In 1909, the battle for women’s suffrage is raging. From London Elin Wägner covered “the greatest movement the world has ever seen”, the Fourth Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance. She was the most indefatigable opponent of the Swedish patriarchy for four decades.Her first memorable work was Pennskaftet (1910; Eng. tr. Penwoman), a novel that became a bible for “the new woman”. But Wägner is not alone. Selma Lagerlöf and Ellen Key are among the many Swedish women writers who join the struggle for women’s suffrage, and their authorships undergo a transformation in the heat of battle.
After she liberates herself from the inspiration from Herman Bang and from her husband’s ‘guardianship’, the author Karin Michaëlis finds the combination of epistolary and diary novel that she would go on to develop into her sphere of excellence. She becomes famous, and much in demand for public lectures. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, Karin Michaëlis simply had to reach for her journalist’s pen. As reporter, she makes no secret of her contempt for war, and calls attention to the enormous human costs.As a reporter, she carefully chooses her figurative language, and can for once give free rein to the pathos which, in her fiction, must constantly be held in check. She consigned the myth of the good mother to the grave. The portraits of real-life damaged women and the visions showing children as levers for a new world are rooted in the indignant pathos that was the weakness at the beginning of her writing career, but which later became its strength.
Norwegian writer and participant in the public debate Nini Roll Anker hid behind the eloquent pseudonym Jo Nein (a play on Yes/No). The daughter of a family of civil servants from Western Norway, she wrote with great commitment about power and contradiction in bourgeois society. Her social commitment spanned a half-century and produced a wealth of fiction. Being a prominent figure in the arts, Nini Roll Anker’s was a crucial voice in the Norwegian debate on art and society. She supported the women’s cause and the mushrooming labour movement, but her key position was that of critical intellectual.Her literary universe sees nature and play, dream and passion as quality rating for a meaningful life. These vital “imaginary” values, as she called them, often get into conflict with the characters’, particularly the women’s, devotion to duty and loyalty to family. Nini Roll Anker’s books appeal to women’s responsibility for upbringing and their social responsibility. She sees women’s complicity in war, but regards the hostilities as men’s work. In her criticism of the established Church, she pays particular attention to the way in which patriarchal techniques of governance couple religion and sexuality.
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.
Ellen Key put focus on complexity. not only in connection with the women’s cause but in general with regard to the relationship between tradition and modernity. It was in connection with her efforts to reconcile the contradictions between conservatism and radicalism into something more complex that Ellen Key became a controversial figure. Her writing became a medium: it did not point inward, towards itself, it did not produce works of fiction; rather, it served as a melting pot. Her works display an immense cultural receptivity and at the same time her works stand apart in their originality, in her visionary, unifying approach. Tradition is not contrasted with modernity but is understood in the light of her commitment to day-to-day politics. The women’s cause, the working-class movement, popular education, and the modern divide between natural science and religious attitudes are an ever-present context in all of her works. Ellen Key became an organic bond between the Modern Breakthrough and the new century’s modernistic currents.