Women

   Women played an important role in traditional Scandinavian rural society, where their labor power was urgently needed and where, for example, being the mistress of a farm was a position of authority and respect. The worlds of politics, commerce, and education, and especially higher education, were largely male preserves in all of Scandinavia up to the beginning of the 20th century, however. This situation was criticized by both male and female writers; one of the earliest was the Swede Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, whose novel Det gåran (1839; tr. Sara Videbeck, 1919; Why Not?, 1994) depicted the situation of a talented woman glazier. Among the women who early discussed what soon became known as the women's question are the Dane Mathilde Fibiger, whose novel Clara Raphael: Tolv Breve (1850; Clara Raphael: Twelve Letters) describes the effort of a young governess to create independence for herself; the Norwegian Camilla Collett,whoin Amtmandens Døttre (1854-1855; tr. The District Governor's Daughters, 1992) argued that women should be free to choose their own husbands; and Fredrika Bermer, whose final novel, Hertha, eller en sjals historia (1856; tr. Hertha, 1856), was quite radical in its demands for reform and has since been recognized as one of Scandinavia's earliest and most interesting feminist novels.
   The situation of women in the home and in society became one of the most important topics for debate during the period ofthe Modern Breakthrough, or approximately the years 1870-1890, when most progressive writers offered portraits of women's lives as part of a plea for greater social justice. In Norway, Arne Garborg, through the assistance of his wife Hulda Bergersen Garborg (1862-1934), produced anovel of development entitled Hjaaho Mor (1890; Living with Mama), which was partly based on Hulda's life and told the story of the childhood and youth of a woman who consents to marrying a man more than twice her age. Henrik Ibsen portrayed the situation of contemporary women in several plays, most notably Et dukkehjem (1879; tr. ADoll'sHouse,1880), Gengangere (1881; Ghosts, 1885), Fruen fra havet (1888; tr. The Lady from the Sea, 1890), and Hedda Gabler (1890; tr. 1891). Garborg's and Ibsen's contemporary, Alexander Lange Kielland, discussed the situation of women in several works, among them the novels Garman og Worse (1880; tr. Garman and Worse, 1885), Else (1881; tr. Elsie: A Christmas Story, 1894), and Skipper Worse (1882; tr. 1885). The most eloquent literary testimony, however, was given by Amalie Skram in such novels as Constance Ring (1885; tr. 1988), Professor Hieronimus (1895), Paa St. Jørgen (1895; tr. with Professor Hieroni-mus as Under Observation, 1992), and many others. Skram had suffered both the kind of unhappy marriage portrayed in Constance Ring and the male-dominated psychiatry of Professor Hieronimus and Paa St. Jørgen.
   The Swede Victoria Benedictsson's novel Pengar (1885; Money) combined the theme of financial independence for women with that of the woman who marries an older man. In Finland, Minna Canth spoke up against married women's inability to control their own property in Tyomiehen vaimo (1885; A Worker's Wife), and her play Sylvi (1893) shows strong influence from Ibsen's Et dukkehjem.Of the major writers of the Modern Breakthrough it was only the Swede August Strindberg who seriously questioned the need for the advancement of women. In his drama Fadren (1887; tr. The Father, 1899) he created one of the most distasteful female characters in world literature, and his own deteriorating marriage gave him the material for a novel, written in French, Le plaidoyer d'un fou (1888; tr. The Confessions of a Fool, 1912), in which he paints an unflattering portrait of his first wife, Siri von Essen. The same year Strindberg was guided by the ideology of naturalism as he investigated women's lives in his play Fröken Julie (1888; tr. Miss Julie, 1912). In the 1890s Selma Lagerlöf created her unforgettable character Margareta Celsing, the mistress of Ekeby Manor, in her novel GOsta Berlings saga (1891; tr. The Story of Gösta Berling, 1898).
   Scandinavian literature of the first half of the 20th century has a large number of outstanding women writers, most of whom portray some aspect of women's lives in their works. One of the best known is the Dane Karen Blixen, who told about her years in Kenya in Den afrikanske Farm (1937; tr. Out ofAfrica, 1937), and whose stories contain a number of fascinating women characters. Karin Michaelis discussed women's lives in general and such taboo subjects as female eroticism in the novel Den farlige alder (1910; tr. The Dangerous Age, 1912). In Finland, Aino Julia Maria Kallas treated similar themes in Sudenmorsian (1928; tr. The Wolf's Bride, 1930, 1975), in which a woman in search of erotic fulfillment becomes a werewolf. Hagar Olsson discussed women's experience in her biblical novel Kvinnan och naåden (1919; The Woman and Grace) and in her autobiographical novel Chitambo (1933), the story of a young woman's development. The poetry of Edith Sodergran is strongly influenced by her experience as a woman.
   In Norway, Sigrid Undset achieved world renown with her trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter (1920-1922), but she also wrote a number of novels with contemporary settings and women protagonists, among them Jenny (1911; tr. 1920) and Vaaren (1914; Spring). While Undset tended to focus on religious and ethical themes, her colleague Cora Sandel wrote her well-known Alberte (1926-1939) trilogy about a woman who tries to balance her role as an artist against the roles of wife and mother. In Sweden, Elin Wagner's novels Norrtullsligan: Elisabeths kronika (1908; tr. Men and Other Misfortunes in Stockholm Stories, 2002) and Pennskaftet (1910; The Penholder) tell about the lives of young women who are office workers in Stockholm. Also in Sweden, Karin Boye touched on lesbian themes in her novel Kris (1934; Crisis).
   The second half of the 20th century witnessed a great flowering of literature written by women in all of Scandinavia. Among them are the Danes Suzanne Brøgger, the author of a number of books that take as their theme various aspects of love; Tove Ditlevsen, whose novel Ansigterne (1968; tr. The Faces, 1991) discusses the threat to female creativity posed by men; and Dorrit Willumsen, whose novel Manden som paåskud (1980; The Man as Pretext) presents her ideas about how women and men relate to each other. The Finns Leena Krohn and Monika Fagerholm write fiction about women in post-modernity, while their countrywoman Solveig von Schoultz produced poetry and prose that reflect many facets of women's experience. The Icelandic writer and politician Svava Jakobsdottir wrote poetry, prose, and drama that exemplify postmodernism's interest in the fantastic.
   In Norway, Bjørg Vik has spent a lifetime depicting the lives of women in plays, short stories, and novels, including a trilogy about the autobiographical character Elsie Lund (1988-1994), which shows what it was like for girls and young women to grow up in postwar Norway. Herbjørg Wassmo has covered much of the same literary territory but has also written about the lives of women in northern Norway in the 1800s and has won an unusually large audience for her works. Cecilie Løveid, one of Scandinavia's most significant dramatists during the second half of the 20th century, has written plays dealing with the situation of contemporary woman as well as such historical figures as Hildegard von Bingen and Maria Quisling. Among the youngest generation of Norwegian writers, Hanne Ørstavik stands out for her portrayal of women both in the family and in such roles as that of a parish priest, the latter in the novel Presten (2004; The Minister).
   Recent Swedish literature written by women shows particular strength in documentary and historical fiction. Sara Lidman pioneered documentarism in Scandinavian literature and has also written the highly acclaimed Jernbaneepos (1977-1985; Railway Epic), a series of historical novels about the building of the railway in northern Sweden. Other Swedish women writers of historical fiction are Carina Burman, Kerstin Ekman, Ulla Isaksson, and Birgitta Trotzig. The works of Burman and Ekman have a distinct postmodern slant.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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