Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

J. E. Rivers

Second Advisor

Paul Gordon

Third Advisor

Jill Heydt-Stevenson

Abstract

The Norwegian author and feminist, Camilla Collett (1813-1895), who is remembered as the most influential and controversial woman of her time in her own country, is little known in the English-speaking world. Had she written in one of Europe’s major languages, the quality of her literary production and her contribution to the rights of women would undoubtedly have brought her international recognition in her own lifetime. During her life, Collett was known as Scandinavia’s greatest prose stylist and was praised for her beauty of expression. At the same time, she was criticized for the discordant notes of discontentment that pulsated beneath the surface. The works that I translate and discuss here are representative of the wide scope of her genres, her gradual refinement of her ideas, and her stylistic evolution. The translations, along with my translation notes and textual analyses, provide a picture of how her views on the inequities women suffered were influenced by her life story, the revolutionary events taking place in Norway at the time, and the prevailing legal and social codes that restricted young women’s development into independent adults. Her writings from her years as an expatriate brought European thought and culture to readers in remote Norway. Her observations about the condition of women anticipate Pierre Bourdieu’s and Laura Mulvey’s theories in our time. Through Bourdieu’s discussion of the manner in which institutions serve to support male dominance, Mulvey’s analysis of male and female interactions, and my contextualization of late eighteenth and nineteenth-century literature and culture, I show how institutionalized male dominance affected Camilla Collett’s life and thought. Legal and social injustice faced by women in nineteenth-century Scandinavia and Europe is the central theme of her writings. For more than fifty years, Camilla Collett wrote about the subjugation of women and searched for ways to inspire women to become independent. For many years she waged a lonely battle, but her cause gained momentum in the last decades of her life. The rights and opportunities enjoyed by Norwegian women today are a testimony to her success.