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Torill Steinfeld

Dagny Juel Przybyszewska: a Norwegian woman transcending boundaries


The Norwegian author and translator Dagny Juel Przybyszewska’s (1867–1901) life and oeuvre offer an outstanding example of how a late 19th-century European woman was able to explore and transcend boundaries, both in her life, and in her writings. A bohemian beauty and muse, Juel became well-connected, albeit controversial, among Scandinavian artists and writers, in the 1890s, both during her years abroad, in Germany (Berlin) and Poland, and in Norway. Her marriage to the Polish writer Stanis?aw Przybyszewski, the love of her life and the father of her two children, undermined her personal and social security however, and her vulnerability, due to his adulterous life-style and inability and unwillingness to support his family, might even explain her premature death at 33. She was killed by a male acquaintance, during a stay in Tiflis. On the other hand the Przybyszewskis did promote each other’s literary works as translators in their respective countries, and the fact that several Juel-texts were published in Krakow (in ?ycie) and Praha (in Moderni revue) during her life-time, and that Stanis?aw Przybyszewski translated and published her three plays in Polish after her death, is a tribute to her talent and their position as high-profiled European intellectuals. Some of Juel’s plays were also staged in Tjekkia, Poland and, after her death, in Russia (by Meyerhold).

Dagny Juel’s literary works (poems, poetic prose, drama-fragments and plays) explore the relationship between women and men in a modern, but empty world, focusing on erotic desires, destiny as a force-of-life, and identity-themes. Death and love intermingles; the protagonist often has a dark sister-figure in a dead woman with whom she once shared her lover, and whose death now might haunt her. Decadent, symbolic, myth-driven – these are rather disturbing texts.

The lecture will give a presentation of Dagny Juel as an author and cultural figure, thus contributing to the theme of the conference, the “East-West Connections within Europe”.

AsK, September 2012

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