In Swedish women’s prose of the 1980s, we find an attitude that is focused on the self and is explicitly critical of language, as well as a thematisation and revision of monstrous and angelic traits that relate to the tradition of women’s literature.
During the 1970s, Agneta Pleijel was one of the leaders of the generation of critics that stood up for a new literature that was to be better adapted to society. Like Anna Westberg, she takes her starting point in the aesthetics and ethical ideals that were prevalent in the 1970s. But where the ethical ideals were maintained through the oeuvres of both Pleijel and Westberg, an almost immediate distancing from the predominant realistic aesthetics took place.In the beginning of the 1980s their style became far more tentative and fragmentary. They abandoned objectivity and surrendered instead to a more lofty tone and deeper resonance in their works, which were initially light and optimistic about development and now gradually darken.
The Women Writer’s Group in Ostrobothnia
The focus of women’s works shifted from the sexual aspects of motherhood in the 1930s to children as the targets of wanton violence during the war. The time had come, they thought, to manifest the responsibility for society that Fredrika Bremer and Ellen Key had posited as women’s contribution to civilisation. The focus had shifted, however, from pleading the cause of women to that of children.The focus on children and the social responsibility of mothers was the last attempt by modern women writers to launch a new ethic of human relations and envisage a political utopia of peace. The broad-based, multi-genre effort did not dissipate until the 1960s when motherhood was stripped of its revolutionary content and redefined as either autocratic or powerless. Female characters assumed the position of helpless children in relation to men, and militant mothers were relegated to the status of frustrated housewives.
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.
War casts long shadows across post-1945 Norwegian literature, and the work of Gunvor Hofmo should be read from the perspective of a broken reality. But Gunvor Hofmo’s poetry is not based purely on the experience of war and post-war; it deals just as much with human conflicts linked to body and gender. Her literary output projects a polarised and dissonant world picture in which the child and the woman are under the man, and the poet is under God.The world is not the only thing to be laid in ruins in her writings – the body is too. Her first five collections not only presented the suffering, but also the passion. The next fifteen not only show the sacrifice of the body, but also the poetry of the soul. From the pain of the body there rises a voice of poetry. This dialectical tension between soul and body is the essence of Gunvor Hofmo’s poetry.
In 1937 Tove Ditlevsen first had a poem published. The poem can be read as an allegory of her writing career, which was to produce one of the most significant bodies of work written by a woman in the Danish post-war period. Underneath the extremely simple surface, the poem anticipates recurring themes such as female identity, memory, and creativity. Loss of childhood, and especially of the symbiotic relationship to the mother, is the foundation of Tove Ditlevsen’s melancholy poetics.Her writing is one long memory process, first in the form of fiction, but gradually also in essays with an autobiographical reference point and in essayistic fragments of memory, until she published her autobiographical works proper. Once the autobiographical material had been exhausted and all the key characters in her childhood universe – her mother, her father, and her brother – were dead and her husband had left her, Tove Ditlevsen ended her life as she had presaged.