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Portrait of a writer

Vita Andersen

By Anne Birgitte Richard

Photo: © Jo Selsing

On the cover of Vita Andersen´s second volume of poetry, Næste kærlighed (Loving One´s Neighbour, 1978) there is an outline of a woman´s face; where the features should be there is a blank, empty space; below the face the suggestion of a pale shoulder; the hair, however, is big, dark and wig-like. In the foreground there is a collage of lipsticks, sweets, eyes, cigarettes, creams, television, a burger, saccharine tablets and a mouth opened to receive a huge cream cake. The picture sums up the women´s portraits from her earlier books, the first volume of poetry Tryghedsnarkomaner (Security Addicts, 1977), the short stories Hold kæft og vær smuk (Shut up and Be Beautiful, 1978) and the plays Elsk mig (Love Me, 1980) and Kannibalerne (The Cannibals, 1982). These portraits tell about women whose identities are flimsily rooted in the external, in clothes, things and the way men look at them. Identity is constantly on the verge of crumbling: in the short story Iagttagelser (Observations), an anonymous woman starts her day by checking over her body and her well-appointed apartment and then sets off to work, only to turn back abruptly, go to bed, sleep, drink, wet the bed and make a half-hearted suicide attempt in the bathtub. After which, a new morning sees her setting out once more, heavily made-up: ´Again she met herself in all the window panes. A man she passed didn´t turn round to look at her. And she was afraid that she wasn´t as beautiful as she had been.´

Gender roles as a guarantee against happy interaction between the sexes is a central theme in the texts which, in Andersen´s early work often reflect upon opening manoeuvres, dating and affairs, where any kind of spontaneity has already been made impossible by the game of mutual anticipation ("what do you think I think") and conflicting expectations which social roles force upon the two sides. The images of their sex stand between them - the masculine and the feminine - images which they try to live up to and which they desire in the other. But gender differences are not only social; behind the reserved, ambitious men and the masquerading, precarious women, there is a childhood which is time and again folded into Vita Andersen´s texts, finally to be unfolded in all its complexity in her novels.

Hva´ for en hånd vil du ha´ (Which Hand do you Want, 1987) is the story of nine-year-old Anna´s passion for her mother, Melissa, who is in turn obsessed by the dream of a rich lover who crams her with money and clothes, desire and admiration - in short, obliteration of the march of time. The novel can be read as a family saga in which Melissa´s tragic childhood becomes a social and psychological heritage which her daughter can carry forward. But the surface historical dynamics constantly yield to the innate eternal triangle between mother, daughter and desire.

What Vita Andersen here proposes from the ruins of a family saga and a female identity, is shown in Sebastians kærlighed (Sebastian´s Love, 1992) to be nothing less than utopian love. She never finds the root of it in the outer social space as that only consists of things, money, bits and bobs, conventions and the far side of poverty and horror. But in the closest relationship between mother and child there are resources which still have a foundation upon which to build.

In Vita Andersen´s writing, the child´s universe is a victim´s universe, but with her latest books, which also include the children´s book about Petruskas laksko (Petrushka´s Patent Shoes, 1989), it is given new facets. Anna, Petrushka and Sebastian live on the periphery of the adult universe where they are on the one hand disturbing, insistent, forceful with their boundless demands, and on the other hand threatened, on the edge of that condition which is fantastic or downright psychotic. For better or for worse, the childish embraces all that is ostensibly injudicious: desire, chaos, lawlessness, selfishness. It stands in contrast to the rules and ritual of the adult world, but is also a condition to be found in Vita Andersen´s adults, not least in all the anxious women. It is a riddle - how one can be an adult as anything other than a thin facade masking a small child.

This article first appeared in its full length in Nordisk Kvindelitteraturhistorie 4, Rosinante 1997.

Translated by Gaye Kynoch
The photo is reproduced with permission from the photographer. The photo must not be reproduced on paper or digitally. Further rights can be obtained by contacting Jo Selsing +45 38 10 18 93

 
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