Stina Aronson was an eminent Swedish modernist author who portrayed the experiences of women and other vulnerable groups in society.
Stina Aronson, born Ester Kristina Andersson, was the daughter of bishop Olof Bergqvist and the maid Maria Andersson. She was born out of wedlock. For the first seven years of her life, she lived with a foster family called Ekblom in Petterslund near Uppsala. Her foster mother, who, like her biological mother, worked as a maid, was forced to return Stina when her foster father, a butcher and gravedigger, was sent to prison for murder. Stina Aronson then moved back to her biological mother and her four years older sister, Elisabeth, to Svartbäcksgatan in Uppsala.
Stina Aronson’s biological parents were both from Värmland and had met each other when her father studied at Uppsala. They had two children together, both out of wedlock. Their relationship was, however, short-lived. The year after Stina was born, her father married the daughter of a manufacturer, Hanna Norbäck. Stina did not reconnect with her father until she was an adult.
Despite her poor background, Stina Aronson was able to gain an education. Her mother cleaned for a student who enabled both Stina and her sister to attend the Lundell school in Uppsala. Stina also attended teacher training school in Stockholm from 1913 to 1914.
After graduating, Stina became engaged to Gösta Hjorth, the brother of Bror Hjorth, but the engagement ended quickly due to Gösta being called up for military service. However, Stina stayed in contact with Bror throughout her life. She even visited him when he lived in Paris. Bror probably modelled some of his sculptures and artwork on Stina’s features. He also sculpted a bust of Stina, which can be seen at the entrance of Uppsala city library.
When Stina had completed her studies, she began to work as a schoolteacher at Ställdalen in Örebro and Slite on Gotland, amongst other places. In Gotland she married the army doctor Anders Aronson in 1918. He was a medic whom she already had met during her high school years in Uppsala. Stina began to use the name Stina Aronson after her marriage. She stopped working as a schoolteacher and turned to writing, which she had already begun to do while teaching.
Shortly after the wedding, the couple moved to the Sandträsk sanatorium just outside Boden where Anders was appointed chief physician. In 1926 they moved to Hällnäs in Västerbotten, and finally in 1929 they moved to Östersund, where they remained until Anders’ death in 1936. They didn’t have any children of their own but they briefly cared for two foster children. After her husband’s death Stina moved back to Uppsala, where she remained until her death in 1956. It was in Uppsala that she composed the literary works for which she is most famous, on Norrbotten and Tornedalen.
Stina Aronson’s literary breakthrough came late in life, after she had already been writing for 25 years. Her output is of great depth and variation and crosses over several distinct literary movements and trends, while also providing a certain continuity. Throughout her writing Aronson takes the side of the weak and often chooses to portray vulnerable and powerless people, those who are hidden from the public eye, the unseen and overlooked.
Her first book, En Bok om Goda Grannar, a humorous take on an idyllic small town environment published in 1921, contains unusual and overlooked characters. Like many contemporary authors, Aronson chose to adopt the 1920s idyllic, bourgeois intimiste aesthetic, and her next two books, Slumpens Myndling, 1922, and Jag Ger Vika, 1923, comically portray small town life and its vulnerable inhabitants, albeit with a serious undertone. The critics, however, felt that these works were unoriginal and lacked individuality.
During the second half of the 1920s and the early 1930s, Stina Aronson moved on from the aesthetic of the idyll and approached the modernist form of expression. She was now in contact with Artur Lundkvist and the social circle of De Fem Unga (the Five Young Ones) and began to explore new forms and try out different literary genres, such as lyricism and drama. She now published under the pseudonyms Sara Sand and Mimmi Palm.
The common thread in Stina’s work of the late 1920s and early 1930s is the focus on gender issues, placing man and woman in opposition to each other, both literally and socially. Women are portrayed as misunderstood and discriminated against, an anomaly seeking to create new living spaces. It is during this period that Två herrar blev nöjda and the drama Syskonbädd were written, both under the pseudonym Sara Sand. The most famous work from this era is Feberboken. Stoffet till en roman published in 1931 under the pseudonym Mimmi Palm. This novel is partly based on genuine correspondence with Artur Lundkvist.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Stina Aronson was also in contact with the author Ulla Bjerne and the critic Olle Holmberg, discussing issues such as art, literature and women’s rights.
In 1935 the novel Medaljen över Jenny was published, for which Stina Aronson won Natur och Kultur’s vocational novel prize the same year. Like earlier works, this novel focuses on the marginalized and examines women’s right to work and to a career. Similar to other female authors writing in the 1930s, Stina Aronson portrays sisterhood, the female perspective and utopian female collectives. Sisterhood is also a core theme in Byar och fjäll, 1937, a tale about the work of two Red Cross nurses travelling in Härjedalen. This was the first novel where Stina in detail described the Norrland landscape and the inhabitants of a desolate place. Aronson had thus already in the 1930s begun her journey toward what she would later call “the wasteland”. Before continuing on this journey she published a novel about an illegitimate child, which she had been working on for several years, entitled Gossen på Tröskeln, 1942.
It was not until the mid-1940s that Stina began to receive critical recognition. This coincided with the publication of her most stylistically complete works, all of which concern marginal people living in desolate places: Hitom himlen, 1946, Sång till Polstjärnan, 1948, Kantele, 1950, Den fjärde vägen, 1950, and Sanningslandet, 1952.
In these later works the reader, as before, meets an all-knowing narrator, but the language is now more focused and the narrator more often gives way to other voices than previously. The language moves between the oral, spoken language of the town and the high-register written language, and even traces of Finnish can be found.
Stina Aronson’s most famous book is Hitom himlen, a novel portraying the widow Emma Niskanpää and her son John. They live in a hut in the fictional town of Mäntjyjärvi in Tornedalen and the readers follow their daily lives in pace with the changing landscape and nature. Here Aronson portrays a multilingual society and a multicultural co-existence long before these concepts existed. The novel has an explosively political character as Aronson fundamentally challenges issues of power pertaining to domination and subordination, centre and periphery.
Stina Aronson became a board member of Samfundet De Nio (The Nine society) in 1949 and in 1956 she was awarded De Nio’s Stora (great) prize. Her other awards include Tidningen Vi’s literature prize in 1947 and Svenska Dagbladet’s literature prize in 1948. Stina Aronson died in Uppsala in 1956 and is buried in the cemetery in Kristinehamn.