From 1910 until 1922, Gyrithe Lemche was a leading light of the Danish women’s movement. As national president of Dansk Kvindesamfund and as editor of Kvinden og Samfundet, she was the strategist and foremost ideologist in the turbulent years during which the campaign for the vote was on the agenda.In the large-scale autobiographical series Tempeltjenere I-III (1926-28; The Temple Servants) she gave a fictionalised version of the contradictions within the Danish women’s movement, as she saw them. The work is not the foremost work from her pen, but it is the master key to an understanding of the artistic upheaval that occurred from 1910 until 1922 when she had left her study in favour of the women’s cause.It is the split between poet and realist that colours Gyrithe Lemche’s writing. To her, being the realist means going into her day and age and taking its problems and tasks to heart. Being the poet, on the other hand, means abandonment to imagination and using visionary visualising energy to breathe life, emotion, and interpretation into the past. She wants both aspects, but constantly experiences the one stepping in the way of the other.
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.
From Rhymes to Reforms in Iceland
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.
It was a novel written by a woman, Mathilde Fibiger’s Clara Raphael. Tolv Breve (Clara Raphael. Twelve Letters), that provoked the debate about marriage and the comparative status of man and woman within marriage in Denmark.The novel caused annoyance in every political camp. Within a year, the book had generated almost twenty-five newspaper and periodical items, and ten pamphlets had been published on the matter. The demands for equality provoked particular furore.Mathilde Fibiger contributed two pamphlets to the controversy, and they made it even more apparent that fortifying women’s self-awareness was indeed her key intention. Clara Raphael. Tolv Breve has always been looked upon as the first manifesto of the women’s movement in Denmark. The novel’s message might well be ambiguous, but the attempt to express a total female subjectivity speaks to us over and across the radical changes that have since shaped women’s lives.
Emergence of a Female Public Arena in Norway
The mood during the 1880s was tense – and productive! It caused women to write like never before. In the period between 1870 and 1890 more than seventy women writers were published for the first time in Denmark – which was almost three times as many as in the two preceding decades. Many – most – could not be classified as modern, either in terms of theme or style, but the diversity shows that women were taking part. The many provided the groundwork for the few who planted the new era into language and ideas. This required more than courage – because these women wrote on doubt about gender. The many male pseudonyms are telling.As authors they had a hard time – were pressed from all sides: partly by the men, partly because they could not live from writing. Women would therefore typically use writing as one aspect of a wider cultural enterprise. Fiction was one way in which to use their voice – journalism, lectures, association work were others.
Ellen Key put focus on complexity. not only in connection with the women’s cause but in general with regard to the relationship between tradition and modernity. It was in connection with her efforts to reconcile the contradictions between conservatism and radicalism into something more complex that Ellen Key became a controversial figure. Her writing became a medium: it did not point inward, towards itself, it did not produce works of fiction; rather, it served as a melting pot. Her works display an immense cultural receptivity and at the same time her works stand apart in their originality, in her visionary, unifying approach. Tradition is not contrasted with modernity but is understood in the light of her commitment to day-to-day politics. The women’s cause, the working-class movement, popular education, and the modern divide between natural science and religious attitudes are an ever-present context in all of her works. Ellen Key became an organic bond between the Modern Breakthrough and the new century’s modernistic currents.
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.
The Modern Breakthrough in Sweden