restricted access Re-Writing the Script: Gender and Community in Elin Wägner by Helena Forsås-Scott (review)
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Reviewed by
Helena Forsås-Scott. 2009. Re-Writing the Script: Gender and Community in Elin Wägner. London: Norvik P. Pp. 416.

Helena Forsås-Scott offers a welcome survey of the work of Elin Wägner that focuses on texts and textuality rather than the writer's life and brings to light the remarkable breadth and diversity of Wägner's writing, which includes journalism and essays as well as novels and her well-known biography of Selma Lagerlöf.

Wägner's work never really faded from view as did that of many other women writers active in the first part of the twentieth century. As a public figure, she was and is celebrated for her work for women's suffrage and world peace, and several of her novels—most notably Norrtullsligan (1908), Pennskaftet (1910), and Åsa-Hanna (1918)—have been accorded a place in the canon of Swedish literature. Second-wave feminists have been especially interested in the first two, which represent women in an urban context and touch on issues related to the New Woman of the turn of the last century. Re-Writing the Script recognizes the importance of these works and brings into focus their queer aspects. But Forsås-Scott argues that Wägner's later novels that represent women in the countryside are at least as important for the development of European feminism insofar as it is concerned with issues of war and peace and with ecology.

Re-Writing the Script draws on narratology, especially the feminist narratology of Susan Lanser, to bring into focus rhetorical patterns in Wägner's fiction and other prose as well as in her early and late texts. Recent work in ecocriticism and ecological feminism, particularly the theories of Rosi Braidott, illuminates an ecological dimension [End Page 99] of Wägner's texts that makes them particularly pertinent for twenty-first-century readers. Forsås-Scott argues that this aspect of Wägner's later works undoes a common assumption that her later thought and aesthetics are both more conservative and less interesting from a feminist perspective than her early urban narratives.

Elin Wägner is less well known in the English-speaking world than in Sweden and Scandinavia. Following Sarah Death's translation of Pennskaftet and Katarina Leppänen's Rethinking Civilisation in a European Feminist Context: History, Nature, Women in Elin Wägner's Väckarklocka (2005), Re-Writing the Script will introduce Wägner's work as a whole to new audiences. But this study will be particularly useful to advanced undergraduates and graduate students in Scandinavian studies. Its careful discussions of theoretical issues provide a model for the interpretation of different kinds of texts, and its summaries of recent Swedish scholarship on twentieth-century Swedish culture and politics will be useful for researchers at all stages of their careers.

It is not difficult to accept Forsås-Scott's argument that a study of a writer's work should include texts that do not fall into obvious literary genres or that literary studies in general need to take a broader approach to writing. This perspective is particularly interesting, however, because it allows us to situate women writers such as Wägner in the context of the emergence of the European intellectual in the twentieth century. Women figure all too rarely in histories and studies of intellectuals. Forsås-Scott shows that Elin Wägner certainly belongs there.

Lynn R. Wilkinson
University of Texas, Austin