Autonomy and Dependence in the Family: Turkey and Sweden in Critical Perspective

By Rita Liljeström; Elisabeth Özdalga | Go to book overview

Married and Degraded to Legal Minority: The Swedish Married Woman during the Emancipation Period, 1858-1921

GUNHILD KYLE


Sara and Albert

In 1839 a remarkable novel appeared in Stockholm bookstores. Its title was Why not! and its author was a well known liberal, C.J.L. Almqvist. The story was about the growing love between two young people, Sara and Albert, but its real theme was the marriage question (Almqvist 1994). Sara and Albert make their first aquaintance on the steamboat Yngve Frej, she on her way from Stockholm to her home-town, he on a business trip. In describing what happens between them during their first day, Almqvist very clearly outlines their characters. Chivalrously, Albert tries to court Sara: he buys her a ring, he wants to invite her for dinner, and he insists on paying for their hotel room. In short, he behaves like a young man is expected to do when meeting an attractive girl. But Sara doesn't react as expected. She throws the ring into the sea, and she absolutely refuses to accept his financial offerings. From the beginning, Almqvist emphasizes Sara's strong sense of integrity. This quality in Sara is further highlighted when she tells Albert her life story and her future plans. The daughter of a deceased glazier and a sick mother, she runs her father's workshop, and is allowed to do so as long as her mother is alive. But when her mother dies, Sara must look for something else for a living. She will inherit a small house with some spare rooms to let, and she has invented a sort of putty to make and sell, as its production does not come within the guilds' jurisdiction, but is permissible for women. Albert too has quite promising expectations. Besides the opportunity of becoming a commissioned officer, he has an income from some family estates and is planning to buy a farm. Their mutual affection grows, and everything looks fine until they begin to talk about their future life together. For then it turns out that Sara is decidedly opposed to marriage.

During their weeklong journey, they go into the family problem, above all housework and children. Sara makes it a condition for their life together that they have separate homes (Albert in her spare rooms!) and separate economies. She is convinced that the stresses and trivialities of an intimate, daily life would destroy their love. She has had bad experiences during her childhood, when “a boozing and difficult husband” (p. 35) destroyed her mother's life, driving her into drunkenness, “so shameful for a woman” (p. 37). So Albert will have to take care of himself, procuring his meals and other services from people in the neighbourhood “for a few coins” (p. 89), services that were definitely part of the housewife's duties.

Gunhild Kyle

-39-

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