Jump to: navigation, search

Marie Nedregotten Sørbø

Fighting for her profession: Dorothe’s discourse of self-defence

As Aphra Behn argued for her vocation as the first professional woman writer in England, a six year older Scandinavian colleague did the same from her corner of Europe. Writing from the Norwegian city of Bergen, Dorothe Engelbretsdatter (1634-1716) acquired fame and popularity among her contemporaries. Her two books of religious poetry were published in Denmark as well as Norway, and reprinted and reused for a couple of centuries to come. Their status as best-sellers is confirmed by the fact that there were six editions of the first title in her own lifetime, and numerous more to come. When her fellow poet Petter Dass tried to buy a copy, it had sold out and he wrote a rhyming letter begging the poetess herself to send him one.

Dorothe Engelbretsdatter has gone down in literary history as the first professional woman poet in Denmark-Norway, and it is indeed an honour that she claimed for herself, as she refers to herself as the first ‘She-Poet in the Kingdoms’. Although admired by the young dramatist Ludvig Holberg, other male critics voiced their skepticism in no uncertain terms.

Her fight for her art and her livelihood was sometimes fierce. A clergyman’s widow for large parts of her life, the imperative to earn money from her writing made her try to defend her copyrights. There were pirate copies attempting to cash in on her success, and she turned on the pirate publishers with entertaining if harsh polemics. Others accused her of plagiarism, claiming that her texts were really written by men, and she responded in counter-attacks in the form of occasional verse. Her fights paid off, and she was awarded royal support in the form of tax release for the rest of her life.

Her publication history and struggles throw light on the possibilities and limitations of women’s entrance into the market of commercial publication around 1700. Her explicit polemics as well as the argument implied in much of her poetry that women could and should write reminds us of similar features in the texts of Behn or Anne Bradstreet. Her seemingly humble submission to male superiority while aiming kicks at ‘the trouser folk’, demonstrates the urgently felt need to be admitted to the book market.

SvD, July 2012

Personal tools