RETHINKING SCANDINAVIA – CSS Publications Web Quarterly

Issue II: Looking In, Watching Out

Published in July 2018

Female Citizenship in Scandinavian Literature in the 1840s

Anna Bohlin, Stockholms universitet

This article is part of the research project “Enchanting Nations: Commodity Market, Folklore and Nationalism in Scandinavian Literature 1830-1850”, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond 2016-2018. It is a partly rewritten and extended version of an article published in Swedish: “Kök till vildmark. Det kvinnliga medborgarskapets spatialitet i nordisk 1840-talslitteratur”, in Alexandra Borg, Andreas Hedberg, Maria Karlsson, Jerry Määttä & Åsa Warnqvist (eds.), Konstellationer. Festskrift till Anna Williams, Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag 2017, p. 79-93.

Is it even possible to talk about female citizenship in the 1840s? More than half a century would pass before Scandinavian women enjoyedin the 1840s? More than half a century would pass before Scandinavian women enjoyed political citizenship: women won the right to vote in Finland in 1906, in Norway in 1913, in Denmark in 1915, and finally in Sweden in 1919/1921. Women’s civil rights improved only slowly and fitfully from the mid-nineteenth century, and organized women’s movements were not established in the Nordic countries until several decades later on. Still, women were citizens. Debate over the meaning of the concept of citizenship, which had begun during the French Revolution, continued well into the twentieth century. In fact, the conditions for citizenship were codified in Swedish law as late as 1858; in the 1840s the concept of citizenship was still in the making.1 Ebba Berling Åselius, Rösträtt med förhinder. Rösträttsstrecket i svensk politik 1900–1920, Stockholm: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis, 2005, p. 24. See also Ulla Manns, Upp systrar, väpnen er! Kön och politik i svensk 1800-talsfeminism, Stockholm: Atlantis, 2005. Debate over the issue took place not only in parliaments and in the press, but in literature – the one public space to which women had access. And female authors did raise their voices on the matter.

In this article I will focus on four female writers: one Norwegian, Hanna Winsnes (1789–1872); two Swedes, Fredrika Bremer (1801–1865) and Emilie Flygare-Carlén (1807–1892); and one Finn, Sara Wacklin (1790–1846). However, the fiercest debate over women’s citizenship in Sweden and Finland in the 1840s was actually instigated by a man. Carl Jonas Love Almqvist’s Sara Videbeck (Det går an), issued in 1839 and featuring an independent woman glazier, left its mark upon The Duchess of Finland (Hertiginnan af Finland), published a decade later in 1850 by Zacharias Topelius, another male pioneer of women’s rights. Therefore, I will also briefly comment on Almqvist’s novel as well as Topelius’s. My aim is to examine how the content of female citizenship is construed. Since contemporary ideas about femininity were intimately connected to the nineteenth-century distinction between the private and the public spheres, the question of content must be approached through spatialization. In order to clarify what the notion implies, it’s imperative to ask where female citizenship is enacted.

In Borderline Citizens, historian Kathryn Gleadle studies mid-nineteenth-century British women’s experiences of political subjectivity. “Women’s rights as citizens were continually in the process of construction and were always vulnerable to challenge and dismissal”, Gleadle contends.2 Kathryn Gleadle, Borderline Citizens. Women, Gender, and Political Culture in Britain 1815–1867, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 17. Women’s political authority and sense of inclusion in public affairs could vary considerably depending on their location. The family setting, the parochial realm, and the public sphere provided different and often contradictory opportunities for women as political actors, and the boundaries between the private and the public were blurred, as, for example, when an entire family network was involved in political campaigns or collaborations in support of an MP. Furthermore, progressive as well as conservative thinkers promoted women as moral agents and considered moral education foundational for societal change.3 Ibid. The political potential of the domestic sphere was explored by female Scandinavian authors. In their introduction to Space, Place and Gendered Identities, Kathryn Gleadle, Kathryne Beebe, and Angela Davis note that the “spatial turn” during the last decades has moved from acknowledging place as a factor in the production of gender, to focus on “the social and political use of space”, that is to say, how practices transform space.4 Kathryne Beebe, Angela Davis & Kathryn Gleadle, “Introduction”, in Kathryne Beebe & Angela Davis (eds.), Space, Place and Gendered Identities. Feminist History and the Spatial Turn, London & New York: Routledge, 2015, p. 8. This insight will prove crucial for recognising female citizenship in literature.

Political practices are also at the heart of political scientist Ruth Lister’s influential study Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives (1997/2003). As many feminists have pointed out, the putatively abstract citizen of modern-day democracies – a concept coined in classical antiquity, referring to free men – still presupposes a male body. Nevertheless, the very same republican tradition provides a means of feminist re-articulation in the emphasis on participation in public affairs as a civic duty. To do justice to women as political actors, Lister argues, the notion of citizenship as status needs to be complemented by one of citizenship as practice.5 Ruth Lister, Citizenship. Feminist Perspectives, 2nd ed., Basingstoke & New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. This reformulation of the concept has proved fruitful for analysing historical material. Historians Christina Florin and Lars Kvarnström, struggling to make visible women’s citizenship in nineteenth-century Sweden, stresses that the focus on practices does not restrict analysis to particular places or institutions, but allows for the inclusion of all kinds of actions intended to bring about societal change, “actions directed towards the public sphere”.6 Christina Florin & Lars Kvarström, “Inledning”, in Christina Florin & Lars Kvarnström (eds.), Kvinnor på gränsen till medborgarskap. Genus, politik och offentlighet 1800–1850, Stockholm: Atlas, 2002, p. 19. My translation. However, in order to grasp Fredrika Bremer’s idea of women as political actors more fully, we need to address yet another aspect. I will argue that citizenship as status and as practice is insufficient for an understanding of Bremer’s notion of female citizenship, since she makes a distinction between the act committed and the inner attitude towards the act. Citizenship as morality is comprehensible against the backdrop of the Lutheran idea of general priesthood and nineteenth-century Protestantism’s stress on religion as inner conviction rather than as manifested in ritual action.

Scholars of masculinities Jørgen Lorentzen and Claes Ekenstam suggest that citizenship and manliness were exchangeable concepts during the nineteenth century. They summarize their argument as follows: “the citizens’ different qualities […] together constituted the national character, that is, the nation’s political abilities were intimately connected to the individual citizens’ (the men’s) ability to cultivate their innate and acquired properties”.7 Jørgen Lorentzen & Claes Ekenstam, “Inledning”, in Jørgen Lorentzen & Claes Ekenstam (eds.), Män i Norden. Manlighet och modernitet 1840–1940, Hedemora: Gidlunds förlag, 2006, p. 11. My translation. Contemporary women writers insisted that women’s contributions to the nation were at least as important as men’s; the female citizen’s qualities needed to be taken into account as the moral, economical and political capital of the nation. The following analysis will begin with a discussion of citizenship as a vocation before moving on to highlight the older, eighteenth-century concept of “the useful citizen” and examine the relation between the imagined citizenship on the one hand, and household and market economies on the other. Brief comparisons will be made with female citizenship as treated by Almqvist and Topelius, followed by a concluding discussion of citizenship as morality.

Citizenship as vocation: Fredrika Bremer

Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865) painted in 1843 by John Gustaf Sandberg (1782-1854);  source [Wikimedia Commons.]( Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865) painted in 1843 by John Gustaf Sandberg (1782-1854); source Wikimedia Commons.

Bremer, a forerunner of the Swedish women’s movement, is most famous for Hertha, the paradigmatic emancipation novel of Swedish literature, issued in 1856. However, her novels of the 1840s are equally concerned with female citizenship, particularly Brothers and Sisters (Syskonlif), published in the revolutionary year of 1848. At the end of the novel, the nine siblings inaugurate an ideal society, inspired by utopian socialism but with liberal elements.8 On Bremer’s reading of the utopian socialists, see Eva Heggestad, En bättre och lyckligare värld. Kvinnliga författares utopiska visioner 1850–1940, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion, 2003, p. 33–58; Carina Burman, Bremer. En biografi, Stockholm:Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2001, p. 249–260. The siblings share a strong desire to make a contribution to the community, as expressed most eloquently by Gerda:

How beautiful it must be, how glorious, Augustin, to live and suffer for our native land, for our religion, for humanity, or for something which benefits and ennobles.9 Fredrika Bremer, Brothers and Sisters. A Tale of Domestic Life, vol. I–III, transl. Mary Howitt, London: Henry Colburn, 1848, II: p. 58.

Hvad det måste vara skönt, kännas stort, Augustin, att lefva, att lida för sitt fosterland, för sin religion, för menskligheten eller något som gagnar, som förädlar den!10 Fredrika Bremer, Nya teckningar ur hvardagslifvet. Syskonlif, vol. I–II, Stockholm: L.J. Hjerta 1848, I: p. 267.

Gerda envies the martyrs “who struggle and die for truth and right”.11 Bremer, Brothers and Sisters, 1848, II: p. 58. Though previously mocked for longing to make a contribution, she has found support in the Icelandic sculptress Lagertha, who is working on a statue of the Old Norse norns, inspired by Grundtvig. Gerda continues:

I know that there is a life beyond that of housekeeping, even for women, a life, an activity for thought, as noble, as beneficial as the other; that there is a parental character higher than the common one, and that is as regards [sic] – the children of the mind!

And something of this kind, Augustin, I feel should have been my calling […]!12 Bremer, Brothers and Sisters, 1848, II: p. 59 f.

[J]ag känner att det gifves ett lif utom det husliga, äfven för qvinnan, ett lif, en verksamhet för idéer, så ädelt, så välgörande som något, att det finnes ett moder- och faderskap högre än det vanliga, och det är för – – andens barn!…

Och något sådant, Augustin, känner jag, hade varit min kallelse […]!13 Bremer, Syskonlif, 1848, I: p. 268.

In Brothers and Sisters, Bremer develops the idea of “spiritual” parenthood. The spiritual mother is, in Bremer’s words, “the guardian, the teacher, the nurse, who often is more a mother than she who bears the name” (“vårdarinnan, läkarinnan, fostrarinnan, som ofta är mera moder, än den som bär namnet”), not only for those closest to her, but for the entire nation and, by extension, for mankind.14 Bremer, Brothers and Sisters, 1848, I: p. 57; Bremer, Syskonlif, 1848, I: p. 45. As several scholars have pointed out, some decades later this idea inspired Ellen Key’s concept of “social motherhood”.15 See for example Claudia Lindén, Om kärlek. Litteratur, sexualitet och politik hos Ellen Key, Stockholm/Stehag: Symposion 2002, p. 354; Anna Bohlin, Röstens anatomi. Läsningar av politik i Elin Wägners Silverforsen, Selma Lagerlöfs Löwensköldtrilogi och Klara Johansons Tidevarvskåserier, Umeå: Bokförlaget h:ström, 2008, p. 90. Here, I would like to draw attention to the fact that Bremer articulates citizenship as vocation. Gerda’s brother responds to her exclamation: “The natural disposition is a vocation of God […].” (“Naturanlaget är en Guds kallelse […].”)16 Bremer Brothers and Sisters, 1848, II: p. 60; Bremer, Syskonlif, 1848, I: p. 268. It is even a “duty to follow its bent” – obviously, provided it is “noble”.17 Bremer, Brothers and Sisters, 1848, II: p. 60.

Luther divided society into three estates: ecclesia (the church), politia (the state), and oeconomia (the household). The “general priesthood” is the idea that every individual has a vocation, even though it is pursued in different estates of society. The domestic site and parenthood were attributed a high status, but women were supposed to restrict their vocation to domestic activities. Inger Hammar has analysed Bremer’s concept of citizenship as grounded in, yet also critical of, the Lutheran doctrine of the general priesthood, and has situated her ideas in relation to the resistance which they met with from conservatives in political debate. Hammar draws the conclusion that Bremer legitimised philanthropic activity in the public space as an extension of the private sphere.18 Inger Hammar, “Kvinnokall och kvinnosak: Några nedslag i 1800-talets debatt om genus, medborgarskap och offentlighet”, in Christina Florin & Lars Kvarnström (eds.), Kvinnor på gr