Existential Resistance Stories
Aase Hansen and Ellen Raae belonged to a generation of women for whom citizenship had been won, but the victory did not feel like a personal triumph. Along with writers such as Johanne Buchardt, Ellen Duurloo, children’s book author Estrid Ott, working-class writer Caja Rude, and Karen Bjerresø, they comprise a group interested in and troubled by the interplay between women’s demands on life and the new age as promise and threat.This is a group of writers whose fate in the annals of literary history has largely been one of silence.
Sweden was the first among the Nordic countries to allow women access to a university education. Female students ostensibly lived under the same conditions as their male counterparts: they shared ideas, instructors, visions of the future. In reality their situations could not have been more at odds. Men were the beneficiaries of longstanding traditions and the innate right to public support. Like extraterrestrial creatures, women found themselves in an alien world. Women asked themselves whether they should try to blend in and focus on what they had in common with men or accentuate their own special qualities. In the 1880s and early 1890s, any term or concept suggesting that they somehow deviated from the norm was scrupulously avoided. Just before the turn of the century, they switched strategy, placing ‘femininity’ in the spotlight and adding the notion of ‘difference’ to their repertoire. The tide turned in 1896, the year Ellen Key published Missbrukad kvinnokraft (Misused Female Power). Demands for emancipation and equal opportunity were supplanted by the concept that women should enrich society and culture with their unique qualities. Love and emotional liberation took centre stage. Women acquired a fresh sense of dignity, as well as new responsibilities, by virtue of their gender. And the women academics of the time did not remain unaffected.