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Tove Ditlevsen

Danish writer Ditlevsen made her writing debut in 1939 with the publication of her first poetry collection Pigesind. This publication marked the successful completion of a goal that she had set for herself as a child—to be a published poet. In Denmark and in the whole of Europe, the 1930s were marked with strife and threat and appalling employment situations, the threat of socialism, the threat of Nazism and death, if not by war, then by poverty.  Tove Ditlevsen was born into the working class of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1919. Tove DitlevsenHer father was a blue-collar worker who was often unemployed and her mother stayed at home, an unhappy and unfulfilled woman who did not like people to be happy in her presence. Tove was a sensitive child and a child that did not fit in with most children. Her world was narrow, so narrow that she wrote, “It’s never any use to come home and tell my parents anything people said who don’t live on our street”.

Ditlevsen’s poetry was one way that she could escape the impoverished world outside and the emotionally vapid atmosphere of her home. She writes, “I thought my poems covered the bare places in my childhood like the fine, new skin under a scab that hasn’t yet fallen off completely. Would my adult form be shaped by my poems?”. The thread that connects her childhood with her adulthood is, indeed, her poetry. To be a published poet is the dream that is accomplished when she is twenty years old. The hardships of her life were brought about by her family’s socioeconomic status in pre-War Denmark and by the emotional make-up of her family. Additionally, Tove Ditlevsen was born into a cultural milieu where girls didn’t have the same opportunities as boys. Nina Boyd Krebs writes that the attitudes that prevailed then continue to prevail in the world, namely that “Many cultures in the world assume that men are superior and women are there to serve them, especially in the personal realm dealing with family and sexual issues”. Tove writes that her father’s words echo that same sentiment: “I would rather work in an office and learn to type. ‘Not yet,’ he says, ‘first you have to learn to take care of a house properly and cook for your husband when he comes home from work’”.  As a young girl Tove’s choices were few. She worried that she would never get away from her narrow environment. She watches other people out her workplace window, “I write the song while people who can move about freely in the world between nine and five and who all have some personal goal that they’ve determined themselves”. Her mother’s goal was to have her married off to a man who could take care of her financially—this was the prevalent goal for working-class women at that time. Yet, Tove did not fit into that mold. She had the heart and soul of an artist, and rather than focusing on searching for a man, she strove to experiment with her channels of self-expression, from poetry to drama.

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