The Cultural Duality of Emigrant Literature
Modernism and Women in post-war Norwegian Poetry
Elsa Gress’s pen is, in her own word, heretical. The root cause and partial explanation for the repeated theme of being left out is a reflection of her personal experience of feeling like the odd one out, of feeling misunderstood, of speaking but not being heard. In her books of memoirs, the enforced feeling of otherness during her childhood and adolescence is seen as the background against which she establishes herself in the role of “professional outsider”.Her writing career is characterised by the clash between wanting to maintain a marginal position – being an outsider, who sees more clearly – and wanting to be heard and understood. That a woman writer, and particularly a woman who participates in the public debate, will be subject to prejudice is, in Elsa Gress’s view, a fate common to women who pick up a pen.Her own works were either praised as being “just as substantial and perceptive as a man’s” or she was called “acutely malicious as only an intelligent woman can be”. As castigator of society, culture, and gender, she certainly made sure the readers were “listening” – but she did not get them to toe her line.
“My entire being has almost been shattered by the overwhelming power of love.” The power of love in this 11 November 1918 diary entry by Finnish author Aino Kallas was the very wellspring of her artistry.Maila Talvio’s writing found itself at the epicentre of the Nordic debate about sexual morality and was inspired by Ellen Key and others. Beneath the concept of enlightenment and liberation, however, lurks a coherent narrative of sexual fear, pessimism, and longing for death.
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.
Gender and Class in Icelandic Women’s Literature of the 1970s
A single woman, Arnfríður Jónatansdóttir, ought to be counted among the modernist group of Icelandic writers known as the Atom Poets. Her poems display the same characteristics: they are written in free form, in a concentrated language, and she makes free use of imagery.Before the emergence of the Atom Poets numerous other poets had straddled the divide between tradition and innovation, and many female poets had merged the old and the new in their poetry. This holds true of authors such as Sigríður Einars frá Munaðarnesi and Halldóra B. Björnsson. But the positioning of them, within Icelandic literary history is not a straightforward matter, and this problem illustrates their poetic conflicts.It is as though they are, themselves, in doubt about their position; they want to prove themselves within a tradition to which they do not, in fact, belong, and they are at the same time filled with enthusiasm for the free-form poetry. They gave themselves whole-heartedly to the new, liberated poetry after having demonstrated, in their debuts, their mastery of the traditional craft – rhyming, alliterative poems in a strict, rhythmical form.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
It was the capitalisation of societal economy that created a sympathetic ear to Nathalie Zahle’s ideas on education; the schools she set up over the years were pioneering in their endeavours to qualify women to meet the needs entailed by this change. It required women to be able to support themselves, to have knowledge and education.In accordance with this, women of the Modern Breakthrough constructed their novels as a process of cultivation. That this seldom succeeded, that their Bildungsromans turned into ‘breakdown’ novels, is not because they were bad writers, far from it, but because the novels reflect the twofold nature of modernity: liberation to exercise personal authority is simultaneously a setting at liberty, a loss of control.Erna Juel-Hansen, characteristically, came closest to filling the genre – of all the female Modern Breakthrough writers, she had the greatest confidence in headway being made. Her Bildungsromans are buoyed by an optimistic belief in the possibility of liberation and a will to – despite everything – project a whole female identity.
When the Danish author Magdalene Thoresen let Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson publish her first book Digte af en Dame (Poems by a Lady) the ‘women’s question’ had long been a topic of political debate and a literary theme. Her oeuvre, which would soon prove to be one of the most extensive and significant of the period, addressed the issue in its own particular larger-than-life way, blending some of the most patriarchal notions of Romanticism with aspects of the new cultural departures of the decades to come.The focus of Thoresen’s works is the depiction of nature and people in the Norway that became her adopted country. Her biggest popular success was the two-volume ‘travelogue’ from the northernmost area, Billeder fra Midnatsolens Land (Pictures from the Land of the Midnight Sun). She achieved her greatest success, in the opinion of reviewers and readers, with her travel books, but these did not represent her main genre. Most of her literary output falls within two other genres: the ‘peasant tale’ and the realistic contemporary drama.