In Norway of the 1910s and 1920s there was a now hidden and forgotten undergrowth of erotic poetry written by women such as Halldis Moren Vesaas, Aslaug Vaa, and Inger Hagerup. Exploration of erotic psychology and gender identity is an ongoing theme. This could indicate a feeling of alienation – but this feeling is productive in terms of the poetry, being a stance from which new female lyrical expression takes shape.The thematic tension in the poems often lies in the draw of ecstasy in a total love symbiosis and the simultaneous desire for personal independent identity. The springboard, the ideology brought by women to encounters with love, is the expectation of complete happiness, of sexual, emotional, and intellectual self-realisation. The feeling of alienation and dissonance emerges when the male opposite party does not fulfil the expectations, the tone becomes resigned or accusatory, and at times masochistic.
Torborg Nedreaas made her publishing debut at a relatively late age – thirty-nine years old – with two collections of short stories. She was immediately recognised as a writer of note. The short story genre is as if made for her sure stylistic sense of sculpting a central event into a defined textual parameter. She is consistent in following her selected characters, always sticks to the chronology, and rarely plots parallel storylines. The reader should not be puzzled, reading should not be like solving a rebus, reasoned the author.She writes about outsiders and ordinary people under the yoke of war and capitalism, and she writes from various vantage points. She is concerned with the humbler members of the community, and these are often women and children – the weakest groups.She moves between the working class and the middle class, and major events such as the two World Wars and the inter-war period of the twentieth century form the foundation for her characters’ development and inter-personal relationships. The role of love in the individual’s prospects to act, to do something about personal circumstances and those of others, is always a central consideration.
War casts long shadows across post-1945 Norwegian literature, and the work of Gunvor Hofmo should be read from the perspective of a broken reality. But Gunvor Hofmo’s poetry is not based purely on the experience of war and post-war; it deals just as much with human conflicts linked to body and gender. Her literary output projects a polarised and dissonant world picture in which the child and the woman are under the man, and the poet is under God.The world is not the only thing to be laid in ruins in her writings – the body is too. Her first five collections not only presented the suffering, but also the passion. The next fifteen not only show the sacrifice of the body, but also the poetry of the soul. From the pain of the body there rises a voice of poetry. This dialectical tension between soul and body is the essence of Gunvor Hofmo’s poetry.
In the work of writers in 1930s Denmark connected to the arts journal Linien – such as Hulda Lütken and Bodil Bech – the power and expressivity, the new, demanding ego that was given voice in Södergran’s writing, first made its mark. In their writings, inspiration from Södergran is seen as an intense provocation of the traditional late-Romantic verse language and poetic fixtures.It is tempting to say that the Södergran influence takes their writing to the verge of breakdown, whereas the third woman poet of the 1930s, Tove Meyer, lives and writes for long enough to accomplish the difficult manoeuvre out of late-Romanticism and into a new modernist style.
Author and journalist Elin Wägner was a central character in the struggle for women’s suffrage in Sweden, and she was committed to pacifism. She wrote around twenty novels, a handful of short story collections, and many radio plays, wherein she over and over again argued that women had to emancipate themselves so that they could “find a form of their own.”
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.
After she liberates herself from the inspiration from Herman Bang and from her husband’s ‘guardianship’, the author Karin Michaëlis finds the combination of epistolary and diary novel that she would go on to develop into her sphere of excellence. She becomes famous, and much in demand for public lectures. With the outbreak of the First World War, however, Karin Michaëlis simply had to reach for her journalist’s pen. As reporter, she makes no secret of her contempt for war, and calls attention to the enormous human costs.As a reporter, she carefully chooses her figurative language, and can for once give free rein to the pathos which, in her fiction, must constantly be held in check. She consigned the myth of the good mother to the grave. The portraits of real-life damaged women and the visions showing children as levers for a new world are rooted in the indignant pathos that was the weakness at the beginning of her writing career, but which later became its strength.
The post-1814 world was a different place. The dual realm Denmark-Norway was dissolved, and Norway entered a union with Sweden. Women’s diaries from the period tell of daily life under the dramatic historical changes. One direct motivation for the women to write their memoirs was often the next generation’s wish for first-hand knowledge of the past.The oldest of the memoir-writers chronicle everyday life and the march of history, and often speak directly to their children or to other close relatives. These reminiscences are intended for the private sphere; they have no literary ambitions. Other memoirists had the public domain in mind. The best-known of these was Camilla Collett. Her work Amtmandens Døttre sounded the starting signal for women authors, and was Norway’s first major realist novel.