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The Art of Beautifying Everyday Life. Thekla Knös and Romantic Uppsala

Bokförlaget Nya Doxa. Nora 1993. Ill., 428 pages. Dissertation in History of Science and Ideas at Lund University, Sweden. Written in Swedish with a summary in English (8 pages).


One of the most multifaceted epochs in the Swedish history of ideas, the Romantic era is also a period when women begin to take an active part in cultural life. The philosophy of Romanticism with its emphasis on the creative individual provides a strong intellectual basis for a strategy applied by women which is here called the art of beautifying everyday life. The aim of this study is to explore this theme through the eyes of a once famous but now forgotten woman and author.

This theme of beautifying everyday life unites important strands in nineteenth century bourgeois life with seemingly unimportant matters in diaries, letters, memoirs, and biographies. A larger pattern emerges, where the structure shows women’s ability to recreate and use the aesthetic and philosophical ideas of their time in order to enrich life and endow everyday existence with a deeper meaning. This is an important contribution to the question of how women employed their creativity and their intellect, in a period when the scope for public work was small. The effort to beautify everyday life provides a strategy, which is at the same time constructive and unsatisfactory. It includes both serious and playful attempts to abolish the given demarcation between the private and the public domain, between imagination and reality, between art and life.

In the salons, women play key roles, and an increasing number of the writers and readers of the period are women. As an ideal type of the Romantic life-style, the poetic woman is as central as the male genius.

Thekla Levinia Andrietta Knös (1815–1880), daughter of a professor at Uppsala University, was a famous author and poet in her time. The study of her life and literary output creates the need for a term that encompasses the aesthetic ideal that follows upon that of Romanticism. The best term is here argued to be idealist realism. The constitutive factor in idealist realism is the requirement for a synthesis between philosophical idealism and stylistic realism. However, is has wider aims than purely aesthetic and literary ones. It approaches a philosophical attitude and comprises a view of life and an understanding of reality that explodes the literary framework. This can be perceived most clearly in relation to philosophy, but there are parallels in science as well.

A central aspect of this synthesis of realism and idealism is its relationship to women. Their art of beautifying everyday life can be construed as an expression, or indeed the practice, of idealist realism.

Keywords: Romanticism, idealism, idealist realism, 19th century, women´s history, women writers, women, romantic salons, literary salons, letters, literature, poetry, Sweden, Uppsala, Thekla Knös


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