The New Women’s Forum of the 70s
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.”
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.
From 1910 until 1922, Gyrithe Lemche was a leading light of the Danish women’s movement. As national president of Dansk Kvindesamfund and as editor of Kvinden og Samfundet, she was the strategist and foremost ideologist in the turbulent years during which the campaign for the vote was on the agenda.In the large-scale autobiographical series Tempeltjenere I-III (1926-28; The Temple Servants) she gave a fictionalised version of the contradictions within the Danish women’s movement, as she saw them. The work is not the foremost work from her pen, but it is the master key to an understanding of the artistic upheaval that occurred from 1910 until 1922 when she had left her study in favour of the women’s cause.It is the split between poet and realist that colours Gyrithe Lemche’s writing. To her, being the realist means going into her day and age and taking its problems and tasks to heart. Being the poet, on the other hand, means abandonment to imagination and using visionary visualising energy to breathe life, emotion, and interpretation into the past. She wants both aspects, but constantly experiences the one stepping in the way of the other.
Súsanna Helena Patursson one of a number of women writers in the national movement. She wrote the first Faroese theatre play, Veðurføst (Layover Because of Bad Weather), which was performed in 1889. She encouraged women to participate in the public discussion forum, to get an education, and she instructed them as to how house and home should be organised. She edited and published the first Faroese women’s magazine, Oyggjarnar (1905-08; The Islands), making housekeeping, interior design, and cooking recipes a national and political issue.Among Paturssons female successors may be counted women such as Billa Hansen, Andrea Reinert, and Maria Mikkelsen. While these women travelled out into the world in order to learn, get ideas and, not least, experience, Johanna Maria Skylv Hansen’s writing took her back to the old rural community.
From Rhymes to Reforms in Iceland
The Swedish press became an established medium during the eighteenth century. The second half of the century produced a number of periodicals expressly designed for a female readership; Frustugo Bibliothek, Fruntimmers-Tidningar (the Women’s News), Blad för Fruntimer (Magazine for Women), and many more. A number of these periodicals address the reader in what sounds like a female voice.The publishers and writers were, however, on the whole anonymous, hidden behind signatures and pseudonyms; games with a gender-crossing play on names were legion at the time. Male writers often adopted a female identity with a woman’s name, or wrote from a female position as woman’s intimate and best friend. Conversely, the legal and social circumstances were such that, in those cases where it actually was a woman wielding the pen, she was seldom able to sign the text in her own name.At the time of the launch of a literature that invited intimacy, addressed specifically to women readers, the female voice was thus often still disguised.
On Danish Eighteenth-Century Periodicals and Libraries
The Modern Breakthrough in Sweden