When, at our meeting in Slovenia in September last year, our Finnish colleagues Päivi Lappalainen and Viola Parente-Capková mentioned the possibility of our coming to Finland for the Conference “On the Move: Real and Imaginary Spaces, Borders and Transitions in the Nineteenth Century”, organized at Tampereen yliopisto (the University of Tampere), Finland, in January 2015, I was more than a little enthusiastic. Not only did the theme of the conference seem to really complement the objectives of our project, but to visit the land of the Moomins, and to test theory that Moomintroll looks a lot like my brother, had been a strange little ambition of mine for quite some time. I was not quite as enthusiastic, however, about the possibility of it being -20°c…
In the event, it wasn’t quite as cold as we’d thought, and Suzan van Dijk and I arrived in Helsinki in gentle snow, to a pretty, white landscape. We spent one night in Helsinki, preparing and discussing our papers, and then travelled by train to Tampere the next day. We arrived at the university just as the conference was beginning, and joined the English-speaking sessions. While not all the panels were in English, those that were seemed to suit our research interests (mine especially) enormously, and we listened with avid interest to papers such as Reeta Eiranen’s “Gendered Spheres and Activities in a 19th-century Family Network”, as well as Lotta Kähkönen’s “Changing Understandings of Sex in the Victorian Era”. The day concluded with a conference meal in the intriguing Ravintola Telakka, where we were able to talk to Päivi and Viola, as well as meet up with colleagues from the previous COST Action Women Writers in History.
The following day we listened to two fascinating key note lectures from Helen Rogers (Liverpool John Moores University) and Frances Fowle (University of Edinburgh). Helen Rogers’ paper, in particular, revealed some interesting periodicals that may be of interest to those of our colleagues working on bio-bibliographies of women (she mentioned, for instance, Seymour Frank Harris’ Excellent Women Series, from the nineteenth century).
Our own panel, chaired by Viola, was scheduled in the afternoon, and we were surprised to see quite a large audience (given that ours was one of the only all English-speaking panels). Suzan began by presenting an introduction and overview of the project, using Dutch examples in order to demonstrate the way in which we have been handling our research questions, both in terms of large quantitative approaches as well as in terms of specific authors and works. This allowed me to provide the details of such an approach, focusing, in my paper, on the English novelist Ouida and her reception in the nineteenth century in the Netherlands. Since September, I have been examining those female authors who were received extensively in all five countries of the TTT project, and who incorporate specific elements in their novels, what we might call “female topoi” (I am particularly interested in the representation of women’s reproductive health). Ouida provides a case in point, and there were many interesting questions from the audience about the implicit/explicit nature of these topoi, and Päivi had also kindly provided me with some fascinating details about Ouida’s reception in Finland and Sweden, to interest our audience!
Päivi then outlined the work she has been doing on literature for girls, and the way in which it found its way to Finland in the nineteenth century (which was then a bilingual country: Swedish and Finnish). Using reviews and advertisements for her sources, she has found that works by (foreign) women writers, which did not necessarily explicitly address girls, were in fact recommended to them (and indeed read by them) in the first part of the century, and that most of the translated girls’ books – during the last part of the century – were from the English. The first book, meant for girls, to be published in Finnish was Louisa Alcott’s Little women (1868): it was translated twice, in 1889 and 1890 (and, as a point of comparison, Suzan has noted that the novel was translated into Dutch in 1876 and into Danish in 1877, twice in the same year). Päivi found many reviews about Alcott’s books, also by women, many of which were not always positive!
In her paper, Viola explained that she has been researching in the “Scandinavian literature” of the “Old Collection” of Turku City Library – a total number of about 30.000-40.000 volumes, with a relatively large percentage of women’s writings, thanks to the role of the wife of its founder Cygnaeus. For Finland’s fiction there are about 400 items, 81 of which are by 39 women (mostly in Swedish, with a particular emphasis on folk poetry), and for Scandinavian fiction there are about 800 items, at least 165 of them by 93 women (in most cases again Swedish).
After the panel, which was received well by the audience, with many interesting questions, suggestions and discussions, the four of us also had the opportunity to meet, and discuss in particular the meeting to be had in The Hague, in September 2015.
Having joined the team late, beginning my research with the TTT project only in June (and “officially” in September), I felt that attending the conference and writing my paper was an important opportunity for me to begin “formalizing” my ideas around the use and representation of women’s reproductive health in the novels of women writers, and its reception (or indeed lack of reception) in the Netherlands, as well as in Slovenia, Norway, Spain and Finland. Having built up a body of data, the next step is to incorporate this information in the new VRE, and since my return I have had many interesting discussions with colleagues here in the Huygens ING (Janouk de Groot, in particular) about how we might go about this.
In all respects, the conference in Finland was fascinating, and the new connections we made, as well as the opportunity we had to talk with colleagues still connected to WWIH, as well as those who we continue to work with in the TTT project, made it an invaluable experience.
As an added bonus, I got to see the Moomins on their home turf, and to prove that Moomintroll indeed looks exactly like my brother…