The New Women’s Forum of the 70s
In 1909, the battle for women’s suffrage is raging. From London Elin Wägner covered “the greatest movement the world has ever seen”, the Fourth Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance. She was the most indefatigable opponent of the Swedish patriarchy for four decades.Her first memorable work was Pennskaftet (1910; Eng. tr. Penwoman), a novel that became a bible for “the new woman”. But Wägner is not alone. Selma Lagerlöf and Ellen Key are among the many Swedish women writers who join the struggle for women’s suffrage, and their authorships undergo a transformation in the heat of battle.
Súsanna Helena Patursson one of a number of women writers in the national movement. She wrote the first Faroese theatre play, Veðurføst (Layover Because of Bad Weather), which was performed in 1889. She encouraged women to participate in the public discussion forum, to get an education, and she instructed them as to how house and home should be organised. She edited and published the first Faroese women’s magazine, Oyggjarnar (1905-08; The Islands), making housekeeping, interior design, and cooking recipes a national and political issue.Among Paturssons female successors may be counted women such as Billa Hansen, Andrea Reinert, and Maria Mikkelsen. While these women travelled out into the world in order to learn, get ideas and, not least, experience, Johanna Maria Skylv Hansen’s writing took her back to the old rural community.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
Female writers of the Romantic movement did not have the academic training in literary tradition enjoyed by the majority of their male colleagues; this did not, however, mean that they approached literature with no prior aptitude whatsoever. If anything, being voracious readers they were stuffed with the male writers’ descriptions of the world and of themselves. They had an overwhelming urge to supplement and correct these pictures of women and the world according to their own minds. The female writers displayed a strong sense of having something new to tell.They were, naturally, aware that they were inscribing themselves in a literary institution that neither bid them welcome to the profession nor accepted their texts as authoritative. It was not easy to win readers for the images of woman and world that the female writers were attempting to project. Furthermore, the gender dualism and idealisation of intimate sphere-femininity of romanticism meant that the women writers struggled to integrate their writing self in their female self-image.
Under her pseudonym ‘Harold Gote’ (Harold the Goth: the Gothic/Nordic herald), Frida Stéenhoff was to present some of the most progressive and radical contributions to the period’s debate about society and about women. Due to her visions of a gender-equal and classless society, she became “the timber owners’ and the wholesalers’ bête noire”. However, Frida Stéenhoff’s wish was not only to expose the period’s sexism in her texts. It was just as important to her to formulate strategies that would bring about change. One of her main points was that motherhood can only be harmonious if the woman is able to support herself. Her works of fiction bear resemblance to the programmatic pamphlet and the predictable one-party plea, and this is to the detriment of its aesthetic effect. Nevertheless, her fiction and her pamphlets form an important link in Nordic women’s literature. Thanks to her avant-garde voice, these works helped to advance the woman’s position, and Frida Stéenhoff became one of the leading feminist theoreticians around the turn of the century.
In texts by female authors, work can often be combined with love and marriage, no matter whether the woman chooses regular paid employment or whether she, as is more frequently the case, becomes her husband’s partner or colleague. If, on the other hand, the woman chooses an artistic profession, the difficulties immediately begin to mount.“Female authors and artists are whores”, August Strindberg wrote in a letter to Ola Hansson. When the woman leaves her sheltered position in the home and steps out into the public sphere to sell her product, and thereby also herself, to an anonymous and paying audience, she is looked upon as being everybody’s woman, a prostitute.The conflict between love and art, between duty and calling, and between everyday life and life as an artist is a theme that recurs, with variations, in the works of the female authors of the 1880s, and one that is often presented on the backdrop of the stage and with an actress or a female singer as the main character.
The Modern Breakthrough in Sweden