The authors of ecclesiastical history tend to be theologians and church leaders. Traditionally speaking, they are usually men, and women play a relatively obscure role in their writings. But many women were active in the multitude of revival movements that sprang up in the nineteenth century. New structures gave rise to different kinds of literature, and the spiritual currents of the Nordic countries rippled with female writers, hymnists, and preachers.As a major ingredient of Norwegian spiritual and cultural life, Haugianism was one of the many Nordic revival movements that emerged in the nineteenth century. Haugianism paved the way for Camilla Collett’s indefatigable struggle and for other forces of women’s liberation in Norway.
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.
The New Women’s Forum of the 70s
The work of collecting material from the oral tradition of nineteenth-century Finland received financial support from the government and resulted in one of the world’s largest collections, not only of oral poetry, but also of women’s poetry. At least half of the recorded texts come from women: female singers and narrators.The collection efforts focused on content; rarely was any attention paid to the bearers of the tradition – the people who sang the songs or told the tales. We know that many were women, but virtually all of them remained anonymous and faceless.This article will only look at part of the extensive tradition: the ancient runes, documented in Kalevala meter (lyrical poems and ballads), and itkuvirsi (lamentations), which were sung exclusively by women. In all, there are approximately 145,000 texts in the first group, and approximately 3000 in the second.
By the mid-1790s the Swedish author Anna Maria Lenngren was already a major name. She bridged the two great literary golden ages in the history of Swedish literature: on the one side, the Gustavian epoch, and on the other side, Romanticism, which had its breakthrough in 1809.Between 1793 and 1800, Anna Maria Lenngren wrote one-hundred-and-twenty poems. Thereafter, they flowed more sparsely from her pen. In 1800, the Swedish Academy awarded her an annual pension. In 1798, she began preparing a list of the texts that might be considered for inclusion in a collected edition of her works. Her proud programmatic poem “Invocation”, published in 1809, which outlined her aesthetics and was addressed to Apollo, would suggest that she took her writing most seriously. If all that her lyre has produced is “capricious fancy”, she says in the final stanza, then it deserves to be crushed! It is a highly self-assured and self-important voice speaking, and in the face of incipient Romanticism’s “delirium” the voice asks for Enlightenment “courage”.
The Female Pattern in Folk Poetry and Folklore Collection
Even though much Nordic ballad tradition of the last four hundred and more years has been lost, the surviving tradition represents an overwhelming amount of source material. The intense registration and publication work undertaken during the last century and a half has resulted in an overview of the Nordic tradition.The extensive corpus of material on which these editions are based contains songs that were sung by and about women. From the host of female singers, collectors, and scribes, we will here select ballads dealing with women’s personal and fundamental experiences – experiences with critical bearing on family and lineage.
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.