Altar-piece from 1958 made by Bror Hjorth in the church of Jukkasjärvi, in the municipality of Kiruna in the north of Sweden. Lars Levi Læstadius, biologist and priest, is seen on the right preaching for the people to live a morally correct life (the couple in front of him), not to steal (the man in the middle is giving back a stolen reindeer to a Sámi) and not to drink (the man to the left is pouring out a keg of beer). The text on the altar-piece says: "Læstadius said: You drunkards, you thieves, you lechers and whores – convert yourself". The church, with its middle part from the 17th century and its clock tower, is seen in the background, and looks the same today. Photo: Karin Granqvist.
Lovén and Læstadius in particular maintained that Sámi had knowledge that derived from their contact and intercourse with nature, and that that also was inherited. They also maintained that the Sámi were suited for the life they had as semi-nomads, or nomads, or hunters or reindeer herders. Lovén wrote for instance that Sámi had a great sense of locality that had come from an ongoing, direct intercourse with nature. The Sámi were also suited to live in Sami dwellings such as the kåta (Sw.), a type of tent, according to him (Lovén, Handlingar rörande manuskript 1836-1838 F1:6. Berättelse över en resa till Finnmarken och Spitsbergen 2, no page numbers). Læstadius meant that the Sámi were "slaves" to their lives as reindeer herders, and that they did not or did not want to do anything else. They only shifted outcome if they were forced to because of poverty caused by a reduced number of reindeers in their herds (Læstadius, Om möjligheten och fördelen af allmänna uppodlingar i Lappmarken, 1824: 77). This idea of that the indigenous people of the north of Sweden was slave to reindeer herding and not at all keen to do anything else was extended to the idea that this was a part of their national character. Læstadius maintained that that national character could be confirmed with measurements of the head skulls of the Sámi (1824: 77).
Since Lovén and Læstadius thought that Sámi life and culture derived from a close contact and intimate relation with the north's nature – the terrain itself and the animals in it – it raises the question: “How did Lovén and Læstadius perceive nature, then?" The answer to that is that they both described the natural landscape as a woman or a girl with attributes that were female. They also saw the regions in the north as desolate, but that character was rarely used when describing the natural landscape as female, though it was nevertheless an often-used characterisation. I will come back to that perspective on nature later on.
Photo: Karin Granqvist
Lovén did for example describe his journey on skis he did in 1837, from Vardö and Vadsö in northern Norway towards Karesuando in the north of Sweden, as being done over "the desolation of the north". On the 14th of January on that same journey the sun returned after it had been below the horizon during the polar nights. That return Lovén described as the rays of the sun being "eyes filled with promises" and that "she" blushed. He designated the sun as a female, thus. He continued to describe the sun as his love that had been gone for so long, and also as the one lover that he had been looking forward to see at "her" return. And finally he saw "her", and he described it as: “Det var något så oändligt kärleksfullt i den blick den kastade, jag nästan blef svartsjuk att hon såg på andra än mig" [It was something so profoundly loving in its gaze, I was almost jealous that she looked at others than me"] (Hjalmar Théel, Lefnadsbeskrivningar över Kungl. Svenska vetenskapsakademiens ledamöter, 1869: 28-29). This description has a very sexual framing around it, as it is formulated as a lovers' relationship. He described a desire, a lust, for the sun, and that became an erotic symbol for an intimate relation with the natural landscape of the north, a relation that was between him and the sun, his "lover" that was.
The most important issue here is that that descriptions of nature were made to deliver a sense of (a) self. This was the case for the nineteenth-century French bourgeoisie's relation to the countryside. Nicholas Green writes in his book The Spectacle of Nature that descriptions of nature were cultural mechanisms in order to exercise hegemony. Nature "spoke to" and was advanced by a wealthy class in society. Nature and the natural world, despite the fact that women frequently were identified with it, foremost adressed itself to men. Green points out that one important thing is that nature was not already 'there' for men, instead it had to be mapped out, creating a new, patriarchal version of masculinity (1990: 152). In the context of Lovén, that discussion leaves us with the fact that he designated nature as female in order to manifest himself as a self, and that was as a man, as a (male) scientist as well as a bourgeois Swede. He mapped plants, rocks, birds, reindeers and also Sámi, and simultaneously manifest himself thus. The description of his skiing journey to Karesuando meant that nature, when described by him as a lover's affair, turned it into a "she", pleasant but also very lustful to look upon and be around, and doing research on, one could think.
Page from Lars Levi Læstadius's book on cultivation of Swedish Lapland from 1824, Om möjligheten och fördelen af allmänna uppodlingar i Lappmarken. Photo: Karin Granqvist
Læstadius did in a book on the cultivation of Swedish Lapland, with metaphors of the female body, describing springtime in Swedish Lapland, the month of May, thus:
Och blomster-gudinuan, ännu skymd under vinterns kalla täckelse, börjar äfven smycka sina gyllene låckar med den gullgula honingsdaggen, salices, för att å nyo, på denna vårens friska morgon, med isig barm och rosenkind, möta den åter i sitt värdiga majestät framträdande, lefvande naturen (1824: 44).
So here he described a Spring scene where the flowers were getting ready to bloom; where "the flower goddess" that was still covered by 'the cold cover of the winter' and which had started to 'adorn her golden locks with the gold-yellow salice', with 'icy bosom and rose (bud) cheeks, met [Spring] again in its dignified majestic outstanding, living nature'. Here Læstadius described nature as female. In the description are also two types of depictions og nature as female. One is of a woman or girl – the flower goddess – that adorned herself, maybe for a feast or just to please a lover, by putting salice in her 'golden locks'. This female character also had "rose (bud) cheeks". The other is of a nurturing mother since his used the word "bosom" which indicates that he thought of "the flower goddess" as a breast feeding, nurturing 'mother'. The word "icy" in 'icy bosom' was most certain there to signal to the readers that the soil in Lapland was frozen during winter, and was still frozen at the beginning of the spring.
Text: Illustration, flowers in snow. Photo: Karin Granqvist
Læstadius also labeled the sun as a "she". When he described the northern regions in June and mentioned the midnight sun he formulated it as follows: "Allestädes inom polcirkeln, der icke höga berg äro i vägen, ser man då solen hela natten såsom ett glögadt klot). Nu kan man se henne skarpt i synen, utan att besväras af hennes strålar" (1824: 47). So in June one could see into the sun without being bothered by 'her rays'. This characterisation of the sun as a woman is to be found in one of Lovén's diaries, as mentioned earlier.
The images of the nature as a woman, that had intimate or even sexual references, and as a nurturing mother, was a phenomenon that was common in American during the nineteenth century. This is a topic that Annette Kolodny writes about in her book on descriptions of nature in American life and letters during the nineteenth century, The Lay of the Land: Metaphor as Experience and History in American Life and Letters. (1975: 71-72). Kolodny see conflicting responses, though, between the "these two very different aspects of the feminine" as she calls them (1975: 72). I will not go into what sort of responses she talks about, since they did not occur in either the case of Lovén or Læstadius. Instead, I will focus on that there where not two different aspects of feminity really, only one that was two-folded, when presenting them in their context of origin.
Meadow in the north of Sweden (approx. on lat. 68°15''). Photo: Karin Granqvist
In the context of Læstadius' book on cultivation can we see the same phenomenon as Kolodny has; the nature as a beautiful "she" and a nurturing "mother". I see the two aspects as bound to each other because they had the same agenda, and that was to describe the particular areas in a positive manner. Descriptions of the nature as a beautiful 'she' meant that it was pleasant for the settlers to settle down on, since 'she' also awoke strong, lustful, and sometimes even erotic and sexual, feelings. The nature seen as a nurturing "mother" meant that even if 'she' was frozen, as in 'her' "icy bosom" during the winter, there would come a spring that would turn 'her' into a nurturing mother that could bloom again, thus describing fertile soil. The pleasantness of the natural landscape is something that we see in Lovén's description too when he describes how the sun not only awoke his sentiments, but that it also was an erotical act as to the landscape. But it was the causes between Lovén and Læstadius that differed, though: Læstadius' cause was cultivation, and Lovén's scientific research.
Here would I like to use Kolodny's own quation from the French agriculturist Hector St. John de Crevecoeur that emigrated to America and her interpretation of the same, in order to put a frame around Lovén's and, in particular, Læstadius' ideas on the nature and the soil in the North:
"Have you never felt at the returning of spring a glow of general pleasures, […] 'Tis then the beauties of Nature, everywhere is spread, seem to swell every sentiment as she swells every juice. She dissolves herself in universal love and seems to lead us to the same sentiments". That the pleasures he [Crevecoeur] related stemmed from a response of the total female principle of gratification, incorporating mother and sweetheart, he made clear in following paragraps by compounding the sexuality of "an uncommon ravishment" with the "majesty" of a maternally plentiful "fecundated earth" (1975: 71-72).
Describing an area as desolate, as both Lovén and Læstadius did, was common for colonial discourses, for instance when colonising or "prospecting" Africa during the second half of the nineteenth century. The conquering of Africa could be done since the continent was the ultimate mental image of no man's land. Since it was a terra nullius was there nothing that could be in the way, nothing to be devastated, no one had to go (Mikela Lundhal, Vad är en neger?, 2005: 98-99). In the context of Lovén's and Læstadius' descriptions of the area as desolate, we can see a Nordic parallell: the area in the northern regions of the Nordic countries could be scientifically investigated and cultivated by settlers since it was "empty" (Cf. Karin Granqvist, Between the Arctic 'Other' and Subject, in Encountering Foreign Worlds, 2007: 83-84).
The descriptions of nature in the North as female – sexual and nurturing – locked into what can be called "a machinery" of desire, lust and nurturing, but none of these feelings and elements were in conflict. These descriptions coincided with the ones of a natural landscape as desolate, often in one and the same Northern works, and these two very different perspectives of nature were not in conflict either. Instead they formed a platform during the nineteenth century for both scientific and settlement activities in the North to a broader extent than had been done before: the norther regions were completely desolate, and therefore suited for scientific investigations as well as cultivation.
Lake and mountains in northern Sweden. Mountains in the background are both in Sweden and in Norway (approx. on lat. 68°15''). Photo: Karin Granqvist