I found another Literary Granny who astounds me and makes me wonder where she has been all my life. She never married nor had any children, but her impact on the social justice movements of her day through literature left her mark upon the world in grand ways.
Fredrika Bremer, a celebrity of the 19th Century, was a Swedish author whose books were oftentimes published in English and German before her native Swedish. Her reach was wide and her impact was significant.
Her novels were written in a realist style with sketches of “everyday life.” Her women characters did what the women in her world were doing. They expressed everyday joy and pain and made it interesting rather than leaping into the wildly romantic that was popular at the time. While she couldn’t speak directly about her beliefs, she did put a certain “writer’s code” into her work.
Even men read her novels, which she, at first, published anonymously, citing the philosophical questions posed within the well crafted prose.
What I noticed right away was Fredrika’s unbridled curiosity. She traveled to the United States in 1849 when she was nearing her fiftieth birthday and had gained popularity. She was single and she traveled alone which had special challenges in that time. While she was widely interviewed, her main purpose was to ask questions and to get a closer look at this “new” place which she thought might give her some answers about how to improve Europe.
She carried her sketchbook with her (as did yesterday's literary Granny, Ellen Emerson) and as she went different places, she had conversations with people – from the Native Americans in the north to the Southern Plantation owners and their slaves. She visited the Five Points district in New York to get a clearer image of the slums and the people who made this frightening neighborhood their home.
She visited prisons and attended meetings of Quakers and Shakers and sought out others from Sweden who had made the move to the United States. She was welcomed into people’s homes where she carefully sketched and documents her vivid impressions of the status of American culture, including the rights of omen.
In her homeland, she was passionate about the law of legal majority for unmarried women which would allow them to own property and manage their own money. Her novel, Hertha, opened dialogue on these topics as well as a formal higher education for women. It opened debate much like Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin did here in the United States.
I giggled to realize the March sisters in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women were read from Fredrika’s work by their mother. Interesting that Alcott’s books were some of the first “realist” novels in the United States. It seems obvious she used Fredrika for inspiration.
When Fredrika died of pneumonia she had worked hard and had not seen the full impact she had on social reforms which would come to fruition after her death. She was eulogized by many, but quite notably was many years after her death by future Swedish Nobel Prize winner, Selma Lagerlof, who was only a seven-year-old when “Miss Fredrika” died.This post is a part of my series Our Literary Grannies from A t0 Z which was inspired by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Find out more about the Challenge by clicking here.
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