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Feminism and Modernism in Norway

Liv Ullmann as Nora
Friday, March 6, 2015 - 2:00pm
Radcliffe Humanities, Radcliffe Observatory Quarter, Woodstock Road, Oxford
Seminar Room

Janet Garton, “Amalie Skram:  ‘A Woman Who Writes Like a Man’”

The Norwegian writer Amalie Skram (1846-1905) was a contemporary of Ibsen, and like him a fierce critic of repressive social mores and hypocrisy. Many of her novels make an impassioned statement on the way women of all classes are imprisoned in their social roles, contributing to the great debate about sexual morality which engaged many Nordic writers of the period. She was herself a fascinatingly unconventional woman, travelling the world with her first husband, a ship’s captain, and later leaving her native Norway and her sons behind in order to move to Copenhagen and marry the Danish writer Erik Skram. Both her marriages were turbulent, and her writing was frequently denounced as scandalous.
Janet Garton has written a biography of the author (Amalie Skram. Et forfatterliv, 2011), published five volumes of her letters, and edited translations of two of her novels.  She is an Emeritus Professor of Scandinavian Studies in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. She has been both Secretary and President of the International Association of Scandinavian Studies, whose conference she hosted at UEA in August 2000. She is a former editor of the journal Scandinavica and a director of Norvik Press, a publishing house based at UCL which publishes critical studies and translations of Nordic literature.

Eveliina Pulkki, “Women and modernity in Knut Hamsun’s Sult

Knut Hamsun was a vigorous opponent of the women’s movement who felt that the main focus of women should lie in child-rearing. Yet his works of the 1890s reveal an ambivalent fascination with the emerging New Woman. Hamsun’s female characters are simultaneously predatory and victimised, urban streetwalkers who also serve as traditional helpmeets and even as agents of man’s salvation. I will examine to what extent this paradoxical portrayal of women is a projection of Hamsun’s anxiety and ambivalence towards modernity as a whole.
Eveliina Pulkki is a doctoral student in Modern Languages at Oxford, a Clarendon Scholar  and a member of Jesus College.  Her research, supervised by Professor Ritchie Robertson, focuses on Angst and the urban experience in the works of Kafka, Hamsun, and Woolf.

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr, “What Ibsen Really Said about Women”

Ibsen’s most famous pronouncement on women-- “I have never consciously worked on behalf of women’s rights”—is often invoked to show that he was not a feminist, especially as it was made publicly at a banquet held in honour of his seventieth birthday by the Norwegian association for women's rights. But it came at the twilight of a long career characterized by its commitment to feminist views, both in his plays, drafts, letters and speeches.  Many of these statements are linked directly to human evolution, and this paper considers Ibsen’s views on women in relation to his understanding of contemporary evolutionary ideas, Darwinian and non-Darwinian in order to gain a fuller, more accurate picture of his attitudes toward feminism.

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr is a University Lecturer in the Faculty of English and a Fellow of St Catherine’s College, Oxford.  She has published widely on Ibsen, including the books Ibsen and Early Modernist Theatre, 1890-1900 (1997) and Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (2015).  She convenes the Ibsen Network at TORCH.

Image: Liv Ullmann as a worried Nora in Act II of the 1974 production of 'A Doll's House' at the Norwegian Theatre, Oslo

Contact name: 
Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
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