In the 1960s, the strong Icelandic ‘rímur’ (rhymes or ballads) tradition made way for a ‘free form’ modern poetry, which itself was part of an international revolution within poetic language. At the age of nineteen, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir appeared at the crossroads between modernism and the 1970s confrontation with modernism’s inaccessibility.Her authorship has received a lot of attention, and is characterised by a unique lightness and linguistic playfulness. The combination of isolation with a many-sided self, a theme that occasionally emerges in her poems and prose works, is the result of a reflection on time, its nature, and its transitoriness. In this way, a search for time goes hand in hand with a search for the self. Today, Steinunn Sigurðardóttir is a beacon of Icelandic literature. Her thematic concerns have been picked up by other Icelandic writers, including Vigdís Grímsdóttir and Álfrún Gunnlaugsdóttir.
Norwegian poet Eldrid Lunden made her debut in 1968 with the poetry collection f.eks. juli (July for instance), a brazen new book that challenged the established conventions of Norwegian poetry. She is a pioneer among the feminist poets who explore language as a mechanism of power, as well as exploring the possibilities of the poetic form.Eldrid Lunden often associates femininity with metaphors involving water, rain, mucus, and mouths; whereas masculinity is connoted by “tougher” metaphors such as cars, insects, and the pulse. In Lunden’s texts, however, this rhetorical interaction is also open and dynamic. In fact, one of the key aspects of her poetry is to avoid fixed meaning, and instead break down the conventional perceptions that can cement the gender role pattern. Movement, music, and melancholy, but also rebellion, flow like a blue wave through Eldrid Lunden’s work: nothing is allowed to settle down in this language; poetry is eternally impatient.
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.
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.
Finnish female authors were active participants in the 1930s discussion of birth control and abortion that gathered momentum during the early years of the Depression. Katuojan vettä, the first popular success by novelist Helvi Hämäläinen, was a plea for motherhood as a natural event in the course of a woman’s life. Hämäläinen’s demands on behalf of motherhood combined with a satisfying sex life approach Ellen Key’s ideal.Ruumiin ikävä (1930; The Body’s Yearnings) by Iris Uurto is about a woman who leaves her husband. Such a bold depiction of sexuality by a young female author scandalised conservative cultural circles. Her description of instinct and the libido were inspired by the new psychology of the age. Inevitably, her books were fodder for 1930s controversies about morals in literature.
The socially conscious Swedish writer Moa Martinson, The enfant terrible of the welfare state for two decades, her first name was a household word. The sexual, historical, and psychological projects that inform Martinson’s writing are closely intertwined. Much of her fiction documents the awareness of working-class women during a time of great social unrest when the labour movement became a force to reckon with and class consciousness manifested in organised forms, and can also be read as a feminist critique of the failure of the labour movement to demand social reforms for women.Making the fertile body of a woman the centre around which the literary material is organised was new to Swedish literature. Most of Martinson’s female characters are strong but ambivalent. They are bound to their biological destiny but strive to transcend it. She encountered opposition from the critics for her unpolished portrayals of women’s bodies and sexuality. Placing sexuality in the foreground allowed her to depict women’s existential condition.
All of Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s works revolve around the feelings of coercion, desperation, and revolt that the world of her childhood fostered. Her quest took her from the depressive chronicle of mental breakdown to a utopian dream of redemptive femininity.Her novels ask questions that women living through a period of sexual transition found both difficult and urgent: what role did sexuality play in female identity? How could women arrive at a life-affirming sensuality, free from the inherited baggage of sexual paranoia, misogyny, and denial of female desire? The strength of her storytelling is the ability to portray repressed and forbidden feelings, the secret of its suggestiveness and appeal, as well as its power to offend, alarm, and disgust the reader.
In the early 1950s one of the great oeuvres in Swedish literature was initiated when the young Birgitta Trotzig published Ur de älskandes liv (1951; Out of the Lives of Lovers). The novel contains a striving to reach beyond the limitations of the I, to reach the You that is indispensable to life, and this will remain the basic theme and stylistic movement of Trotzig’s works. Is not Birgitta Trotzig really a lyricist? The most intense parts of her work take the shape of poetic prose fragments or of lyrical vision. But narrating the “path between birth and death” stands as a necessity. “The great problem is terribly simple. A brief run between birth and death. That human life should be a community of love. Why doesn’t this exist?” she writes in the essay “Hållpunkter, hösten 1975” (“Fixed Points, Autumn 1975”). This attention to the progression of life as a whole is found in all her stories.
Swedish author Sonja Åkesson made her debut in 1957 with Situationer (Situations) and published one other collection during the 1950s. In the early works her writing style wavered between the refined metaphors of nature- and village-poetry and the grotesques depicting human nature that she would later develop. In August 1960 she co-authored the manifesto “Front mot formens tyranni” (Front Against the Tyranny of Form), which was an important step out of the Modernism of the 1950s towards the Realism of the 1960s. Sonja Åkesson found her own special tone within the frame of the new simple aesthetic through inspiration from Concretism. Her dominating style is a raw, narrating realism. The characters passing through her poems deliver a lively narrative about other people. But the satire of society is just as important a genre for Sonja Åkesson as the character portraits. The most conspicuous trait in Sonja Åkesson’s works is her grotesque irony.
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