Existential Resistance Stories
Tales from the Outskirts of Society
“The first Bomb detonated at the ‘Trinity’ site was called a ‘baby’. When the scientific fathers of the Manhattan-project telegraphed President Truman after the ‘birth’ on 16 July 1945, the telegram read: ‘The child was well-shaped’. The bomb dropped on Hiroshima was called ‘Little Boy’. And today they are creating ‘fifth generation’ rockets,” writes Norwegian author and psychologist Wera Sæther in 1985.Can such a ‘civilisation’ ever be saved? Only with the language of love, Wera Sæther thinks, can evil be conquered and life worshipped – in place of death. In this striving, man and woman are not separated from each other: only by a united effort can powerlessness be conquered.
A Literary Debate on Motherhood
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.
Stina Aronson, who published seventeen books, is best known for her depictions of life in the ‘wasteland’ of Norrbotten province. She acquired a wide readership with her novel Hitom himlen (1946; This Side of Heaven) after many years of a distinguished writing career. Among the innovative features of Aronson’s tales from northern Sweden is the paucity of plot in the generally accepted sense of the word. Discovery of the world, its serenity and sudden horror, is the primary event.The greatest inner tension in Aronson’s later works is between the modernist description of the world and a moral or ethical attitude towards it. Aronson’s stories of northern Sweden offer the gift of resonance that transforms alien silence into familiar intimacy, which somehow remains fundamentally unknown and unknowable.
One of Astrid Lindgren’s most effective techniques is to let imagination engulf reality. The interpretation of the world by a ‘lying’ child triumphs. The most extravagant childish dream of omnipotence comes true in the story of Pippi. With irrefutable logic, Lindgren demonstrates what a solitary child needs to avoid being crushed in a world of hard-headed pragmatism.Most of Lindgren’s writing inhabits the borderland of reality and fantasy. While some of her works are demonstrably realistic, they are nevertheless about the ability of fanciful children to live in a world of play and imagination. Lindgren’s sensitivity to children’s feelings and perspectives, along with her uncompromising willingness to take their side, is a modernist trait that links her work to the radical psychology of permissive child rearing that made inroads in Sweden between the wars.
Many women writers in Sweden in the 1970s wanted to speak for themselves and deliver testimony of their own experiences in their own voice. In order to achieve this, they recreated an old genre, the confessional novel, which can trace its ancestry back as far as Augustine’s Confessiones (Eng. tr. Confessions) from approximately 400 AD, and whose modern form was shaped by Rousseau. The confessional novel continued the documentarism of the 1960s. The reportage book that had then treated of the larger spheres of life, with travel books and sociological depictions of social classes and spaces, was now turned to depicting the intimate sphere of life: the home, feelings, and personal development. Just as it was important in the 1960s to document personal participation and research, so in the 1970s it was equally important that described experiences and adventures were absolutely authentic. Where the ideal of the 1960s was objective depiction, the 1970s becomes the decade of subjective representation. Fiction makes claims to authenticity.
The writing of Rut Hillarp is suffused by refined erotic mysticism, far from the primitivist sexual Romanticism of the 1930s modernists. Her kinship with the Swedish erotic poet Erik Johan Stagnelius, their vacillation “between spiritual sensuality and sensual spirituality”, their eroticised experience of life. But the glue that ultimately holds Hillarp’s poems together is the “now”.She has been compared with both Edith Södergran for her erotic poetry and Karin Boye for her sexually charged spirituality. The ultimate objective is guilelessness. The experience of pain and ecstasy is a means of becoming more receptive.
Female poets of the early twentieth century discreetly described sexual experiences in terms of grass that smoulders or is flattened like a mat beneath the lovers. Eventually, the euphemisms grew unnecessary and Eros’ significance to a generation of female poets becomes obvious in the work of Berit Spong, Ingeborg Björklund, Greta Knutson, Martha Larsson, Maria Wine, Ingeborg Erixson, and Elsa Grave, among others.