8/06/2008

Woman of the week - Edith Södergran

Name: Edith Irerne Södergran
Born: April 4 1892, St Petersburg, Russia
Dead: June 24 1923, Raivola, Finland (now Russia)
Married to: None
Children: None
Occupation: Poet

Södergran was born in a middle class family, living in Russia but with both her parents being Swedish-talking Finns. She had a brother, but he died early on and she was left an only child. Her maternal grandfather bought the family a villa in Raivola and the family moved there when Södergran was just a few months old. After just a few years financial trouble hit the family and the situation was resolved through Södergran's maternal family who was ecnomically well off - Södergran's maternal grandfather passed away leaving them an inheritance.

Södergran went to school in St Petersburg, Petrischule - an all girls school next to the Hermitage. At this time Södergran and her mother lived in St Petersburg when she went to school and just returned to Raivola on school breaks. The father lived separetly from the rest of the family. But she had a hard time making friends and to keep the girl from getting too lonely Södergran's mother adopted a girl, Singa, to keep her company. But Singa had a family of her own and tried to run away from the Södergrans. She was tragically run over by a train doing so - Södergran's mother found the mutilated body.

Södergran went to school there until 1909 - the school not being interrupted by her father's sickness and later death in tuberculosis. It was a turbulent time to be in Russia and poems from this time show interests in political subjects. But she also wrote quite a number of love poems - many directed to her teacher Henri Cottier, who taught French. Södergran learnt a lot of languages: Russian, German, Frech and English - but she was never thaught Swedish which sometimes shows in her writing. The main language used in the school, which had an international set of pupils, was German. In the beginning Södergran wrote poems in German as well as Swedish, but in 1908 she switched completely to Swedish. Why is not entirly clear.

In 1908 Södergran was diagnosed with pneumonia, and a few months later with TB. She was sent to the same sanatorium where her father had been before he died - and she had a very slim chance to survive. She got worse and 1911 the family went to Swizterland, the country most known for it's ability to take care of TB-patients at santatoriums. Södergran actually got betterm and at the same time she had a great opportunity to meet intellectuals from all over Europe which greatly influenced her writing. In 1914 she returned to Finland - and soon got worse again.

Her debut as a published poet was made in 1916 with the book Dikter (Poems). It did not make that much on an impact. None of her published volumes would be a great hit during Södergran's lifetime. Their recognition did not come until much later when she would be seen as one of the first, and finest, modernists of Swedish literature (she wrote everything in Swedish) and she was inspires by Russian futurism as well as French symbolism and German expressionism. Much of her poems deals with her own weak health and the financial trouble brought by the Russian Revoultion which left the family close to destitute.

Before Södergran's death in 1923 she also published the books The September Lyre (1918), The Rose Altar (1919), and Shadow of the Future (1920). She was buried in Raivola in a grave that can not be found today - but a memorial was erected there in 1960. Her mother died in 1939 during the evacuation due to the second world war.

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