In the 1950s and 1960s a series of women writers took centre stage in Nordic literature. They stood forth as full-fledged modernists and they were greeted with ovations. They rewrite the isolation of modernism, but though they position themselves at the forefront of the literary stage, they place their literature at the service of the outsider.They write themselves into the tradition where the poet is a stranger on the outskirts of society, but they also place themselves outside this literary tradition and constantly butt their heads against its accepted definitions, symbols, and use of language. A common theme is the culturally marginalised, that which among post-war and even more among post-modernist philosophers has been defined as ‘the female’.
Many contemporary women writers appear caught up in a paradox of form: on the one hand, women in contemporary literature create literary aesthetics that navigate the boundaries of genres and forms, and that do so by virtue of the subject matter and themes they work with; on the other hand, women writers are constantly evaluated in relation to relatively traditionally defined norms and expectations.Unless it is a matter of a handful of sanctioned geniuses, the most valuable literary efforts of women are still preferably accorded to their subject matter, which is more than welcome to break taboos and be daring or controversial. The aesthetic value of prose works is rarely associated with the form of the works.
In the history of Swedish literature, Hedvig Charlotta Nordenflycht is usually credited with introducing subjective poetry. She was the first writer in Swedish literature to view her writing as a vocation, an assignment, a cultural calling in itself. This is in turn linked to her status as one of the first Swedish cultural personages to live by her pen. As Levertin writes of Mrs Nordenflycht: “She is the first modern individual in Swedish literature.”Throughout her writing career, Mrs Nordenflycht pleaded for an improvement in women’s status. She spent much time and energy refuting the contention of women’s weakness, demonstrating that the woman is just as mentally capable as the man, and arguing that she, like him, should be permitted to use her abilities and mental powers.
If nineteenth-century women could not become pastors and if they could not without conflict devote themselves to intellectual work, the closest they could come to the pulpit was by way of writing hymns. Lina Sandell called herself “a good scribe’s pen”, an expression that combines lack of pretence with high self-esteem. The hymn-books of the free-church communities came to be, and still are, totally dominated by Lina Sandell, beginning with the first edition of Pilgrimsharpan (1861; The Pilgrim’s Harp).In order to create a female tradition, the female Christian writers were looking for models among the figures of the Bible. Together with Charlotte af Tibell, Lina Sandell wrote the book Bibelns qvinnor (The Women of the Bible), and Betty Ehrenborg-Posse chose the Bible’s Deborah, Miriam, and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist as her models. These learned and poetical women, she thought, had been authorised by God to write spiritual songs, even though some might consider this task to pertain exclusively to the clergy. But the position she obtained offered more room for her preaching than she would ever have had as a pastor.