The aim of this thesis is to study representations of identity and (in)visibility in Swedish lesbian novels written in the 1930s, and to provide a summary of Swedish lesbian literature up to the early 21st century. This study has been done through a close reading primarily of Charlie by Margareta Suber (1932), Fröknarna von Pahlen by Agnes von Krusenstjerna (1930–1935) and Kris by Karin Boye (1934).
Lesbian literature is discussed as a loose category, a construction which can be used as an analytical tool in a conscious and reflexive way, with its basis in the categories of author, text and reader. In short, I define lesbian literature as novels written by women, about lesbian figures and/or relationships, and for lesbian readers in the sense that the literature depicts lesbians from an insider’s perspective.
As regards the period before 1930, the focus is on romantic friendship and the excitement zone when the romantic friendship becomes a sexual one, as seen in the fictitious case of Sin fars dotter (1920) by Lydia Wahlström.
Sexological theories, the image of “the new woman” and changes to the law all colour the first half of the 20th century. This is seen in Charlie by Margareta Suber, where the author makes use of many such explanations in her creation of a lesbian figure.
A reading of Fröknarna von Pahlen by Agnes von Krusenstjerna shows an intricate pattern of relationships at its heart. My analysis charts several same-sex couples, a lesbian single woman and two collectives; that is to say, the female collective and the male homosexual collective. The relationships between women are many-faceted and include everything from romantic friendship, kinship and sensualism to eroticism and shared parenthood.
In my analysis of Kris by Karin Boye, I focus on Malin, the main character, and the development of her sense of identity, in which the struggle between the language of the world around her and her own emotional experience of love for a woman is a central theme.
After the 1930s, the historical context changed in terms of everything from decriminalisation in 1944 via the homophobic panic of the 1950s to the impact of queer theory in the 1990s. Swedish lesbian literature addresses everything from crime of passion (murder) to the coming out process of young women.
There exists in all novels from the 1930s an interplay that is (in)visible: the characters or lesbian relationships depicted are both visible and invisible at the same time. The characters are more or less aware of the potential risks attached to being visible as a lesbian, and often they do not notice themselves when this occurs. During the course of the 20th century, (in)visibility becomes replaced by openness and secrecy, and the visibility of the lesbian characters is politicised.