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Decadent Women Telling Nation

by Viola Parente-Capkova

Turn-of-the-19th-and-the-20th-century European women writers engaging with the decadent mode got usually involved in a lot of contradictions and paradoxes both in their work and in their lives, relationship to nationalism being one of the most pronounced ones. It is clear that nationalism, as well as decadence, had a different meaning in different contexts. Finland, which is going to be in the focus of my attention, was experiencing the culmination of what has been usually referred to as “national awakening” at the turn of the 19th and the 20th century, incompatible, for many, with the decadent trend in art and thinking, associated with decay, sickness and degeneration.

In my paper, I am going to concentrate on the Finnish writer L. Onerva (1882-1972) from a comparative perspective. L. Onerva’s strategies to construct female subjectivity within the framework of the decadent mode on the one hand, and the ”New Woman discourse” on the other, developed in the context of the Finnish national awakening, in which the turn of the 19th and the 20th century Finnish writers lived and operated. L. Onerva was a Finnish language writer, supposed to take part, in a way or another, in the ”Finnish national project”, but, as one of the most international cultural figures of her generation, producing fiction, poetry, literary and art criticism as well as numerous translations (mostly from French), she was regarded by some as ”too cosmopolitan”. She was concerned with women’s emancipation as well as with its problematization, being much closer to the artistic circles enchanted with decadence, Nietzscheanism and other fin-de-siècle trends, accused by many of ”misogyny”, than to the mainstream Finnish women’s movement, characterized by adherence to patriotism and Christian (Lutheran) moral values.

Juxtaposing L. Onerva’s relationship with nationalism with those of some other European decadent women writers (as Rachilde or Zinaida Gippius), I want to emphasize the importance of the (historical and political) context of the respective writers’ environments as well as to look at their strategies to construct female subjectivity within the framework of the feminist theoretical approaches to the issues of gender, nationalism, authorship and aesthetic.

AsK, November 2010

  • Conferences > NEWW international conferences > Madrid 2010 > Abstract Capkova

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