Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Sprach- und literaturwissenschaftliche Fakultät - Nordeuropa-Institut



Gender in Northern European Literature

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Nordeuropa-Institut

Organisors: Ela Sefcikova and Theresa Kohlbeck Jakobsen


This two-day workshop aims to facilitate interdisciplinary exchange between PhD students working on gender and northern European literature within their research. Participants’ research spans the modern and the medieval, the literary and the historical, the textual and the visual. In bringing together researchers from traditionally distinct fields, we will be able to compare perspectives on the theorisation and expression of gender in northern European literature from various vantage points and thus broaden the scope of our individual research.


Tuesday, May 28th 2024


13.00 Arrival & Registration

1st Session

Elliot Worral
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Flóres and Blankiflúr in the North: An inter-textual identity discourse

My PhD project explores the inter-textual identity discourse between Flóres saga ok Blankiflúr, Sigurðar saga þǫgla, and other related texts, focussing particularly on gender and race. Flóres saga is a translated saga composed in thirteenth century Norway which tells the story of the courtly lovers Flóres and Blankiflúr who later in life retire to separate religious lives. Sigurðar saga, a fourteenth century Icelandic saga, picks up the narrative of their daughter Sedentiana, who becomes maiden-king upon her parents’ retirement. Despite the narrative thread which links these texts their treatment of identity is profoundly different. In Flóres saga differences of class, religion, and race are overcome by love and the protagonist Flóres is presented as beautiful, emotional, and androgynous. In contrast, Sigurðar saga presents clear differences between race and gender groups and the protagonist Sigurðr uses sexual violence to enforce gender-normative behaviour. These differences suggest a reactionary representation of identity in the later saga.


Lesley McKay
University of the Highlands and Islands

Women fight for their inheritance in Norway and Shetland, during the Disruption of the early sixteenth century

For the first time, a comparative study has been conducted of women defending their right to inherit in Norway, and in its former territory, Shetland during the political and religious disruption of 1528-1533. The study builds on the work of Scandinavian researchers, Hirth, Sawyer and Wærdahl with their focus on Scandinavian women. On Shetland it is sixty years after Scotland acquired it from Norway. One line of inquiry considered if legal opportunities were available for women to defend their rights, was this the same in both locations. If this was the case, was it the same throughout the Shetland Archipelago, taking into consideration the possibility of the influence of Scots Law. Archival records are giving women a voice as they describe how the political and religious upheaval of each region led to their land and property rights being challenged. Their view of events is often disregarded in the literature. Documents reveal in both Norway and Shetland, women were using Gulathing law. Although this could evidence a Norse culture sustained on Shetland, one record was found of Scots Law being used.


Mary Catherine O’Connor
Balliol College, University of Oxford

Writing Landscapes of Power in Old Norse Literature, c.1200-1400

This doctoral project examines the translation of spaces from Old French and Anglo-Norman romances into Old Norse Icelandic between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Private spaces such as the bedchamber and garden alongside public spaces of the court and the wider realm beyond the court including the romance forest and the spaces within the forest will be the core topics of this project. The primary sources for analysis include Strengleikar, Tristrams saga, Ívens saga, Erex saga, Parcevals saga, Florés saga ok Blankiflúr, Partalopa saga, Flóvents saga, and Bevers saga. Public and private space has traditionally been associated with dichotomised gendered spheres of activity: public space with political, male and masculine-gendered activities while private space has been associated with domestic, female and feminine-gendered activities. In analysing the translation of these spaces, this project will examine the translation of gender dynamics in space and the way in which actions and speeches are modified but also the way in which the meaning of spaces, both public and private is modified in translation. This project will expand the scope of Old Norse gender studies by linking it with translation and spatial studies and consider the reception of translated gendered spaces in an Old Norse context.


Shanna Bryman
University of the Highlands and Islands

Making Herstory: Evaluating Female Leadership in the Viking Age

Women in the Viking Age held more power and prestige within society than previously believed, engaging in power play as co-rulers, or in some cases, sole rulers. However, in many studies, women are too often relegated to positions of passivity, or their stature in society often revolves around men (i.e. they are identified as the wives of men in powerful positions, rather than being shown to take on these positions themselves). Assumed gender roles and male-bias play a significant factor in the association of grave goods with gender and status in Viking-Age archaeology. In my thesis, I create a leadership criterion of archaeological evidence and use modern leadership theory to identify key leadership traits within medieval texts with the aim of identifying women who may have held leadership positions in the Viking Age. I explore the possibility of women coming into power in their own right, what leadership looked like for the women in these roles, and whether they were successful and effective leaders. Gender roles in the Viking Age are also addressed as is the assumption of power assigned to individuals based on the perceived gender of grave goods.


Svenja Walkenhorst
Philipps-Universität Marburg

Intersectionality and Gender in Old Norse Flóres saga ok Blankiflúr and Old Swedish Flores och Blanzeflor

In my PhD-thesis, I explore the different conceptualisations of intersectional identities in medieval Scandinavian and Middle Low German adaptations of the French romance Floire et Blancheflor, more specificly in the Old Norse Flóres saga ok Blankiflors, the Middle Low German Flos unde Blankeflos and the Old Swedish Flores och Blanzeflor. Employing a blend of discourse analysis, material philology, and a variant-sensitive digitial humanities approach, I investigate and compare the concepts of intersectionality established in the different adaptations of Floire et Blancheflor along with their respective manuscript witnesses within the socio-cultural contexts of their production and reception. Within the paradigm of intersectionality, gender is widely recognised as a crucial category of social distinction, and is especially relevant for an intersectional reading of Floire et Blancheflor-adaptations. To exemplify this, both Flor’s intense display of grief at the suggestion of Blankeflor’s death and the recurring emphasis on the striking similarity between the two lovers stand in contrast to conservative norms of masculinity. Likewise, the formation of homosocial bonds, which courtly literature usually ascribed to chivalric men, predominantly unfolds among female protagonists in the narrative of Floire et Blancheflor.


15.15 Coffee break


Prof. Dr. Clemens Räthel
Universität Greifswald

Doing Gender in/with literature. Ann Charlotte Lefflers play Skådespelerskan (1883)
17.30 End of day break
18.30  Dinner

Wednesday, May 29th 2024


9.00 Soft Opening

2nd Session

Charlotte Alex
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

(Re-)Writing Society: Literary Negotiations of Care in Thatcherite England

This PhD project investigates the issue of care in British literature of the 1980s. I argue that in the decade of the 1980s, care became a crucial site of ideological tension within Britain’s political and literary landscape which directly affected notions of the responsibilities of the gendered individual in communities. The Thatcher administration (1979-1990) remodelled the welfare state along business lines, making peoples’ healthcare needs subject to profit analysis and relocating them into the private and gendered sphere of the home. At the same time, the second feminist wave sparked new discussions and protests that addressed the gendered and racialised nature of private and public care structures. This project looks at how different female authors navigate the political, ethical, and economic implications of this tension in the decade Thatcher famously proclaimed “no such thing as society” to exist. It examines how literature of the time narrates considerations of ethical care by looking at representations of gendered poverty in old age, motherhood, and feminist community. Furthermore, it considers how practices of writing and publishing intersect with questions of care by looking at autoethnography and life writing, collective writing strategies, feminist publishing practices, and writing in the context of protest.


Corinna Hoffmann
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Mai Zetterling - Feminism, Queerness, Class, Censorship and the European Art Cinema

This project focuses on the works of Swedish actress and director Mai Zetterling (1925–1994) during the 1960s, Sweden and England during that period as well as her contributions to the European Art Cinema. During the 1960s Zetterling directed four films – Älskande par (Loving Couples, 1964), Nattlek (Night Games, 1966), Doktor Glas and Flickorna (The Girls, both 1968) – all of which explore themes like gender, sexuality, and class. Particularly significant to this project are moments of queer representation within the films, the portrayal of birth and motherhood within patriarchal structures, as well as feminist aspects that can be found throughout these productions. Recurring elements that challenge social taboos, such as paedophilia, will also be examined. Due to their content, Zetterling’s films often caused controversy, sometimes leading to censorship in certain countries. The project explores the parameters of feminism, queerness, class and censorship in Zetterling’s films within the historical context of the 1960s, with a specific focus on Sweden and England. It follows an interdisciplinary approach that includes cultural studies, film studies, gender studies as well as history, drawing on concepts like Laura Mulvey’s “Male Gaze” and Judith Butler’s “Performativity”.


Konstantin Helm
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

“This is not a performance:” Authenticity and Embodied Identity in Abigail Thorn’s “Identity: A Trans Coming Out Story”

In her 2021 video “Identity: A Trans Coming Out Story,” the English Youtuber Abigail Thorn stages an elaborate performance. The first half of the video features a male actor who plays her pre-transition self and finishes by proclaiming that “it’s been a privilege performing for you” (23:58-23:59). The actor then vanishes into thin air and is replaced by Thorn herself. She is quick to declare that “this [part of the video] is not a performance” (26:24-26:25). As part of my research for the project “Queer Theory in Transit,” I examine digital queer spaces - how queer communities cohere online and how queer people engage in practices of bodily self-fashioning. I am particularly interested in the counter-performative tendencies we can find in contemporary media by trans* authors. Using Thorn’s video as a case study, I analyse how she stages her transitioning body as authentic, paying attention to Jay Prosser’s assertion that auto-narratives are agents in creating trans* bodies, but problematise notions of authenticity because we have to read them in the context of rigorous diagnostic regimes (cf. 112-113). Thorn’s video navigates a social space where authenticity is highly valued, but where individual agency also intersects with audience expectations and a language about trans* identity always already compromised by its close ties to medico-legal forms of classification. Ultimately, I argue, we have to adjust our methodological and theoretical frameworks to productively describe embodied identity in virtual social spaces such as YouTube.


Robyn McAuliffe
University College Cork

Gendered Trauma in “Wulf and Eadwacer”

My paper will draw on findings from the second chapter of my doctoral thesis which analyses manifestations of gendered trauma in Old English heroic poetry. The paper itself will focus on “Wulf and Eadwacer”, a poem found in The Exeter Book which has been dated to the 10th century. I will argue that trauma theory, which has traditionally been reserved for postmodern literature, is a useful lens through which to view early medieval literature, and that a distinct trauma paradigm can be traced in “Wulf and Eadwacer”. This is evident not only through subject matter (exile, separation from a lover, abduction of a child) but also through the framing of the poem, including the incorporation of a refrain, instances of flashback and riddle. My paper will ultimately argue that the riddle-like quality of the poem serves as an important medium through which female trauma can be articulated. This will be illustrated further using a brief analysis of the opening scene of the Old English Apollonius of Tyre, a text in which riddle is incorporated as a means of communicating not only male victory but female trauma.


10.45 Coffee break

1st Workshop

Dr. Hanna Rinderle
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Female autobiography? Gender and gender-conscious writing in Selma Lagerlöf's autobiographies
12.45 Lunch

3rd Session

Eliane Jaberg
Universität Zürich

„Privatliv“: The epistemological use of self in Tove Ditlevsen’s essayistic writings

The international (re)discovery of Danish author Tove Ditlevsen in 2019 struck the literary world with immediate tove feber, and it not least challenged the assumption that the idiosyncratic style of autofictional writing established within Scandinavian literature was due to authors such as Karl Ove Knausgård, Tomas Espedal, or Per Olov Enquist. As part of a research project that attempts to track down a possible Scandinavian tradition of autofictional texts by women, my dissertation focuses on Tove Ditlevsen’s authorial self-portrayal. At the center of my interest are essayistic texts by Ditlevsen – some of them forgotten to this day – which Ditlevsen published at the time as columns in newspapers and magazines. I follow the assumption that these texts represent early forms of autotheory in so far as the autobiographical self in these texts does not primarily serve to stage the self but is an aesthetic figure that productively makes use of the autofictional context to examine, criticize, and transform hegemonic discourses. I am particularly interested in how Ditlevsen ‘uses’ herself and makes herself the subject of her essayistic writing to destabilize theorems of gender and class that thitherto were believed to be self-evidently true.


Hanne Willekens
Ghent University

Women and criticism. An empirical analysis of gender in contemporary Swedish literary criticism (2018–2022)

Literary criticism plays an important role in mediating works of literature, as well as ascribing cultural legitimacy through its attention and its discourses (van Rees 1983; Kristensen 2019, 2). Historically, women – whether as authors or literary critics – occupied a marginal position in the literary field (Svedjedal 1994; Samuelsson 2013). Accordingly, the representation of women’s works in discourse about literature was marked by a gender bias and regarded as a distinct and inferior type of literature (Samuelsson 2013; Williams 1997). In recent decades however, a significant shift has occurred: an increasing number of women are participating in various positions within the Swedish literary field (Fürst 2019; Samuelsson 2013; Kulturanalys Norden 2017). Nonetheless, existing research shows that the amount of attention paid to women in international cultural journalism has not increased proportionally (Berkers et al. 2016; Kim & Chong 2022). The aim of the project is to analyze the field of literary criticism in Sweden today from a gender perspective. The project draws upon a corpus of contemporary book reviews from national and regional Swedish newspapers, analyzed by a combination of quantitative analysis and distant reading. By mapping out the external factors of the field, as well as a systematic study of literary criticism as a practice, the project attempts to examine the functioning of the field of literary criticism, and to shed a light on potential gender differences.


Jay Geier
Universität Wien

Embodied Encounters with Queer Characters. The Complicated Case of Bisexuality in Norwegian Contemporary Literature

Literary representations of plurisexual desires have only been cursorily explored in Scandinavian Studies so far. My PhD project thus scrutinizes six contemporary Norwegian texts that convey such representations, allowing me to theoretically and methodologically explore how bisexualities can be communicated in literature and how we can analyze them from a reception- and character-oriented perspective. Cognitive theories of character seem particularly valuable in this regard since they emphasize the influence of different bodies of knowledge, cognitive patterns and affective processes that influence character reception in various ways. In utilizing more recent theories of cognition (such as Predictive Processing and 4E Cognition) as well as queer-narratological and bi-theoretical approaches, my project strives to get a hold of the seemingly elusive bi characters in contemporary Norwegian fiction. The analysis of reception documents in conjunction with the literary texts themselves will lead to a deepened understanding of the reception processes that bi texts may spark and how the sexual identities and structures of desire that their characters exhibit may be perceived and evaluated. My project thereby investigates how the reading of literary texts activates and influences knowledges of sexualities more broadly.


Juliane Amberger
Universität Freiburg

Nature, Gender and Narrative: A Feminist-Ecocritical Exploration of Scandinavian Literature

The dissertation project aims to explore the interactions between nature, gender and narratives in Scandinavian literature. Through a feminist, queer and ecocritical analysis, literary works from the second half of the 20th century to the present will be analysed in terms of how they shape and reflect the relationship between the environment and gender dynamics. I am interested in gaining as broad an understanding as possible of how this complex of themes is narrated in Scandinavian literature and how this has changed or persisted in literary history since the era of modernism in Scandinavia. My preliminary hypothesis is that the connection between the representation of nature and gender in literature has an influence on how the environment is currently perceived in Scandinavia and that this is based on a process that can be traced back to literary history. The preliminary primary literature currently only contains texts from the Norwegian and (Finnish) Swedish-speaking contexts, consists of different genres and the era of the texts examined will possibly be extended to the era of modern age, i.e. from the beginning of the 19th century. Further research will show what kind of limitation will be needed. For the presentation within the workshop I plan to focus on Tarjei Vesaas’ Kimen and how gender theoretical aspects can be examined against the background of the island as a special geographical space in the text. Also, the attempt will be to draw lines to present narrativisations of islands and what differences or parallels exist between those.


Patrizia Huber
Universität Zürich

Deconstructing Gender: Reading Scenes as Emancipatory Practice in Charlotte Baden‘s En Fortælling i et Brev (1792)

My dissertation project examines the poetology of epistolary literature during the 18th century. By challenging the boundaries of media, narrative, and genre, epistolary writing provides insight into the historical perception of writing, reading and literature as a whole. It played a crucial role in allowing women to participate in the literary field, as the letter was considered a predominantly female genre. In the workshop, I plan to share a case study that offers a distinct gender perspective: Charlotte Baden’s (1740–1824) narrative En Fortælling i et Brev (1792) is a fictional response to the prevalent discourse on gender roles in literature and advocates for a female mode of reading, independent from patriarchal moral authority. In Fortælling, the letter writer Carl describes the “novelistic” events of the last few weeks – the rediscovery of his sister, whom he thought was dead, and his sudden infatuation with the priest’s daughter. The double framing of the epistolary form and Carl’s retrospective narrative exposes Carl’s distorted perception. By applying narratological and praxeological theories, it becomes evident that Carl is a flawed “reader” who imposes literary motifs onto the real world, arranges the female characters into reading scenes and ultimately succumbs to an excessive desire to observe. This not only reveals the male narrator’s gaze and his interpretation of the novelistic genre, but also discusses the conditions of female writing and reading.


15.15 Coffee break

2nd Workshop

Daniel Ebner
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Gender from a linguistic (yet hopefully also interdisciplinary) perspective
17.00 End of conference


▼ Location plan

Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Unter den Linden 6
10117 Berlin

Room: 1066e




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