MITT STORA VACKRA HAT – MY BIG BEAUTIFUL HATRED
By Elisabeth Åsbrink
Are women females or humans? Are men masters or slaves? Is marriage a business arrangement, an act of love, or a prison sentence? Should Christian morality or reason prevail?
The questions formulated during the second half of the 19th century set Europe ablaze, and it was authors and intellectuals in the Nordic countries who ignited the fuse. At the center was the Danish literary critic Georg Brandes, joined by Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, Elisabeth Grundtvig, and Anne-Charlotte Leffler, to name a few.
Victoria Benedictsson emerged like a shooting star in the sky of literary realism. The postmaster’s wife from a peripheral Swedish village made her literary debut at age 33, charging straight into the center of the action under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren. She befriended (or antagonized) all of the era’s key players and her books took on the hottest issues of contemporary debate.
In her new biography, Elisabeth Åsbrink has carefully retraced Victoria Benedictsson’s steps. From the farm on Söderslätt, over the claustrophobic marital home in the postmaster’s residence in Hörby, to the room at Hotel Leopold in Copenhagen where she ended her life, only thirty-eight years old. Åsbrink has charted the background of Benedictsson’s personal drama in a turbulent time in history; she has read letters, diaries, short stories, and novels in order to shed light on the inner landscape of a prodigious figure and a period in which the Nordic countries went from being governed by Christianity to embracing modernity and science.
This is a biography of a thinking woman who tried to shatter the constraints of gender and ended her life in a crescendo of emotions, in a time obsessed with literature, sex, and death.