Wagner, Elin


Wagner, Elin
(1882-1949)
   A Swedish novelist, short story writer, and journalist, Wagner was a prominent voice in favor of equal rights for women and one of the most important writers of her generation. After working as a journalist from the age of 18, she had her literary debut with Fraån det jordiska museet (1907; From the Earthly Museum), a collection of short stories and vignettes. Her first novel, Norrtullsligan: Elisabeths kronika (1908; tr. Men and Other Misfortunes in Stockholm Stories, 2002), tells about the lives of four young women, office workers who share living quarters. Like its successor, Pennskaftet (1910; The Penholder), it is a realistic narrative of a new class of woman in clerical jobs at the beginning of the 20th century. Pennskaftet, however, advocates very strongly for women's suffrage and is a major work of feminist writing.
   In Slakten Jerneploogs framgang (1916; The Success of the Jerneploog Family) Wagner likewise advocates for women's rights, but she also expresses awareness of the entrenched nature of patriarchal power, particularly as it manifests itself in everyday language. It is thus not a particularly optimistic story. Aåsa-Hanna (1918), generally considered Wagner's best work, is more hopeful, as it offers a detailed portrait of a strong woman character.
   Set against the backdrop of World War I, Kvarteret Oron: En stockholmshistoria (1919; tr. StormyCorner in Stockholm Stories, 2002), is the story of the upper-class widow Brita, who tries to sell a cellar-full of alcohol on the black market. But Brita, who has to leave her country estate and move to a tiny apartment in Stockholm, also learns to identify with her new proletarian friends and works to get out the vote once Sweden has extended the franchise to women in 1919. Other books from this period are Den befriade karleken (1919; Liberated Love), Den forodda vingarden (1920; The Ruined Vineyard), Nyckelknippan (1921; The Key Ring), and Den namnlosa (1922; The Nameless Woman), all of which express the author's feminist and anti-militarist leanings through narratives that are given a variety of settings. The same general sentiments are expressed in Fraån Seine, Rehn och Ruhr (1923; From Seine, Rhine, and Ruhr), Silverforsen (1924; Silver Falls), and Natten til sondag (1926; The Night before Sunday).
   The allegorical novel De fem parlorna (1927; The Five Pearls) was not well received. A novel set in Wagner's home district of Smaland, Svalorna flyga hogt (1929; The Swallows Are Flying High), was more successful. The story of a schoolteacher who has been abandoned by the father of her child, it offers a convincing portrayal of the many difficulties society has placed in the paths of women. In Dialogen fortsatter (1932; The Dialogue Continues) Wagner shows that hope for the future lies in giving mothers more power than what is enjoyed by the proponents of militarism.
   Wagner's two autobiographical novels, Genomskadad (1937; Found Out) and Hemlighetsfull (1938; Secretive), offer a review of her work on behalf of women's rights and peace. In the book Vackar-klocka (1941; Alarm Clock) she combined these concerns with an awareness of the need for sustainable agricultural practices. Wagner's last novel, Vinden vande bladen (1947; The Wind Turned the Leaves), spans nearly a thousand years of Vaarmland history and offers matriarchy as a remedy for the social ills created by men.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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