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Transgressive femininity: gender in the Scandinavian Modern Breakthrough

By K. Sjögren


This PhD thesis deals with how new discourses on femininity and gender developed in Scandinavian literature during the Modern Breakthrough, 1880-1909. Political, economic and demographic changes in the Scandinavian societies put pressures on the existing, conventional gender roles, which literature reflects; however, literature also created and introduced new discourses on gender. The main focus has been on transgressive female characters in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian novels, which I have seen as indicators of emerging new forms of femininity. The study shows how the transgression of gender boundaries is used in the novels, when presenting their views on what femininity is, should be or could be. In addition to analysing the textual strategies in the representation of these ‘deviant’ literary characters, I have examined how the relevant texts were received by critics and reviewers at the time, as reviews are in themselves discursive constructs. The theoretical basis of this study has mainly been Michel Foucault’s discourse theory, Judith Butler’s theory of performativity and Yvonne Hirdman’s theory of gender binarism. I have also used concepts from several (mainly Anglo-American and Scandinavian) literary gender theorists and historians in the analyses. The four novels analysed in this study are as follows: 1) Danish author Herman Bang’s early decadence novel Haabløse Slægter (1880), where I use a queer theory perspective. 2) Norwegian author Ragnhild Jølsen’s Rikka Gan (1904), where the strong elements of pre-psychoanalysis are analysed. 3) Swedish author August Strindberg’s Le Plaidoyer d’un fou (1887-88), where I make a narratological examination of the narrative voice from a gender perspective. 4) Swedish author Annie Quiding’s Fru Fanny (1904), analysed as an example of ‘negative’ New Woman literature. The thesis shows how literature of the time represented and introduced new forms of femininity, often in the form of ambiguous female characters, and often to the disapproval of the critics. It also shows that gender discourses were much alike within Scandinavia. Furthermore, my study lays bare the skeleton of normative Breakthrough femininity, what can be called the dominant discourse on femininity at the time: a nonexisting sexual desire, feminine immobility/containment in the home and an imperative, self-sacrificing motherliness

Publisher: UCL (University College London)
Year: 2010
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Provided by: UCL Discovery

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