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Att få lov [Elektronisk resurs] Kvinnor och baler kring 1880-talet

Gedin, David 1960- (författare)
Uppsala Svenska Litteratursällskapet 2007
Ingår i: Samlaren. - 0348-6133. ; 128, 52-109
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  • David Gedin, Att få lov. Kvinnor och baler kring 1880-talet . ( May I? Women at balls in the late Nineteenth Century .) The ball, as central literary theme, symbol and milieu, is as old in Swedish literature as the bourgeois, realistic novel. But it is among female writers it occurs frequently, while it hardly exists among the men. The obvious reason is that in the life of an unmarried bourgeois woman, the ball was the scene and marketplace for her transformation from her old family and her role as daughter to a new one with herself as the mother. Going to her first ball was a vital and delicate occasion. She was ”coming out”, that is, leaving the relatively secure and isolated harbour of the intimate sphere of the nuclear family, to become a public commodity on the market of match-making. Her value was a combination of her dowry, social background, looks and behaviour. This was the day of reckoning of her upbringing. And her success did not only decide her own future, but also influenced that of her family. If she did not find a proper husband, her family would in most cases have to support her for the rest of her life. On the other hand, a good marriage could bee a great social and economical improvement for her parents, brothers and sisters. She could for example be able to take care of a less fortunate spinster sister. Demands on appearance and behaviour of the young woman where both rigorous and paradoxical. A good wife should raise children and rule her household with a firm hand, live through pregnancy and childbirth, as well as see to her husband’s sexual needs. But to attract the attention of a man with good expectations and the financial possibility to marry, she should seem modest, controlled, innocent and attentive towards her husband’s wants. That is, to have a social and economical career, she had to appear to be without any financial considerations, and to become a mother she must seem totally ignorant of her sexuality. It is no wonder that this dilemma required some help, and it was provided by the novels’ detailed descriptions of ideal male and female behaviour, as well as warnings of irresponsible and ruthless men and offensive female appearances, for example that of scheming or coquetry. But though the market in the bourgeois, liberal society was far from romantic, it was at least to some extent free. Even though the stakes where high and the rules rigid, the ball represented an additional space, a period of possibilities and relative freedom. The time available was depending on the young woman’s desirability, but ought to, at the most, have lasted about ten years. From about the age of 16, 17 to about 27, 28. By depicting this period in a young woman’s life – dealing with it at length – female authors did not only shed light on this freedom but also made the shadows of unhappy marriages or childhoods appear more distinctively. This becomes more evident in the eighteen-eighties when the young generation of realistic writers stood up and criticized the established society. Female writers in particular described the business of courting and matchmaking at the balls without the traditional romantic glow of love and romance. In their stories it did not only appear as a short period of relative freedom but materialistic and cynical as well. Consequently the descriptions effectively worked as a severe critique against (the bourgeois) women’s situation at large. This marked the beginning of the end of the nineteen-century balls, and both their practical and symbolic significance, in social life as well as in literature. This was that was emphasized and developed further by the next generation female writers. It becomes especially evident in the early works of Selma Lagelöf, in her unpublished epic poem ”Madame de Castro” or ”Marknadsbalen” (”The Market Ball”) written about 1885, and in ”Gösta Berlings saga” (1891). In those stories she expropriates the ball as a scene, transforming it into a stage populated by poets and artists. Matrimony, the patriarchate, social position, beauty and money are dismissed; that is, all of the central values in the construction of the hierarchy that defined the bourgeois women becomes but a petty background to the real drama of individuality, artistry and freedom. Moreover, the ball is banished to an artificial past in witch Lagerlöf is free to caricature and thereby sharply criticize the actual conditions of women. This way, she is giving life and form to the ongoing upheaval of the established order, and the banishing of the central practical and symbolical function of the balls at the threshold of the twentieth century. 


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