Women and Appletrees
|Nobody in the novel is this well-dressed.|
Moa Martinson (born Helga Maria Swarts) was a Swedish feminist writer who always worked on behalf of the working class. Her whole life was given to her ideals, especially for working-class women. (I seem to recall she was also in favor of free love, but that's left over from a long-ago class and may be somebody else.)
Women and Appletrees starts with Mother Sofi and her best friend, Fredericka, and their lives in the 1840s. They farm, and they shock the village with their scandalous habit of bathing once a week. Sofi has many children, and two generations later...
We follow Sally and Ellen, two of Sofi's descendants, through their lives up to about World War I (both are partial autobiographical portraits of Martinson herself, Sally more so). Both grow up in slums, enduring hunger, violence, and trauma, and end up meeting in a tiny farming village. Ellen has reacted to her childhood by becoming obsessed with purity and cleanliness. She comes to live with her father-in-law, and her marriage begins fairly happily, but her husband turns more and more to drink. Sally refuses to marry her drunken sailor man, but bears him many children and becomes an active Socialist. The men aren't present much, and the women's friendship is the primary relationship of the novel.
This is a tough world, where women live in dire poverty, work hard for their childrens' welfare, and depend on each other for support. Nearly all the men are off somewhere else, and are drunken and violent--earning money, but mostly drinking it.
There is plenty here to have fun analyzing. You could spend a good hour of class time discussing how Martinson pictures women as writing their histories on their bodies, in scarred flesh and blood and milk instead of with paper and ink, and all sorts of enjoyable themes like that. In fact I did, because my copy of Women and Appletrees is from a college course in Scandinavian literature. It's still in print and I wish it was more widely known.