Astrid Pettersson was a farmer and a writer of rural fiction.
Astrid Pettersson was born in Älvsåker, in northern Halland. Her parents, Oskar Karlsson and Hulda Zakrisdotter, were small-holders. Like many others in their neighbourhood, her father combined working the land with furniture-making. He was also involved in the illegal wildlife trade and sold animals for slaughter in Gothenburg. When Astrid Pettersson was 11 years old her father sold the farm they lived on, against her mother’s wishes and despite the fact that her mother had used her inheritance from her own mother to acquire it and she was the one who farmed it. Astrid Pettersson’s father then acquired a smaller holding in Lindome to which the family moved.
Astrid Pettersson’s paternal grandmother lived with the family and she came to play an important role in her life. Her grandmother served as her source for orally transmitted stories about the local area and ancient knowledge of things like medicinal plants and plant-based dyes. She was also a committed follower of Schartau and would read aloud from the Bible every day. In 1922 Astrid Pettersson finished six years of public school with above average grades across the subjects. Although the local priest offered to stand as guarantor for a student loan neither she, nor her brother, were allowed to continue their studies.
During her youth Astrid Pettersson worked as an assistant in a variety of grocery shops, as well as working as home help. She eventually qualified as a butcher and won the Scandinavian bronze medal for butchering. In 1933 she married Daniel Pettersson, whom she had met through Jordbrukareungdomens förbund (JUF; young farmers’ association) in Lindome in which she was active. They leased and worked a farm in Lindome until it was sold in 1948. Then they purchased Rosenburg, an eighteenth-century farm, which was also in Halland. After a number of years they leased out their land and the Pettersson couple returned to Lindome. They had three children together but divorced in 1978.
Astrid Pettersson had been involved in the farmers’ movement since her younger days. She was one of the original founders of a section of Svenska Landsbygdens Kvinnoförbund (Swedish rural women’s association) in Lindome and had eventually become an active member of Centerpartiet (the Centre Party) and in Lindome municipal politics. She campaigned on behalf of deaf rights, was an active member of the action group against Swedish atomic weapons and participated in peace demonstrations in Great Britain, Paris, Moscow, and Washington D.C. During the 1940s she was on the board of Svenska freds-och skiljedomsföreningen (the Swedish association for peace and arbitration). She was also an active opponent of nuclear power during the 1970s.
Astrid Pettersson made her debut as a novelist in 1951 with the release of her book Född utan själ. The title refers to a folk notion that those who are deaf lack a soul. The book is based on the author’s personal experiences given that one of her own daughters became deaf when she was two years old. The book takes the form of a saga novel which plays out across a two-hundred year period. Her next novel, I synd född, published in 1954, can be seen as a contribution to counteract the sexual phobia and peer pressure experienced amongst Schartau’s followers as well as against the oppression of women and children. The scenes portrayed in the book alternate rapidly between pastureland and a mental asylum, sewing groups, schools, a ladies’ hairdresser, and a parsonage. The overriding feeling throughout the book is one of fear of authority.
Astrid Pettersson’s novels are typified by serious engagement with social justice and women’s emancipation. One could describe them as literary indictments. She is best known for her trilogy which begins with Ingri vallpiga, published in 1958. It is situated in Älmered village during the 1750s. The lead character is the young servant Ingri Henricsdotter. Although the series of novels is based on original archival work Astrid Pettersson also made use of a rich oral tradition. The novels are replete with everyday details and melodramatic climaxes. An oppressive pressure pervades Älmered village where laws, customs, superstitions, fear, and public opinion all serve to suppress the population. The text includes many quotes from various legal tracts.
Astrid Pettersson’s 1963 novel Kängorna was the start of another series of countryside novels which began at the end of the First World War, this time situated within the environment of the poorhouse. This was followed by Galoscherna, from 1965, and Livets trappa, from 1967, which plays out in Gothenburg of the 1920s. The lead character is a maid who works in a shop. The series ends with the 1969 book Barnets börda, set during Sweden’s period of national emergency when the men of the Swedish countryside were conscripted and the women were expected to do everything at home.
Astrid Pettersson’s autobiographical works, the 1974 Gåvan and Barn i första världskriget, from 1989, describe her childhood, the daily grind, and how Schartau and the wartime famine years impacted on Halland’s rural communities. The first of these two books, published by the newly-established Författarförlaget, particularly resonated with readers and became a success with the public.
As Marie Louise Ramnefalk notes, most of what Astrid Pettersson has written contains autobiographical elements and even though Ramnefalk agrees with the received critical view of Astrid Pettersson’s books as literarily inferior she emphasises that she has “rarely read work by a more empathetic author than Astrid Pettersson, in her descriptions of work, hard work, preparation for work and work-stress, specific work experiences, celebrated work achievements, work duties, damnation, joy and all done with such expertise, power, and versatility.”
Astrid Pettersson often appeared on the radio during the 1960s and 1970s. She recorded her own books as audiobooks and travelled throughout Sweden giving talks and participating in debates. She regularly, and for many years, wrote articles which were published by the Centerpartiet press office. Her surviving correspondence reveals that she had an extensive network and corresponded not only with politicians but also fellow writers. Her archive contains a large number of letters to and from the author Gunhild Tegen.
When she was a pensioner Astrid Pettersson began to study ethnology and pedagogics at Gothenburg university. Her long-standing skills gained from the old farming community stood her in good stead as a course leader. She continued to write books until well into the 1980s.
Astrid Pettersson died in 1998.