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.
The Norwegian author Herbjørg Wassmo made her debut as a poet in the 1970s, and has since written both drama and documentary literature. The five great novels that came out in the 1980s and 1990s have, in all their complexity and apparent differences, one overall theme: the neglected child. However, Herbjørg Wassmo’s intention was apparently not to criticise inadequate or unloving parents nor to castigate an alienating society in a modern sense. The actual conflict takes place at a deeper level.In addition to telling the story of the young and unfinished person in a complicated socialisation process, “the neglected children” represent primarily the “childhood injuries” we all carry around with us – regardless of age, time, and situation.
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.
Cecilie Løveid’s first three lyrical prose novels make a radical break from the social realist novel dominant in Norway in the 1970s. Løveid insists on her modernist aesthetics, in which fragments, collage, intertextuality, and polyphony are preferred to the codes of realism. Her fundamental affinity is with poetry, and because she remains a modernist poet no matter what genre she approaches, it becomes impossible for her to submit to a social realist idiom.The same is true of Kari Bøge, whose experimental debut work Asmorelda, from 1971, makes a radical break from the realistic narrative tradition and represents one of the first significant attempts at a new female modernist prose in Norway. Her insistence on an ahistorical individualism and an aesthetics of emptiness marks a departure from other women writers of the period around 1970. However, she also embarks on themes that were and are central to feminist-oriented writing: the question of identity, the relationship to the husband, and the relationship to writing.
Torborg Nedreaas made her publishing debut at a relatively late age – thirty-nine years old – with two collections of short stories. She was immediately recognised as a writer of note. The short story genre is as if made for her sure stylistic sense of sculpting a central event into a defined textual parameter. She is consistent in following her selected characters, always sticks to the chronology, and rarely plots parallel storylines. The reader should not be puzzled, reading should not be like solving a rebus, reasoned the author.She writes about outsiders and ordinary people under the yoke of war and capitalism, and she writes from various vantage points. She is concerned with the humbler members of the community, and these are often women and children – the weakest groups.She moves between the working class and the middle class, and major events such as the two World Wars and the inter-war period of the twentieth century form the foundation for her characters’ development and inter-personal relationships. The role of love in the individual’s prospects to act, to do something about personal circumstances and those of others, is always a central consideration.
In the course of a long life the Norwegian author and pastor’s wife Hanna Winsnes wrote – both for entertainment and edification – poetry and religious texts in verse, novels, short stories, and tales for children. She had no real artistic ambition, but liked to tell her ‘stories’ within the family circle and was always interested in the communication of ideas. Hanna Winsnes was well-read and well-versed in the literature of the past and of her modern day. Hanna Winsnes’s written world is generally harmonious and well-arranged, because she never expresses doubt as to the foundation for what is right and what is wrong. She repeatedly returns to the fact that love – between mother and child and between man and woman – along with belief in God and humility have the highest priority in life. Above all, Hanna Winsnes is famous, loved – and criticised – as Norway’s cookbook writer. From its very first edition in 1845, her Lærebog i de forskjellige Grene af Huusholdningen (A Guide to the Various Aspects of Housekeeping) proved to be popular reading.
In earlier times the folktales known as “Narrationes Lubricae”, salacious stories, were narrated by adult informants in the rural areas of Norway, in the villages. There are many women registered among the adult informants. The crude stories were/are by no means the sole reserve of male company.We know the names of approximately two-thirds of those who narrated the comic erotic material, and of these exactly one half are women. This is perhaps surprising. Many consider the folktale and, one would have thought, the cruder type in particular, to be more of a male-centric form. We connect female informants primarily with ballads, in which music and aesthetics are in the foreground.