Serving the nation? Preparedness, welfare state, gender, and national identity in 1940s Swedish fiction
About the project
The overarching aim of the project is to create new knowledge of a complex time and place, 1940s Sweden, when the content of Swedishness and the positions of the sexes are much debated issues. The main research question is: what happens to the concepts nation and Swedishness when connected to sex/gender and ethnicity in a politically and ideologically charged time? And who is included as a (loyal) Swedish man or woman?
The project material consists of Swedish female writers’ prose fiction from the 1940s, formerly unexplored. Using texts by Marika Stiernstedt, Margareta Suber, Gurli Hertzman-Ericson and Karin Juel among others, the project investigates the charged discussion about who has the right to belong to the nation of Sweden and therefore can be defined as a Swedish man or woman, a discussion which has many connections to the debate today. Another important concept for this project is resistance: to what degree do the literary texts offer resistance against hegemonic national ideologies? To what degree do they write themselves into these?
The material is explored using the concept body politics which in a feminist analysis means that sexed bodies, also at a symbolic level, constitute the basis for creating and upholding the idea of the nation – here men become defenders of the nation, whereas women reproduce it through motherhood. This order is questioned in the literary material, eg in different scenarios taking place in war and conflict where women take up arms and men become pacifists. The refugee as a ‘stranger’ is also analysed using the literary texts, connected to issues about race and ethnicity: how can for example Jewishness be handled in relation to Swedishness? And how is Jewishness conceptualized in Swedish established fiction, in a time and place when anti-Semitic manifestations cannot pass any longer?
On some issues, mainly the female body is focused: for example, a new law on abortion (1939) brings the question about giving birth for the nation to a head during the 1940s. In the literary texts one can find a spectrum of views on abortion. The female desire is investigated in the project as well: when (Scandinavian) female characters pass a border that is both ideological and national, having relations with the Enemy, they are viewed automatically as collaborators. Using the concept honour connected to female citizenship as a starting point, the project analyses how the demeaning punishment of the ‘unfaithful’ females, executed by domestic males, becomes necessary in order to restore national honour. Regardless of the context in which the female body is situated, heteronormativity and masculine supremacy reign.