and the artist’s holy calling. She achieved the most significant formal renewal in her dramatic works. Olsson was largely interested in creating political theatre that preaches and agitates.The theme of “the new woman” and associated issues was more conspicuous with each novel Olsson wrote in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Her association with the group that published the radical feminist magazine Tidevarvet and with the Women´ s College for Civic Training at Fogelstad whetted her appetite for women’s issues.
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.
Author and journalist Elin Wägner was a central character in the struggle for women’s suffrage in Sweden, and she was committed to pacifism. She wrote around twenty novels, a handful of short story collections, and many radio plays, wherein she over and over again argued that women had to emancipate themselves so that they could “find a form of their own.”
Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf achieved her international breakthrough when she won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909. At this point, she was already one of the most reputable and respected writers in the Nordic countries. The loss of her beloved childhood home, Mårbacka, resonates as a pain point in her work – a recurring theme that undergoes a number of variations in one novel after another. And through this essential lack in life, the enforced exile, Lagerlöf, who ostensibly had nothing left to lose, entered a world of memories and retrieved from it an original language which permeated everything she wrote, and which spoke to all social strata and to both children and adults. She wrote that she wanted to be read by all, including the farmwives in rural areas.And she still is.