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Fredrika Charlotta Runeberg, Finnish-Swedish author, 1807-1879

By Heidi Grönstrand, University of Turku

Fredrika Runeberg (1807-1879) is one of the earliest women novelists in Finland. This author, who is also the first Finnish newspaper-woman, is best known for her historical novels Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar. En berättelse från stora ofredens tid (1858) and Sigrid Liljeholm (1862) which both deal with history from the perspective of women. Runeberg wrote in Swedish and while her debut novel was translated into Finnish in 1881, it was not until the 1980’s before she was really recognised by the Finnish speaking population. During this decade her novels and her collection of short stories became available in new Finnish translations. Although we do not know very much about the reception of Runeberg’s works abroad, especially in Scandinavia, it is known that her debut novel was published in Sweden in 1861, only three years after it had been published in Finland. Moreover, her second novel, Sigrid Liljeholm, was acknowledged by at least one Danish journal because the review has been found in the archives of her work.

Fredrika Runeberg was well known in her own time. Her first biography was written over a hundred years ago by Aleksandra Gripenberg (1857-1913), a pioneer in the women's rights movement in Finland. Many literary scholars of recent years have also been interested in examining for example Runeberg’s impact on the development of the historical novel in Finland as well as her general position as an early woman writer. Moreover, researchers dealing with Fredrika Runeberg do not have to worry about a lack of source material. Due to the fact that she was married to J.L.Runeberg, the Finnish national poet, her manuscripts, extensive correspondence and other kinds of literary material including flower care instructions, accounting books and even the brown paper bag in which she kept her texts, have been very well archived.

Her position as the wife of J.L.Runeberg certainly gained Fredrika Runeberg a place in the literary field. Also, Runeberg came from a well educated family which realised the importance of educating both boys and girls. Beside the extensive home education, Fredrika Runeberg (née Tengström) was given the possibility of attending a the pension for girls in Turku for one year. In this school she learned English, among other things, which was not very common in Finland in the 19th century. As she knew English, she had a possibility to read English novels such as those by Walter Scott. In fact, Fredrika Runeberg was the one who introduced his work to the reading public in Finland. It is also known that she used to translate simultaneously texts from French, German and English into Swedish for her husband. On the other hand, Fredrika Runeberg was not only an author but first and foremost a mother for her six sons and a spouse who would not dream of waking the maid to make her husband’s coffee at four in the morning, but would rather do it herself. There is also a fourteen-year period during which Fredrika Runeberg acted as a nurse for her paralysed husband. Yet even during this period she was productive in terms of writing. Some of her essays were published in a journal which was read both in Finland and in Sweden.

Fredrika Runeberg died in 1879, but some of her works has been published much later. The most interesting work is undoubtedly her autobiography Min pennas saga (1946, "The story of my pen") in which she portrays herself as a true and ambitious author. The autobiography further strengthens the image of Fredrika Runeberg as a woman who was committed to her work as a writer; writing was an integral part of her life ever since her childhood until her last years.


Key works

  • Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar. En berättelse från stora ofredens tid. Af -a-g (Helsinki: G.W. Edlund, 1858) [´Lady Catharina Boije and her daughters. A story from the times of the Great Northern War by -a-g’]
  • Teckningar och drömmar. Af -a-g (Helsinki: Th. Sederholm, 1861) [‘Sketches and dreams’]
  • Sigrid Liljeholm. Roman af -a-g (Helsinki: Th. Sederholm, 1862.) [‘Sigrid Liljeholm. A novel by –a-g]

Articles in literary histories

  • Kati Launis, ”Sara Wacklin ja Fredrika Runeberg – Suomen varhaisen ruotsinkielisen naiskirjallisuuden suomentamisesta”, Suomennoskirjallisuuden historia. 1. Eds. H.K.Riikonen, Urpo Kovala, Pekka Kujamäki and Outi Paloposki. (Helsinki: SKS, 2007), pp. 180–183.
  • Huhtala, Liisi, ”J. L. Runebergin varjosta – Fredrika Runeberg”, ”Sain roolin johon en mahdu”. Suomalaisen naiskirjallisuuden linjoja, toim. Maria-Liisa Nevala, (Helsinki: Otava 1989), pp. 124-132. [From the shadow of J. L. Runeberg – Fredrika Runeberg. In "I was given a role which does not fit me." Trends in Finnish women's literature]
  • Georg Schoolfield, “Fredrika Runeberg”, A History of Finland’s Literature. Ed. by Georg Schoolfield (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998), pp. 322-326.
  • Liisi Huhtala, ‘Självuppoffringens bitra njutning. Om Fredrika Runeberg'. Nordisk kvinnolitteraturhistoria 2.Faderhuset.1800-talet, ed. Elisabeth Möller Jensen & al. (Höganäs: Viken, 1993), pp. 298-307. [The bitter plesure of self-sacrificing. About Fredrika Runeberg. In The Nordic history of women’s literature]
  • Pia Forssell,”Fredrika Runeberg – ambition och konvention”, Finlands svenska litteraturhistoria I, (Helsingfors: Svenska litteratursällskapet och Stockholm: Atlantis 1999), pp.306-314. [Fredrika Runeberg – ambition and convention. In History of Swedish-language literature in Finland. Part one: 1400-1900]


  • Karin Allardt-Ekelund, Fredrika Runeberg. En biografisk och litteraturhistorisk studie. (Helsinki: SSLF, 1942) [Fredrika Runeberg. A biographical and historical analysis]
  • Merete Mazzarella, Fredrika Charlotta född Tengström. En nationalskalds hustru (Helsinki: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland. Stockholm: Atlantis, 2007.) [Fredrika Charlotta née Tengström. Wife of a national poet]
  • Merete Mazzarella, Fredrika Charlotta, o.s. Tengström: kansallisrunoilijan vaimo (trans. Raija Viitanen. Helsinki: Tammi) [Fredrika Charlotta née Tengström. Wife of a national poet]
  • Merete Mazzarella, A womanly pursuit. Books from Finland 4/2007. pp. 293-295.

Articles in academic journals

  • Heidi Grönstrand, "In Fredrika Bremer’s footsteps: Early women authors and the rise of the novel genre in Finland". NORA-Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research 1/2008, pp.46-57
  • Pia Forssell, ”Fredrika Runeberg och bilden av författarskapet”, Historiska och litteraturhistoriska studier 82, SSLS 699, Helsinki 2007, pp. 93–140 [Fredrika Runeberg and the image of her authorship.]
  • Mari Hatavara, "Fredrika Runeberg’s Strategies in Writing the History of Finnish Women in Sigrid Liljeholm", Scandinavian Studies (2006) 78 (2), pp. 153-166.
  • Heidi Grönstrand, "The Melodramatic Heroine and Her Sense of Death in Fredrika Runeberg’s Novel Fru Catharina Boije och hennes döttrar." On the Threshold: New Studies in Nordic Literature. Eds. Janet Garton and Michael Robinson. Norwich. Norwik Press, 2002, pp. 136-143.
  • Pia Forssell, ”Sigrid Liljeholm och kvinnorollens gränser”, Historiska och litteraturhistoriska studier 69, SSLS 588, Helsinki 1994, pp. 21–83 [Sigrid Liljeholm and the limits of the woman’s role]

Other relevant sources

  • Hatavara, Mari, Historia ja poetiikka Fredrika Runbergin ja Zacharias Topeliuksen historiallisissa romaaneissa (Helsinki: SKS 2007) [History and Poetics in Fredrika Runeberg’s and Zacharias Topelius Historical Novels]
  • Kati Launis, Kerrotut naiset. Suomen ensimmäiset naisten kirjoittamat romaanit naiseuden määrittelijöinä (Helsinki: SKS, 2005) [Narrated women: The First novels defining womanhood written by women in Finland]
  • Grönstrand, Heidi, Naiskirjailija, romaani ja kirjallisuuden merkitys 1840-luvulla. (Helsinki: SKS, 2005) [The woman author, the novel, and the significance of literature in the 1840s]
  • Åsa Arping, Den anspråksfulla blygsamheten, Auktoritet och genus i 1830-talets svenska romandebatt (Stockholm & Stehag: Symposion, 2002) [Pretentious modesty. Authority and gender in the Swedish debate on the novel in the 1830s]

AsK October 2011

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