Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Fredrika Runeberg's Strategies in Writing the History of Finnish Women in Sigrid Liljeholm

Academic journal article Scandinavian Studies

Fredrika Runeberg's Strategies in Writing the History of Finnish Women in Sigrid Liljeholm

Article excerpt

IN HER MEMOIRS, Fredrika Runeberg expresses her intention to write a history of women (Anteckningar 227-8). Although she never accomplished this task, the theme is apparent in her historical novel Sigrid Liljeholm. Written in Swedish in 1862, it was among the first novels to be published in Finland. The novel focuses on an historic description of women in the manner possible at the time of writing.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, women writers could only be marginally involved in the literary institution and in the public sphere in general since literary activity was not considered socially acceptable for women (Hatavara, "Kirjallisuukritiikin"). Especially unsuitable for women was the historical novel because critics thought the genre required a mastery of historical material and logical reasoning. Women were considered incapable of such feats (see Aftonbladet; Estlander; Snellman). In order to succeed a woman was forced to make both herself and her works harmless. This expectation meant that woman authors should conceal social criticism by concentrating on the portrayal of domestic chores and avoiding an authoritative or argumentative style of narration (Malm 92-3, 95). In the new, flexible, and expressive genre of the novel, women writers learned to surmount such restrictions through indirect commentary (see Lanser, Fictions 26-7; Hatavara, "Kirjallisuukritiikin" 68, 77).

In this article, I will consider the type of history that is depicted in the novel Sigrid Liljeholm and the manner in which it is presented. Runeberg's use of historical material not only meant stepping over gender limitations, but also taking the opportunity to comment indirectly on current topics while writing about centuries long since passed (see Aspelin, Poesi I 16 and Poesi II 205; von Platen 501). Sigrid Liljeholm discusses both directly and indirectly the understanding and writing of history and women's role in it. Although the novel belongs to the nationalistic and male-dominated tradition of the historical narrative, during an age of rising nationalism in Finland, it also represents a new trend toward increased subjectivity and individuality in Finnish literature (Huhtala 296; Karkama 63; Hatavara, "History" 8-11). Sigrid Liljehom depicts both a general, national history as well as the private, everyday past that is usually not included in historical writing. The portrayal of individual women's lives allows for commentary that encompasses a broader context of women's position in history.

My main argument is that the novel Sigrid Liljeholm comments on and thematizes the relationship between a prominent discourse and those who are silenced in and by it (Hanssen 175). Sigrid Liljeholm can be seen as a manifestation of rebellion against the prevailing discourse and its muting force. It provides commentary on the position of women both historically and contemporarily. In an interesting manner, the theme of emancipation is found in an individual life as well as in historical process.

Sigrid Liljeholm depicts the Cudgel War that was fought in the area that now is Finland during the late sixteenth century when Finland was a duchy of Sweden. The war began with the Finnish peasants' revolt against Finnish nobility and the army and later evolved into a conflict between the Swedish and the Finnish troops. In the background was the Swedish Duke Karl, who aspired to the throne of Sweden mad hoped that a rebellion would help him win it. The lawful King Sigismund, who remained in Poland, had his greatest support among the Finnish nobility.

In the early stages of war, the peasant rebels killed soldiers and destroyed manors before they were defeated by the Finnish army. The Finnish army and the nobility were led by Clas Fleming, who had been selected for the task by King Sigismund. Fleming, however, was killed shortly after his victory over the peasants. Thereupon Swedish troops invaded Finland mad the last supporters of King Sigismund were defeated. …

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