With the Modern Breakthrough in the Nordic region in the 1880s, feverish female activity could be perceived everywhere. Women joined together in national women’s societies, working doggedly and energetically to put women’s issues on the agenda of the legislative authorities in order to ensure the implementation of laws. Writing in newspapers, journals, and literary works, it was young middle-class women – well-versed in languages, conversation, and good manners – who presented issues pertaining to women’s status as a social problem.Many women writers of the Modern Breakthrough experienced the new departure in the form of personal and artistic failure. They broke their backs or their pens on the modern paradox. But the emancipation project was not abandoned. For the women who continued to write for the rest of the century, and for those who made their debut around the turn of the century, the tension between ideals and disillusion, between movement and moment, was merely put in a different form.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
The women authors of the late nineteenth century wrote in league with and as challenge to the women’s movement. The most self-assured of the women writers could be publicly involved in well-defined key issues such as electoral rights for women, and in private would form unofficial networks with other women, for example in a weekly salon where they could discuss matters of doubt.These were women who did not pigeonhole moral conduct, for the very reason that they were open and therefore deeply affected by the change in mindset that triggered the controversy about morality: the sexualisation of gender. Very few of the women writers therefore spoke out in the ideological dispute. Instead, they used fiction to find their bearings in the state of womanhood. And here, they shaped a different and more dangerous picture of female sexuality than the clichés put on display in the public debate.
Hiding behind the pseudonym Stella Kleve was Mathilda Kruse, a young woman from the south-Swedish province of Scania who was later to be known as the author Mathilda Malling. She was well-educated and widely-travelled; and she wanted to follow the newest trends in her writing – her pseudonym became synonymous with loose morals.Her portraits of women provoked the public. This was something she was absolutely conscious of: she wanted to write about the modern woman who knows herself and her sexual desire, and who is even capable of controlling, coldly and calculatingly, the game between the sexes.Stella Kleve’s women were indeed playing on the very verge of the forbidden. This is why it is tempting to read her portraits as female counterparts to the decadent male heroes in the contemporary literature in, for example, England, France, and, of course, the other Nordic countries. Or, why not: as a female challenge to the mostly male-dominated modern literature.
The Modern Breakthrough in Sweden