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Equality and Women’s Rights - An Early Liberal Feminist Comment on Building a Society

by Kati Launis

The creation of the national identity was one of the main projects of the 19th century. In Finland – as well as in other countries too – literature was seen as part of this national project. Women writers, who entered the literary field instantly after it started to develop in the 1840’s, took part in the contemporary debate concerning family, marriage and, above all, the possibilities and barriers of women.

In my proposed paper I’m dealing with an early feminist novel commenting that then current heated debate on women and their position in Finland in 1860’s. The novel in question is Marie Linder’s En qvinna af vår tid (1867, “A Woman of Our Time”), in which Linder deals with women’s rights to study and work and their possibilities outside the marriage institution.

What distinguishes Linder’s novel from other early novels written by women in Finland is the cosmopolitanism of the writer, settings and the protagonist. Marie Linder (1840–1870), née Mušin-Puškin, was by birth a Russian aristocrat, who spoke many languages, travelled extensively and moved in literary circles. Her novel tells a story of an English aristocrat Lucy Suffridge (cf. the word 'suffrage') through which Linder constructs an image of a new kind of “a woman of our time”.

Linder’s novel is connected with the Russian debate on “new woman” and the classical liberal feminism (e.g. John Stuart Mill). It shows how early feminist thinking in Finland included elements of the liberal traditions as well as the Hegelian-fennomanian tradition and the nationalist movement. It expresses one alternative in the new way of thinking – a new way of creating a more equal society.

AsK, September 2012

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