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Wår lärda Skalde-Fru Sophia Elisabet Brenner och hennes tid (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 84, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 130-132 | 10.1353/scd.2012.0001

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The publication of early modern Swedish poets, a major component of Svenska Vitterhetssamfundet's work, functions as an important stimulus for new research on neglected representatives of Sweden's Great Power Period. At the same time, the restrictions that accrue to a literary edition inhibit the inclusion of many of those new impulses that are bound to occur to the editors along the way. It is both a logical step and a beckoning opportunity to collect the new ideas in a companion volume to the edition, which is what we see here. The edition itself, Samlade Dikter av Sophia Elisabet Brenner, Första delen, ed. Valborg Lindgärde (Stockholm: Svenska Vitterhetssamfundet, 2009), is an exemplary one, and its editor a long standing proponent of Brenner's literary heritage. Since the publication of her dissertation, Jesu Christi pijnos historia (see the review in Scandinavian Studies 71.3), Lindgärde has been an acknowledged expert on Brenner, and together with Elisabet Göransson, she was the organizer of a symposium at Lund University in 2009 that lies directly behind this collection of twenty-four essays on Brenner's work and time period. The new volume is expensively designed with its plethora of full-color illustrations and attractive layout. The hand of Lindgärde is indeed everywhere since it was she who picked out the illustrations and wrote most of their captions, provided several of the other authors with helpful information, and herself wrote four of the articles totaling about one-fifth of the massive volume.

The "problem" with Brenner (alluded to in Carina Burman's introduction and elsewhere in the volume) is that most of her poetry is "occasional," i.e. written for specific occasions like weddings and funerals. She has also been lambasted by a large number of critics over time for being dry and long-winded, and she appears to have taken to heart the dictum of Petrus Lagerlöf (a family acquaintance of the Brenners) that Swedish poetry must only be laid out in iambs and trochees (see Otto Sylwan, Svensk verskonst [Stockholm: Bonniers, 1934], 29f.). More recently, these limitations of her individual poems have drawn less attention, while the (literally and figuratively) baroque nature of the society in which she lived and wrote has caught the imagination of Swedish scholars. The editors of Wår lärda Skalde-Fru have attempted to draw the reader back into the late 1600s by first laying out in a pedagogical manner her biography (Lindgärde), some of the extraordinarily negative pressures upon artistic women of the time (articles by Jon Helgason and Erland Sellberg) followed by discussions of all sorts of ancillary topics: her husband's coins and miniature paintings; settings of poetry to music; connections (or attempts at connections) to other authors; command of Latin, Italian, and German; type faces; medallions—all expertly laid out and nicely illustrated. The atmosphere in which Brenner lived and breathed comes best to life towards the end of the volume, in my opinion, in the diary of a young secretary to the Danish ambassador named Jacob Bircherod. He visited the poetess briefly in Stockholm in 1720 and provides a first hand description framed beautifully by Marianne Alenius (432-85).

Brenner's work as a poet is elucidated in six traditional articles that might be considered by traditional literary scholars to comprise the "core" of the book. Stina Hansson begins with an excellent essay on Brenner's wedding poetry in which her technique in this obsolete field is contrasted with the norms of her time. Anders Cullhed follows with an interesting discussion of a poem written for a contemporary seventeenth-century "proto-feminist," Aurora Königsmarck. He demonstrates a fundamental difficulty of deciphering Brenner's seventeenth-century Swedish, exemplified by her phrase: "wärcket i sig sielf sig bäst berömma kan" [the work in itself may be its own best praise]. "Vad menar hon med det?" [What does she mean by that?] exclaims Cullhed (170), and one must agree that both here and elsewhere, Brenner's exact meaning often slips out from under us. In this case, it could be, says Cullhed, that the literary work (read: Brenner's poem), despite her constant...


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