Ditlevsen, Tove

(1917-1976)
   A Danish poet, novelist, and short story writer, Ditlevsen was born to a working-class family where she was actively discouraged from pursuing an education. Her relation-ship with both of her parents was strained, but that to her mother was particularly dysfunctional, which left Ditlevsen with a host of insecurities. Her later drug problems—she also attempted suicide, and was ultimately successful—may be traced to her childhood and youth. But these experiences also gave Ditlevsen a wealth of material for her writing, and her openness about her difficulties in life no doubt contributed to the fascination with her person that was exhibited by the media throughout her life.
   Ditlevsen's literary debut was the poetry collection Pigesind (1939; A Girl's Mind), which contained poems about a young woman's insecurities and longing for love. Formally traditional, these poems were accessible and well received. The troubles and longings of young women return in Ditlevsen's first novel, Man gjorde et Barn Fortræd (1941; A Child Was Harmed), in which the protagonist is a young girl who feels that a shadow is resting on her. Only when she realizes that she has been sexually abused as a child and confronts the abuser does she develop the strength she needs to move ahead with her life. Ditlevsen here touches on a matter that has become an all too common reality in the decades since her novel was published.
   The poems in Lille Verden: Digte (1942; Little World: Poems) are similar to those in Pigesind,but some ofthe critics—particularly male critics—looked down their noses at them because they did not adhere to the formal ideals of modernism, which started to manifest itself in Danish literature at this time. Ditlevsen is also a traditionalist in her novel Barndommens Gade (1943; The Street of Childhood), a realistic and psychological portrait of life among working-class people in Copenhagen in the 1920s and 1930s. The stories in Ditlevsen's first collection of short stories, Den fulde Frihed (1944; tr., with some additional texts, as Complete Freedom and Other Stories, 1982), are set in a similar environment. Her novel For Barnets Skyld (1946; For the Child's Sake) argues that divorce is harmful to children.
   Ditlevsen had enormous popular success with her poetry collection Blinkende Lygter (1947; Blinking Lanterns), which was traditional in form and reflected her life experience as a woman. The short stories in Dommeren (1948; The Judge) and Paraplyen (1952; The Umbrella) reflect the harshness of Ditlevsen's own experiences. Vi har kun hinanden (1954; We Only Have One Another) was a novel commissioned by Denmark State Radio and was broadcast in installments. This was a popular feature of Danish radio programming, but the book was not an artistic success. Ditlevsen's artistic development is on display in the poetry collection Kvindesind (1955; A Woman's Mind), however, which is a more mature parallel to her earlier Pigesind.
   The essays in Flugten fra opvasken (1959; The Escape from the Dishes) takes as its theme family life and its consequences for women; this was to become a much more significant theme in Scandinavian literature in the 1960s and 1970s. The novel To some elsker hinanden (1960; Two Who Love Each Other) tells about a husband's betrayal of his wife. This theme is continued in the poetry collection Den hemmelige rude (1961; The Secret Window) and the short stories in Den onde lykke (1963; Evil Joy).
   Ditlevsen returned to her difficult childhood and youth in two volumes of memoirs, Barndom (1967; Childhood) and Ungdom (1967; Youth; tr. with Barndom as Early Spring, 1985). She treated her married life—she had been married four times—in Gift (1971; Married/ Poison). Tove Ditlevsen om sig selv (1975; Tove Ditlevsen about Herself) is factual and informative. She continued her autobiographical work in the novel Vilhelms værelse (1975; Vilhelm's Room). Female creativity, especially as hindered by men, is the theme of the novel Ansigterne (1968; tr. The Faces, 1991), in which the protagonist descends into a psychotic state. In the poetry collection De voksne (1969; The Adults), Ditlevsen—finally, in the view of some critics— wrote poems in the style of modernist free verse, but she only partly made use of this style in her next volume of poetry, Det runde værelse (1973; The Round Room).
   Ditlevsen also had a long career as a columnist for the daily and the weekly press. Much of this material has also been published in book form.

Historical Dictionary of Scandinavian Literature and Theater. . 2006.

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