Rediscovering neglected female authors is difficult, they are 'in hiding'

Alma Ostra - Oinas
Alma Ostra - Oinas Source: Ajapaik

When it comes to forgotten women writers, literary scholar Merlin Kirikal said, "Changing one's reading habits or the habit of reading classics in order to incorporate alternative works into the canon is very difficult today."

Kirikal conducts research on gender-sensitive and feminist literature. While discussing the neglected Estonian author Alma Ostra on Vikerradio, she said that "in the early 20th century, many noteworthy female writers were excluded from the literary canon."

"I discovered Alma Ostra through [the Estonian poet and politician] Johannes Semper. It turned out that they had studied together in Petrograd. Ostra is perhaps best known in Estonia as a lawyer, a charismatic politician, and a devoted revolutionary; however, her reputation as a prose writer is not as widespread," Kirikal said.

This year marks the centennial of the publication of "Aino," which Ostra began writing in Petrograd in 1914. "It is a fascinating fragmentary novel with personal overtone and a feminist perspective about Aino, an eccentric, creative, and sensitive female student." Kirikal defined Ostra's work as "her complex and deep inner life, her conflicted friendships and love affairs, her various desires, and, against this backdrop, an examination of the social condition of Estonian women in the first half of the 20th century."

There are several reasons why we do not know anything about Ostra's work today. "'Aino' attracted a lot of criticism. Both male and female contemporary critics did not understand the novel and did not allow it to flourish, so the work did not achieve widespread popularity."

"But changing one's reading habits or the habit of reading classics in order to incorporate alternative works into the canon is very difficult today," she said.

The majority of its reception, according to literary critic Eve Annuk, was due to a bias. "When Ostra began writing in the early 20th century, women's literacy was thought to be inferior to men's and women faced more barriers when pursuing education than men," she explained.

Many more books by female authors were excluded from the canon, Kirikal said. "The philosophical and ideological atmosphere that prevailed at the time influenced the fact that women were not considered suitable for the profession of writer."

"They must be rediscovered, which is all the more difficult since now they are in hiding," she said.


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Editor: Neit-Eerik Nestor, Kristina Kersa

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