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Via some random series of link-hopping, the beginning of which I've forgotten: White male authors privileged, writing by women dismissed via placement under increasingly broad heading of "chick lit". No really! I am so shocked. I never saw it coming!

To be honest, dismissing writing by women about women as Girl Stuff was seriously old in the 1880s. And long, long before, I'm sure.

Is it time to move on yet? As a culture I mean? Or is literary merit actually determined by the size of your cock? Have I had it wrong all this time?


(Also deeply shocking, from today's edition of svenska dagbladet: Sverigedemokraterna say that no-one in Sweden was prepared to made an election video for them, so they had to go to... guess! Go on, guess! Yes, that's right.

Denmark.)
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10 months ago I read, with great difficult & a lot of help from Val, a short Swedish picture-book called Nasse hittar en stol ("Nasse finds a chair", where "Nasse" means "piglet" but is in this case the name of a bear. I clearly picked a completely straightforward starting point...). In it, Nasse finds a chair and tries to work out what it is and what to do with it. Hilarity ensues.

Over the last week I read Resa med lätt bagage by Tove Jansson ("Travelling Light" is the offical English title; it's just been released in English, possibly for the first time, if I remember right.), which is a fairly slim book of short stories but one definitely aimed at adults. I'd read a couple of stories from this volume before in English - the title story, and another called "Correspondence" - and thoroughly enjoyed them; I enjoyed quite a bit of the rest of the book as well, and one story randomly tripped me over into some kind of panic, and some stories I should probably read again to get more of the nuance. Tove is writing here about freedom and responsibility; being away and being at home and being in between places; things we carry with us. Enjoyed, though I'd still give people Sommarboken/The Summer Book & Rent spel/Fair Play to read for preference. Though several of Tove Jansson's books for adults do take the form of short stories - all three mentioned here qualify - The Summer Book and Fair Play are also single coherent works which focus on one pair of characters each, and I think of them more as novels than as short stories, whereas Travelling Light has a much looser theme. The stories aren't connected together in the same way, so I would talk about loving individual stories from it rather than loving it as a whole book.


Which was a rather long-winded way of reminding myself that I've come some way.

LibraryThing is providing some kind of map of my progress through the Swedish language (though I've a sneaking suspicion I've left one or two things off; notably, I've been reading quite a bit of manga in Swedish and for some reason I've never put manga on my librarything account - not sure why).



(& note to self, while I'm still on books: following a conversation a while ago on [personal profile] cimorene's journal and a Tiger Beatdown post which felt like it had missed the mark by several thousand miles for me I am pretty sure I'll be reading the Millennium Trilogy in Swedish soon, for compare-and-contrast fun. Since I hear there are meant to be problems with the English translation and am now wondering exactly which bits don't match up. Curiosity. I has it.)



Lately I've been having this odd feeling that I've hit some kind of a block with Swedish. No-one else seems to feel like this is true, & I'm told I'm using a lot of new words all the time and that my grammar is improving constantly as well. I'm trying to work out where, then, the feeling is coming from. I think my best theory is that all the new stuff I'm saying I've been able to understand for a while already, so being able to say it is a kind of progress that hardly registers; it just feels like something I "should" have been able to do already. Which is ridiculous; the gap between what one can understand and what one can use can be huge, and making progress in that respect is really important. I suppose it's harder for me to measure myself, though.

Also, the more you know the more you are aware of how much you get wrong. *g* I think that I have a reasonable understanding of grammar in principal now, but relatively poor practical application. So there's that; I can hear myself speaking incorrectly. It takes other people pointing out how I can do x now when I couldn't before for me to go "Oh! I see! Cool!"

Positive self-awareness has never been my strongest point, though I'm pretty good at awareness of my failings. (Stop laughing.)
marshtide: (Snufkin - The traveller)
Read & enjoyed Inseparable - nonfiction by Emma Donoghue about relationships between women in fiction (mostly English & French lit and plays, which seem to mostly fall between the 1600s and the mid 20th century, with outliers). Learnt things, got interesting lines of reference to chase up, enjoyed the writing style. It covers both deliberately lesbian/queer/terminology-of-choice fiction and stories featuring unspecified but intense relationships between women, and pokes through books that are considered classics (or infamous) and books that are completely obscure without discrimination.

(...I also guiltily suspect that reading about some of these stories is approximately a million times more fun than actually reading the story in question. Possibly this makes me a bad person, but then again, you try actually reading The Well of Loneliness.)

ETA: & you know, every time I read about melodramatic Victorian and early 20th century lesbian fiction (term used loosely) I end up thinking of Ikeda Riyoko. Oh Ikeda Riyoko. It's like you had a checklist sometimes.

Böcker

Jul. 8th, 2010 12:14 pm
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Jag läser:

- Loranga, Masarin & Dartanjang av Barbro Lindgren
- Agnes Cecilia - en sällsam historia av Maria Gripe

...helt olika böcker.

Agnes Cecilia are kanske lite svårt (men jag förstår ganska mycket i alla fall). Loranga är lättare, men jättekonstigt. (Just nu har giraffen ätit sängarna. JAG VET INTE. [personal profile] valborg säger, "it's a special special snowflake, that book." Ja. Precis.)

(No, I don't write in Swedish very often. But I need to! Oh how I need to. Baby steps, right? And that thing about not worrying so much about making mistakes is relevant here as well. One of the main frustrations is understanding a word in context when it's used at one, but not enough of its precise connotations to deploy it oneself, which leaves me with a tiny vocabulary. These things will come, though.)
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You know, I understand being annoyed by criticisms leveled at women based on their looks, on their apparent masculinity, or on their choice of clothes. Cool. Fair play to call that shit out.

I do being to question your judgement when you keep right on complaining about how people don't like said women because of their politics, how unfair is that, and fail to mention until two chapters later that their politics included, for example, a strong fondness for Mussolini. (I note you don't mention the thing about adoring Hitler at all, or the membership of the British Union of Fascists, which seem to come up regularly in other accounts of Mary Allen's life.) And then you seem to be trying to apologise for it. No, one doesn't have to centre-stage this stuff when one is discussing activity in other movements, but if one is going to actively protest the fact that some people find Allen to have been a really morally dubious figure... well.

I have to say, you're also just not a terribly good writer. And this isn't the first thing you've said that's made me go ...what?, it's just the worst offender so far.

I think I need to put this book away now before I throw it at something.

(I'll read Pippi Långstrump instead. Some thieves have broken into her house! Or rather, wandered in through the unlocked door! It's all very exciting.)
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Note to self so I don't keep asking Val over and over like a broken record: that author who sounds interesting and who you've been told about several times and seen talking about stuff on TV and whose name you keep forgetting is called Sofi Oksanen. Right. Are we clear on that? Good.

Although for now it's not as though I don't have far too many books sitting around waiting to be read anyway.
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1. Today I had my first morning with SFI. It went well. What else to say? A basic sort of beginning & all stuff I already knew, but this is the introductory month.


2. At the weekend [personal profile] valborg and I went with family to the National Museum in Stockholm, theoretically to look at an exhibition of paintings by Rubens & Van Dyck. We wandered off quite fast, in a combination of not being that impressed with Rubens generally and also everyone in the museum trying to stand in the same room. Poking around in a slightly aimless way, we came across one painting that we both really liked, which was a portrait of Jeanna Bauck, a Swedish artist, by Bertha Wegmann, a Danish one. The portrait seemed really expressive, somehow. I can't find much about either of them, but I'm really interested now. I guess that's yet another quest - as if I didn't have enough already!

wegmann__Bauck_1
The artist Jeanna Bauck, painted by Bertha Wegmann in 1881


(Will remain mildly irritated at the museum for a while for having postcards/posters/prints of almost every painting in the area we found that one in except for that one itself.)


3. Virginia Woolf's diary! She really is an alarming woman. Of course I don't think that's a bad thing, although she does hold some unfortunate views sometimes too - but what is one to do? Admit they're unfortunate and move on (it's not as though one didn't know about them at the outset). She has an awful lot to say that I feel quite comfortable with too though & we are at present at the tail end of 1917 so expecting an outlook fully suited to modern sensibilities would be quite unfair.

I'm just emerging from a section of diary through the late summer & early autumn of that year in which she mostly talks about nature, in a way which makes one almost suspicious as to what else is going on in there - but it's the way I might record thoughts if things were going either very well so I didn't have much to complain about or very badly so I didn't want to think about it, so it could mean anything.


4. Where do all the library books come from? One would think I lived with a librarian or something. Goodness.
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Social interaction - even online - sure does take a lot out of me sometimes. Argh.

But in better news, I finished reading Victoria Benedictsson's Money, and it was a really damn interesting book. I've mentioned a bit about it before, of course, but let's take this from the top: it's a novel written in Sweden in the 1880s, and was a contribution to an ongoing debate taking place at the time to do with marriage and the imbalance between men and women, double standards and all. A lot of the work concerned with the topic was by men, particularly Ibsen, and I guess Strindberg as well, so in that this is a book about issues concerning women's situation that was written by a woman it is, for its time, unusual. Interestingly, Benedictsson struggled to have her work taken seriously - it was dismissed as being about women's stuff, basically, and therefore not very important. Ibsen's A Doll's House, on the other hand, while also concerning issues with marriage and criticizing the way the whole institution worked at the time, was extremely controversial, but not, as far as I know, dismissed as unimportant!

The book is about a girl, Selma, who is married at the age of sixteen to a much older man without really knowing what marriage involves, because of ideas about keeping girls pure. She simply has no idea, particularly about sex. The book is about how she deals with her situation, really; it's about her journey through to... age 23, I think, and the conclusions she comes to about marriage. It really is an attack on marriage - a very carefully worded one, but all the same.* The attack is based on the inherent inequality - a situation in which men come to the marriage armed with far more knowledge of sex, are the ones who hold property within the marriage, and the ones who can be forgiven for sexual indiscretions too - and on the fact that for a certain class of women there were few options for supporting themselves besides marriage. Benedictsson, herself in an unhappy marriage to an older man, goes so far as to describe it as like prostitution: one sells oneself for money in order to survive. I seem to remember that there are characters who express similar views in A Doll's House, actually, though I'm only familiar with that piece from reading about it. I've neither read it nor seen it produced. Anyway! It was a real issue at the time, for the reasons mentioned above - particularly that women didn't hold property and weren't encouraged or allowed to earn their own living.

The book isn't perfect. I was worried when I began it that I wouldn't be able to get into it, because Selma seemed as though she had potential but things about her world-view were really frustrating and I wasn't sure about the direction it seemed to be headed for a while right at the start. This, of course, is kind of the point, as later sections showed. I did get really into it, actually, once I'd reached the point of her marriage; I was really interested to know what would happen to her and on the whole I wasn't disappointed by what did. She also does develop into a really interesting person. I thought she was pretty great. Striding around with a riding crop didn't hurt either, and nor did the female homoeroticism that crept into one of the later sections. Ahem. But the real point is that she's a good character, which is to say, flawed and interesting and with her own kind of strength and quite a bit of development. She also has strong views and expresses them.

I did think the message felt a bit... well, I've mentioned how carefully worded it felt, in that sort of balancing-act way of not wanting to push things too far, whether for fear of being unpublishable or fear of attracting too much criticism to deal with, and it did sometimes feel a little compromised as a result. Mostly I think it got through, though. I'm sure that a few other things struck me as not quite as great as they could have been, though I foolishly didn't make notes so don't expect elaboration. Oops. Overall, though, I liked it. Quite a bit, actually. I'd recommend it.

In short: proto-feminist literature I am really glad I read!



* In the afterward to the translation I read there's a little information regarding letters she wrote to a friend while writing the book, talking about what she felt she could and couldn't say as a female author and how she felt she had to worry about these things in a way a man probably wouldn't - particularly, open discussion of sex was problematic for her, and the book is very much about sex, so one finds oneself reading between the lines. To be honest, all that considered, it still feels really pretty frank considering when it was written.

Women

May. 12th, 2010 07:57 am
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Stray & largely undeveloped thoughts:

1. Has anyone written about that whole idea of The Madwoman In The Attic as it applies to the Sherlock Holmes stories? Does anyone have any thoughts on it? It comes up several times: either there is an actually mad woman or a woman who is locked up and claimed to be mad or just locked up and forgotten about, and other women who figure far less literally as a part of that dismissive tradition in one way or another. There are some fairly literal cases and some examples which I sort of mentally bracket under the same sort of heading, and I'm going to be terrible and not actually cite examples now because I can't remember them without hauling out books and I'm having a peculiarly weak day today & not getting out of bed yet. But I think the way that women figure in Sherlock Holmes stories generally is something interesting to poke at, in the wider context of Victorian society and in the context of literary convention. I haven't got any further than that yet. Partly because I'd need to do some re-reading and probably get hold of some literary theory books and read or re-read those as well. I feel under-educated again now. Oops.

2. I read Irene Adler as bisexual. I freely admit that this may be partly influenced by that beautiful scene in the Granada TV series where she's meant to be spending time with her lover the king but is clearly much more interested in eyeing up the legs of the dancing girls with the most appreciative expression ever, but I also don't think it's an invalid reading of the actual short story. I also think I'd need to be feeling a bit more energetic to lay out that argument properly. I'm chipping slowly away at getting the reasoning straightened (ha ha) out, though.

3. Still on women from that era, but now moving north! I'm half way through reading Victoria Benedictsson's Money, so of course I can't have full thoughts on it yet, but it's pretty interesting. Reading it I actually thought it was being quite shockingly frank about the situation of women and about sex as a part of that, for a novel of its time. Which is the point, of course: it's a novel all about sex and money. I didn't realise until Val was talking about students who'd missed significant points that I was still reading between the lines a lot to form that impression. Goddamn it, C19th. The spectre of Being Considered Mad for the crime of being a woman who wants to do something with her life hangs over this book too, by the way, but this time as a definite part of the point the author is trying to make.

4. When I'm done with that I've got a volume of Virginia Woolf's diaries to read and I admit I'm sort of procrastinating over posting about her until I've read at least some of that.

To Read

May. 8th, 2010 10:52 am
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Quick note: I don't lock any content on this journal right now so though I'm subscribing to people a lot more than I'm granting access I'm not actually hiding anything away! I'm also subscribing to whoever looks interesting right now. I'm a terrible commenter, I must warn, but if I post something you'd like to say something about you're welcome to.

That's all! Also that this has been a super-chaotic week because J has been off school sick and Val & I have had bursts of not-so-amazing health too, so I haven't been able to put together so many long posts. Yesterday was my birthday and today is a big family gathering. I'm beginning to accept that there's really no such thing as Regular Service to be resumed around here and one just has to take what one can get! Have some more quick points in passing:


1. While I'm generally going on about Scandinavian writers: a name I need to remember for when I'm a bit more fluent in Swedish is Birgitta Stenberg. As far as I know she's written quite a bit about lesbian and/or bisexual characters, and some of her work is autobiographical, which sounds pretty great to me since what I've been told of her life seems really interesting. There's also a film I will watch perhaps later this year, titled Apelsinmannen, which is adapted from a book in turn based on her experiences in the 50s. I've been unable to find any evidence that a single thing of hers has been translated into English, unfortunately; I think she's maybe not that big even here.

2. this and this. They could be interesting. The first is on order with the library & it looks like the other might be obtainable too. I'll keep you posted. (Why yes! we in this household are probably singlehandedly responsible for all interlibrary loans of books about Gender And Queer Stuff to this kommun.) Some day I'll post again about things I've actually read instead of things I would like to read.

3. If you'd like to know what I'm reading now, actually, it's a book called När Sverige var som störst. It is a history book. For children. It begins, of course, with the then future king of Sweden (parse that) skiing off to Norway because no-one wanted to help him become king. Then they had to skii after him to get him back because they changed their minds. "One of the more embarrassing episodes of Swedish history," says Val, although I will personally always think of the building and launch of the (not-so-)good ship Vasa as one of the most embarrassing episodes, myself. (But we haven't got that far through history yet. We're still busy turning Lutheran.)

4. I do not have time to tell you about the Vasa at the moment, because we're about to go and eat gluten-free cake and cook lunch for the rest of the family, but maybe I will tonight. It's embarrassing, so of course there is a museum in Stockholm entirely dedicated to it, possibly in case anyone gets any ideas about this country having some kind of dignity. Similarly, the thing where the first king of kinda-modern Sweden almost ran away to Norway is thoroughly commemorated, in this case with a huge cross-country skii race along the route he took. This is the Vasa race. (Er, the king-to-be in question was called Gustav Vasa, in case you're wondering about this similarity of naming across Embarrassing Swedish Episodes.)
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A bitty entry this time, because I have a few scraps I want to gather up and get rid of that I can't make into full posts in their own right at this exact (everyone-is-sick-and-chaos-reigns) moment.


1.

Have you heard of Victoria Benedictsson? I hadn't! This might just be because I'm not very well-read, but then again, it might not be. I will add the disclaimer here that I haven't actually read her books yet, though as soon as I can get to the library there's a copy of her novel Money (Pengar) waiting for me to collect. I am pretty excited about this. It's a criticism of the inequality of marriage at the time and of the sexual double standard between men and women!

Victoria Benedictsson was a Swedish writer, working in the late 19th century. She had a pretty eventful and possibly quite scandalous life, and struggled really hard to be accepted as artistically legitimate (often being dismissed as writing about women's issues). She was concerned with women's place in society and female sexuality, and her writing apparently has a really strong element of social commentary. She also inspired/influenced (and also possibly horrified) Ibsen and Strindberg, who I bet you have heard of, because they're basically The Dudes of Scandinavian theatre & literature. (The library I worked at last year in the UK had a Scandinavian literature section, which was composed almost entirely of Ibsen, with two plays by Strindberg. That was all. For reference.) Right now she's getting a bit more attention for the fact that her writing is basically full of pretty feminist ideas, but for ages people talked about her largely as that woman who had an affair with a literary critic and then killed herself because it didn't work out, which is unfortunate. (Especially as she didn't kill herself for those reasons, as far as can be discerned from the sources avaliable, which include, you know, detailed diary entries.)

Probably more on this topic at a later date, when I'm better informed.


2.

I've come to a realisation lately: namely, that traditional narrative is just not really my best friend. I tried to be friends with it for a few years and I think it mostly produced stories which were fragmented anyway (but, in absolute fairness, sometimes worked quite well like that) and stories which I could not possibly finish, and while we'll certainly remain on speaking terms I think we need some space from each other. The problem with it is maybe that it implies to some degree a worldview that I have problems with, of definite beginnings and middles and ends, patterns which resolve themselves into meaning, etc., and while I can happily accept that this is exactly what a lot of stories need and that there are very good reasons for telling them in that sort of way I don't think I would actually want to write like that because I am... not really writing for those reasons, not really interested in what happens so much as the people it happens to (or around or because of or in the mind of or...) and the places it happens in. If I am interested in patterns it's maybe more why people perceive them the way they do, and the ways in which they try to make stories out of their lives.

Possibly this is some kind of terrible difficulty, but I'm not really convinced; I think it's more of a difference, and one I'm happy to play with, which means I should write a different kind of story. It's the sort of thing where just accepting it is likely to make for slightly happier writing. I'm interested in building up fragments into something of a story and I'm interested in ambiguity and making people join the dots up to a certain point, though of course one has to play carefully in this territory.

Looking at the authors I really love in a way which goes beyond "this is a good and thought-provoking read" or whatever and into the territory of starry-eyed admiration, I don't think this should be very surprising. Virginia Woolf? Experimental stylist fond of stream-of-consciousness and writing people more than writing stories. Tove Jansson? Penchant for constructing novels out of short stories in a way which works mysteriously well to create a sense of who people are; very little happens but a lot is communicated; not really a progression along a line so much as a collection of snapshots that could be rearranged and played around with. Murakami? Books full of signs which signify... well, what, exactly? A lot about creating a sense that there's a pattern and not providing any kind of key to it, and having this actually be satisfying. His endings resolve nothing and I like it.

I'm also more in love with magical realism and making the ordinary otherwise threatening or unsettling or strange than I am with just writing the ordinary or with writing the outright extraordinary. I think there is a space there for subtle wrongness and a sense of disconnection from the day-to-day, and though that genre doesn't necessarily do that and things which do that aren't necessarily of that genre I think it's an area which would be fun to play in. Any sort of lense which produces strangeness would work, because, well, that's how the world feels to me. I guess I am about the sense that things don't quite fit and that the supposedly ordinary can be the most disconcerting thing, because it often is to me.

This realisation brought to you partly by a conversation in which I got frustrated with Alice Munro's stories for being beautifully crafted and all about women's daily lives (OK, resoundingly straight women's daily lives with heavy emphasis on the men therein whether as a presence or an absence, which may just have been a part of the problem for me when it came to identifying with them) and absolutely boring to me because they feel like a part of a legendary Normal World I have never actually set foot in and wouldn't really enjoy if I got there. I simply can't connect to them, though they are probably really pretty good if you can.


3.

A couple of links.

a. I've decided I really like the community [community profile] queering_holmes. I decided this largely because they seem to like Graham Robb's Strangers over there and because this could just be the place I'm looking for with Queer Victorian Stuff and an interest in Holmes as linked in to that context. Maybe I can air my theories about Irene Adler. Sometime when I'm feeling confident enough to be sociable. For now I'll sit and watch and feel a tiny bit gleeful.

b. I'm not actually any good at Japanese history - I've studied the bits that could reasonably be covered by a course about indigenous cultures worldwide from an archaeological perspective, which is to say, groups like the Ainu, and I've read a bunch of books about homosexuality among Samurai and monks, and I've absorbed various other information in a completely haphazard way so that the end result is a bit surreal - but here is a post about Samurai Champloo from someone who seems rather better at it. I love Samurai Champloo, for the record, and I love it as a fun and gloriously irreverent series and as a piece of commentary and also for its amazingly choreographed fight scenes. But in this case we're talking about it as a series taking a good kick at the Samurai drama genre as a whole even while theoretically playing within its borders.
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First! Tomorrow is election day back home; I can't vote, which is a long story of bureaucratic horrors; I'm furious about it. Let's not talk about that. If you're a UK citizen, though, please just vote. (Me, terrified of Tory government? Why would I be... oh wait! Yes! Because they're biggoted bastards! Now I remember.)


Now for something... still kind of about Sweden, actually. I was going to talk about Virginia Woolf but that topic has too high a brain-requirement for this week. I'm going to talk about Stieg Larsson instead.


Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (about sexism, murder, financial scandals, government corruption, right-wing extremism and investigative journalism, if you can imagine), is far from perfect. I do mean far. It's pretty heavy-handed in its message and the pacing is way off and the shopping-lists littered throughout need shooting. Much of the plot is utterly ridiculous, although in certain subsets of detective/thriller stories that might be considered a plus. It feels very journalistic sometimes, which is because it was written by a journalist, though whether this is a plus or a minus is entirely down to taste. But here is what I do like about it:

Possibly triggering contents, particularly relating to sexual assault. Err, and there are probably some spoilers too. )

But overall these books are a really fine balance for me. I really enjoy them, though they're ridiculous, but I can see how a fairly small shift in how they were put together would have rendered them unreadable and fury-inducing.

I'm not sure the Swedish film managed to get that right, entirely, and I don't even know what to expect from a hollywood remake, but I'm sort of quietly suspicious. Maybe they'll pull off something really interesting. Maybe! But uh...
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[personal profile] eggcrack wanted to know how I think the Moomin books compare to Tove Jansson's books for adults, if any comparison can be made. I certainly think it can be. Let's see how this goes. I'm going to have trouble citing sources for this at times because a lot of them have just been read out loud to me from books written in Swedish which are way above my current reading comprehension level.

Also, on the topic of Tove Jansson's books, if you haven't spotted it yet you may be interested to know that Travelling Light (Resa med lätt baggage, I think) is being released in English this summer. I'm looking forward to it, because while I can read texts in Swedish it's really laborious and sometimes you want to just experience the book.

Anyway!



Tove Jansson spent the earlier part of her career writing about and drawing the Moomins, who began their life as a happy family who could pretty much deal with anything cheerfully, in a way which probably contained a fairly strong element of escapism. Even the earlier ones are about disasters and danger, not always in a way entirely disconnected from the real world (there's an essay titled Tove Jansson's 'Comet in Moominland' as War Text by Kate McLoughlin, in Tove Jansson Rediscovered, which talks about the use of a flaming red comet from the east threatening to wipe everyone out when used in a book published in Finland in 1946 - look, do I really need to spell this one out?) - but it's about disasters that are survived, and in pretty good humour on the whole. People have grand adventures along the way, and there's always a good ending. Her books for adults are not about grand adventures; they're about people, and philosophy. So on the surface of it, they're very different - or at least, say, Comet in Moominvalley (Kometen kommer, originally Kometjakten, the second moomin book and the earliest widely avaliable in English), from the 40s, is very different from Fair Play (Rent spel), from 1989. But why wouldn't it be? Apart from the presence or absence of small happy trolls, there are 35 years of life between them.

What I actually feel happens is not that there's a disconnect between her writing which is marketed for children (not sure it really is so much For Children, in fact, but that's another argument) and her writing for adults so much as that there's a fairly logical progression. The idealised world of the happy family of Moomins breaks down over the course of the moomin series, and if the early books held up a fairly traditional family structure and made it look wonderful the later books almost seem to show that as having been largely an illusion - maybe even all along.

Moominpappa at Sea (Pappan och havet - 1965) is the obvious example, with Moominmamma withdrawing into herself and her art because she's unhappy with their situation and Moominpappa coming across as obsessive and insecure about his (perceived) role as the protector of the family. Moominvalley in November (Sent i november - 1970, and the very last novel to be written about Moominvalley) is also about this illusion of the Moomin family as opposed to the reality; people from all around gather at the moomins' home expecting the family to be there to provide whatever it is they feel they need, but what most of them are after, as far as I remember, is actually mostly fictitious. They cling to the bits that suit whatever it is they need, not the reality of the family, so that the family are more a symbol than anything. The tone of both books is melancholy and philosophical, and there aren't any particularly grand adventures; possibly Moominpappa tried to force one in Moominpappa at Sea by taking his whole family off to the lighthouse, but the character of the thing is very different.

Unsurprisingly, Tove talked about becoming unable to recapture the happiness of Moominvalley. To me it feels like something she probably needed at one time, and outgrew.


The first of her books for adults, Sculptor's Daughter (Bildhuggarens dotter) was published in 1968, so a couple of years before Moominvalley in November, and I think it has things in common with the Moomin books, actually. It's an at least semi autobiographical book, and in it one can feel pieces of the family structure of the Moomins - her father, the sculptor, comes across to me as rather like Moominpappa, the troubled writer, at times. I don't have a copy of this book - it's long out of print in English, and I got hold of it as a very old and battered library copy when I lived in the UK. I haven't read it in a while, though some of the essays I've read more recently have touched on it, so forgive me if I get this wrong.

It's a set of stories narrated by a child, who takes a kind of idealistic view of her family and their work and their relationships - but the adult Tove colours the text rather, and you can feel that there are problems there which are not being looked at straight on. It has an idealistic element to it, from the child, but possibly quiet cynicism in the background, from the adult. For example, the emphasis on the father's work and the father's sense of importance is emphasised, but it's actually the mother's hard work that keeps things together - I don't remember if it was actually spelled out in the book (I fancy it may be strongly implied), but it's certainly the way the Jansson family worked, with Tove's mother Signe providing most of their income with graphic design work. At this stage I'll just direct you to the book itself if you can find a copy, and to the essay Bohemia and Beyond: Creativity and the Artistic Lifestyle in 'Sculptor's Daughter' by Sonia Wichmann, again in Tove Jansson Rediscovered.

Basically, it feels like a real transition piece, and I'm actually tempted to argue that in some ways it doesn't have much more in common with other pieces of her adult fiction than, say, Moominvalley in November*, except for the coincidence of not containing Hemulen et al. Moominvalley in November is the more philosophical book, and although it's about the little creatures of Moominvalley it's actually an awful lot about people, while Sculptor's Daughter contains a less strongly questioned nostalgia for childhood but is a move towards the fairly unveiled autobiography that comes out in a number of her later books. This isn't to say that I don't think the Moomin books contain elements of Tove's actual life; see above. I think Tove was a number of the characters from the Moomin books at different times... one is even named after her, and two are named after people she was in love with or in a relationship with.**


Beyond this sort of transitory period, there are also themes that Tove kept playing with right through her life that tie the Moomin books together with her books for adults, though there are of course big areas in which they don't overlap. All the same: creativity is permanently present, in The Exploits of Moominpappa (Muminpappans memoarer) and in Moominsummer Madness (Farlig midsommar) when Moominpappa works on his memoirs and tries to write a play, respectively, and in Tales from Moominvalley when Snufkin struggles with the balance between creative freedom and responsibility to one's audience, and in others besides; I won't get into listing which of her later books count, because it's basically all of them, or at least every single one I've been able to get hold of and read.

Tove wrote, when it comes right down to it, about work, which for her was always creative work, and love. (The introduction by Ali Smith to the English edition of Fair Play says that a young Tove used Labora et amare as a moto in her personal bookplate design, and that "As she told an interviewer in 1994, 'The most important thing for me has been work. And then love.'") And I think that pretty much counts for the vast majority of her books, whatever the apparent target audience - although there's a shift in focus. While the Moomin books focus on relationships that centre in around the family unit of the Moomins themselves (whether they're present or not) her later books move towards relationships between women. This isn't universally the case (Sculptor's Daughter is still about the family as a whole, and while I haven't read Sun City I understand that it has a different focus, to name just a couple), but here are the books that I own of her later ones:

- Fair Play is about the relationship between two ageing women who live and work together
- The True Deceiver is about a young woman, Katri, and an elderly artist, Anna, and a kind of strange power struggle between them over the course of a winter in a remote Swedish village; it's a tense sort of book, where one feels that something terrible might happen at any moment, and it's the nuances of their relationship which do that
- A Winter Book is a collection of short stories, and the emphasis varies story by story, but there are, for example, stories composed entirely of letters between women.
- The Summer Book is about three people living on an island for the summer, but two of them take centre-stage, and those two are a child called Sophia her grandmother, who irritate each other and help each other understand things and much more.

(Which is to say, if anyone was feeling the need for books which pass the bechdel test with absolutely flying colours, here you go. Work and small animals and creativity and religion and money and friends and haiku and many other things are discussed. And sometimes men. But mostly other stuff, to be honest. Have at.)

There's also a move towards openly gay characters, for a varying value of optimistic representation (...again, I haven't actually read Sun City, but...). Fair Play is clearly the obvious choice to illustrate this point; see description above.

At first glance the moomin books are much more conventional when it comes to gender and sexuality than her later books. But you don't have to squint that hard to get hold of signs of other things, as proved by the essay Roses, Beads and Bones: Gender, Borders and Slippage in Tove Jansson's Moomin Comic-Strips by K.A. Laity (Guess which book of essays this is in! Go on! Guess! ...that's right! The only book of essays about Tove Jansson's work avaliable in the English language, as referenced several times already...), which basically talks about a series of comic strips which can be read as undermining expectations about gender, age and desire. There's also an essay about homoerotic themes in the Moomin books at large, but it's in Swedish only, and also I've lost the title, so you're going to have to take my word for it. I haven't read it, so I don't know what points it makes. But it exists! (Further information from People Who Know welcomed.)


Returning to more definitely common themes, though, is a kind of respect and love for nature which gets in everywhere. There is a kind of sentimentality to it, and an attachment to the dramatic extremes of storms, for example, but also a constant presence of practicality, grounding it just a little: that you can enjoy a storm but only if you're sure of the moorings on your boat and you haven't left your fishing nets in the water. Some of her characters get carried away in their sentimentality over nature - Moominpappa is one such - but many take a more grounded and practical approach even while loving it, and Snufkin the traveller is one of those. In her later books, characters try to balance the two feelings, and Tove often comes across as critical of people from the cities who come out to the islands for the summer without understanding how things work there; perhaps partly about snobbishness (in the way her child self was snobbish about people living less bohemian lives than her own in Sculptor's Daughter) but partly about the damage that people can do and have done to them when they only think of nature as something beautiful. This comes back a lot, in The Summer Book particularly, and in Moominvalley in November with the Hemulen who thinks he loves sailing and boats, and perhaps with Moominpappa's rather fumbling attempts to understand the sea around the lighthouse in Moominpappa at Sea. But there's a real love of the sea especially and the natural world in general that I got from all of her books, and the tone of it coincides happily with my feelings about the whole thing, actually.


I think my overall point is that I do think of Tove Jansson's works as a fairly coherent unit, actually, with a lot of common themes and what feels like a natural progression through the course of Tove's life, from young artist through to old age (she was in her 70s when she published Fair Play). There are changing concerns and changing needs but there's not such a giant disconnect between what people think of as the two bodies of (written) work she produced.

Or that's how I feel about it, anyway.




* Interestingly, I also almost feel as though Moominvalley in November is edging a little towards the structure used in Sculptor's Daughter as well as in many of her other books for adults, which is chapters which are fairly loosely connected but build together to form a story. In this case it's mostly a product of tracing the stories and concerns of individual characters, as opposed to the Moomins on an adventure style of earlier Moomin books.
** Those characters are: Tofslan for herself and Vifslan for... damn, I can't find the exact name. There was a woman she was in love with who had a name like Violet or Violetta or something. Can anyone help me? This info comes from the 2007 biography by Boel Westin, which I do not have on hand and cannot read properly anyway, but which seems excellent. Anyway, those are the characters who in English are Thingumy and Bob, the two mischievous ones who talk in their own nonsense-language only they understand. In English they switch the order of syllables around. In Swedish they add -sla or -slan onto the end of words. It is not uncommon for people in this household to spontaneously begin talking like that, which is what comes of there being a ten year old child and two adults who barely qualify for the term. Anyway, the final character named for someone in Tove's life that I'm aware of is Too-ticki/Too-ticky, for Finnish artist Tuulikki Pietilä, her long-term partner. Of these Too-ticki has the biggest role and is recognisable as a similar character to, say, Jonna in Fair Play.
marshtide: (Mist)
In the past I think I may have grumbled at people about the Penguin Great Ideas series. It's a sequence which currently stands at 80 books but I think will eventually be 100, presenting, well, great ideas. Or at least ideas that people have thought were great at some point or other. It says.

It's actually a pretty neat idea, to lay a wide range of essays and so on by authors which have had a big impact on the way people think over the ages, simply as themselves. Some of the books are also pretty attractive-looking. I own a couple of them - the Virginia Woolf ones, predictably enough (A Room of One's Own and Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid, though the latter is actually a small collection of her essays, since Thoughts on Peace... is a very short text) - but when I look over the whole list of titles it does make me a little irritated, because, wait for it...

...it's full of dead white men!

Aren't you shocked? I bet you never saw that one coming.

I don't even know to what degree I should even blame the editor(s?) for the fact that the list is hugely skewed towards Dead White Men, given that Dead White Men have been influencing big chunks of the world for a fair while now, and writing about it while they do, while it's true that a number of other groups had things to worry about other than writing essays on What It All Means. But not all groups. And not all the time. This is a list put together in the UK, for a UK market, and there are certain biases which are deeply unsurprising considering that. That doesn't mean I have to actually like that fact, or buy into it.

OK. Other people do make it in! There is a small collection of dead white women - Virginia Woolf appears twice, and then of course they've included an extract from Wollstonecraft, and I should think so too, and then Christine de Pizan (The City of Ladies), and finally Hannah Arendt (Eichmann and the Holocaust). Of these five books, I note, precisely two aren't about what I am pretty sure a number of guys I have known would refer to as Women Stuff - by which I mean, aren't representative of that phenomenon where women talk about the situation of women, but men talk about the situation of humankind. Yes, there are damn good reasons why women have felt the need to write about the situation of women, and I completely support that and love a number of the texts in question, but seeing it represented so clearly does make me kind of sad, because that was what it felt important for women to talk about at the beginning of the 15th Century when Christine de Pizan was writing, and it's was something Virginia Woolf felt strongly that it was necessary to talk about in the early 20th Century, and we're still talking about it now. Of course there's been all sorts of progress made. But. But.

People who aren't white? Well, the Chinese and Japanese make it in, though I do note that the Japanese authors (I don't know which) appear only collectively as "The Zen Masters". There's Confucius and Sun Tzu and Lao Tzu. I don't know what to make of that as a selection of Chinese writers/thinkers, because I'm completely undereducated on Chinese history and duly ashamed of the fact. But they're there.

There's W.E.B Du Bois' The Dawn of Freedom. Uh, that's the only other one I can spot right now, though I might have missed something.

Basically, it's a really wide selection of (largely western-)European and North American white male intellectuals, with bonus Russian and Chinese authors, unspecified Japanese guys sharing a book, a few women (European), and one African-American man. Apparently African people in Africa have made no impact at all; Asia is only China and Japan; no-one is talking about the Middle East; and as for the Indian subcontinent and South America, well, hah.

And sure, that's about reflective of an awful lot of people's mental landscape when it comes to influential ideas in Western Europe (I can't speak for the US, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's similar), although I might have expected, I don't know, some kind of representation of Muslim ideas, given their impact on Europe, which goes back a pretty long way. I guess we try not to talk about that right now! But it's not exactly the most flattering reflection, and basically, yes, the dead white men have a running start on white women and on black people of any gender, basically because they tried their damnedest to not share the paper for a really long time, but they don't by any means have a running start on a whole lot of Asia or on the Arabic-speaking part of the world, just for example, and that doesn't seemed to have helped the representation of those ideas a whole lot, I guess because a lot of dead white dudes have put a lot of effort into making it look as though they somehow don't really count to people here, despite the huge influence that many of them have had overall. Also, pretty sure that in the last hundred-odd years quite a lot of people who aren't white men have been writing all sorts of things even in Europe and the USA, actually, and even before then, well...

...All of this is actually just an incredibly long-winded to say, can anyone recommend me some interesting essays not written by the dead white dudes? Or the white dudes in general? Because some of the dead white dudes had some neat ideas sometimes, but I've read a whole bunch of stuff by them anyway, I'm feeling a bit swamped by them right now, because, you know,

1. Men are not the world, and
2. especially not when by 'men' you mean 'white men', and
3. Europe is not the world either, and
4. nor is the USA.

(Err, they shouldn't be written by Virginia Woolf, either, because I think I've read nearly all of those...)

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