Helper and Obstacle: the image of the father in four Swedish mother-narrated novels of the early 21st Century: Myrén, Nordin, Sandberg and Sveland

Abstract

In my research on French and Swedish mother-narrated novels, the role given to the father stands out as a prime locus of difference between the two literatures. In the French mother-narratives, the most striking feature of the father is his absence. In accordance with the 20th Century image of the father, he is typically excluded from the mother-child dyad, and when present, he generally incarnates not body and care, but rather a traditional image of the father as bread-winner, law-keeper and/or representative for the outer sphere. In the Swedish novels, things are different. Without idealizing neither the stories, nor Sweden as a country, I will, in this paper, display some examples of a new and insistent trope in Swedish literature: the father as a caring bodily presence. Partly in light of the French novels, I will explore what this presence amounts to in four novels in which the mother is a narrator, and what it means for the narrating mothers. The novels I analyse are: I en familj finns inga fiender by Viktoria Myrén (2009); Ta itu by Kristina Sandberg (2003); Bitterfittan by Maria Sveland (2007); and Gå sönder, gå hel by Sofia Nordin (2011). I argue that the father is ascribed a double role, as both a helper and an obstacle in the mother's quest for liberation and subjectivity. On the one hand, he helps the mother to free herself from the idea of the mother as the exclusive natural parent and to move towards gender equality. On the other hand, he is insensitive to the oppressive effects of the traditional mother image, and sometimes uses it himself to limit his partner, by inducing feelings of guilt. I suggest that this ambiguous literary image of the father can be understood as an articulation of the imbalance between norm and reality concerning gender equality, which is present in Sweden today.

How to Cite

Carlshamre, K., (2013) “Helper and Obstacle: the image of the father in four Swedish mother-narrated novels of the early 21st Century: Myrén, Nordin, Sandberg and Sveland”, Studies in the Maternal 5(2), p.1-17. doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/sim.24

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Katarina Carlshamre

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