With her remarkable debut novel Tjärdalen (1953; The Tar Kiln), Sara Lidman laid the ground for a magnificent literary world, to which her oeuvre remained faithful. Her novels are constructed around a multitude of people, united in the village. Usually this village is situated in Norrland, on the outskirts of civilisation, but it has scions in Africa and Vietnam. Its characteristics are poverty and exploitation – but at the same time it is presented as a strangely rich collective.In terms of themes, tough questions of guilt and treason are raised, but they are wrapped in a loving, forgiving narrative, in a continued balancing act between law and grace. At times, Sara Lidman’s main contribution was only partly that of the author. Just as important was the debater, the playwright, and above all the political speaker Sara Lidman. She appears in an unusual combination of being fact-oriented yet in possession of an emotional language, a mixture of the front reporter and the Canticles. Exemplary, loved, and hated.
In the 1980s, the historical novel, a centuries-old favourite among female readers, underwent a process of serious revision. The female heroes were brought up to date. The heroines were adapted to the contemporary world, and together with the new romance literature, the new feminist historical novel captured the interest of women readers.New women writers throughout the Nordic region began to write about hidden, forgotten, overlooked, or entirely unknown women from past centuries, and the books were welcomed by huge audiences (and by reviewers) with such overwhelming interest that it began to look like just the genre for which they had all been searching for so many years.
In Greenland and the Sami Language Area, women’s modern literary production began with the political trends in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Greenland and northern Scandinavia were discovered as regions, and the Greenlandic and Sami peoples began to view themselves as ethnic minorities: no longer must they feel inferior to the dominating cultures, now the people’s own voice should be heard in its own language.A new generation of writers emerged in protest against the cultural invasion of the Danes, the Norwegians, and so on, and the women also got involved. This was the same period as the decade of the women’s movement. Women writers in Greenland, Kalaallit Nunaat, and the Sami Language Area, Sápmi, made their entry on the literary stage.
With the Hilke Thorhus books, Kim Småge created a predecessor to what would, both nationally and internationally, explode as an independent genre in the 1980s and 90s: crime novels with female main characters. She truly made a name for herself in the traditionally male-dominated field of Norwegian crime literature. Kim Småge and the women who followed in her footsteps have shown that the woman’s point of view can both enrich and rejuvenate crime intrigue.Since her debut in 1983, Elin Brodin has been a prolific prose writer, writing not only novels but also books for children and young adults, as well as debate books. Her socially critical involvement spans from criticism of conditions for children and young people, through treatment of drug addiction and disease. Thematically, she focuses on the problem of evil in a culture without norms and in which violence and destruction of nature prevail. Her project is to crush idealism.The works of Mari Osmundsen (pseudonym for Anne Kristine Halling) in many ways resemble those of Elin Brodin. As politically conscious cultural critics, they are both concerned with issues such as human suffering and guilt in our modern, alienating society, and they are both solidly planted in the literary tradition of social realism. But whereas Elin Brodin writes about disasters, Mari Osmundsen appears to be more concerned with communicating a belief that even the most insignificant person can mobilise an unfathomable strength and love.
Inge Eriksen, who lives in constantly critical confrontation with the doctrines of 1968, may also be the Danish author and cultural personality who most consistently promotes the world view of the 1970s. She perceives the world politically, and has been involved in the Danish and international debate regardless of whether it concerned international politics, cultural visions, or the potential of the science fiction genre. With all her criticism, she has remained champion of the whole life, and her novels always navigate between politics, drama, aesthetics, and passion.Another Danish writer, Grete Roulund, had a sharp eye for Western culture. Her tough style, which confused the critics so much that they doubted her gender, was rooted in the body- and gender-consciousness of the 1970s, but the orchestration was new. The tone in Grethe Roulund’s stories is tough, but also filled with unsentimental and dark humour. The texts are less interested in empathy with the victims than in the psychology and ethics that can be studied in the both unfeeling and tormented men. Violence and brutality represent the sickness of a culture that in its fear of the foreigners, of the opposite sex, and of death must constantly face its own downfall.
The Danish author Jette Drewsen’s work from the 1970s has become a symbol of the upheaval in literature, politics, and private life which the new women’s movement sparked. Her novels are about, and speak to, the newly conscious middle-class woman; they gave rise to discussions about the new form of women’s literature and its message – and over time they became reflections on a female aesthetic which is under constant change.Whereas Jette Drewsen’s women throughout her 70s novels find a survival strategy, Anne Marie Ejrnæs begins her writing career with two novels about women whose lives fall apart due to the gap between ideals and social reality. The crisis is a central, and by now not wholly negative, concept in her oeuvre, which in latter years displays a particular interest in history.
On the New Language-Conscious Literature of the 60s and 70s
Throughout her long and popular writing career, Martha Christensen built on social realism and a critical involvement in how society treats the weak. In her stories, the social system itself becomes a powerful character that prevails over individual will.Martha Christensen’s critical socio-psychology is not directly political in the same way as Dea Trier Mørch’s stories about the relationship between the individual and society. In her work, the system becomes the necessary organisation and the holistic entity that forms cohesion in individuals’ lives and takes care of them. However, her attitudes and her entire body of work are a critical depiction of the modern welfare society and its view of humanity.Her texts remain within the social structure she criticises, whereas the critic of modernism Anne Marie Løn, following her urban novel Veras vrede (1982; Vera’s Anger), journeys through time, the country, and other types of social life in her search for a positive counterpart to the destructive city.
The Welfare Society Viewed from Below
Social criticism and new consciousness in Norwegian women’s literature of the 1970s.