“New Woman” in Johannes Semper’s novel “Armukadedus” (1934)

Merlin Kirikal

The article focuses on the novel “Armukadedus” (Jealousy) by the Estonian modernist writer Johannes Semper (1892–1970) that has been excluded from the Estonian literary canon of today. Because of the latter, the article first introduces the text – its technical aspects, contradictory reception and the context (of gender relations) that surrounded the novel. The aim of the article is to study how “Armukadedus” constructs, from diferent perspectives, the relationship between the representation of women and men and the cultural situation of the day and the fixed definition of femininities/masculinities.

The analysis focuses on the modern figure of the “New Woman” and asks whether and in what way Semper’s characters – especially women characters Krista and Herma and the protagonist Enn Maiste – support the ideals of women’s emancipation and “New Woman” and how they simultaneously undermine emancipatory ideals. The article also looks at how the birth of the “New Woman” affected thinking. Among other things, the author considers the “New Woman’s” relationship with consumer culture, women characters’ expectations for themselves and other women and men characters and briefly touches upon the modern “new masculinity”.

The article concludes that the “New Woman” was both desired and feared. Therefore, Semper’s women characters are somewhat spilt, a phenomenon that can be explained also by more general trends of modernity (e.g., the fragmentation of the humanist sense of the subject, secularization). One of the main aims of the article is also to show how women characters seek “new ways of being”, something that, in the opinion of many theorists, goes hand in hand with the incorporation of characteristics/attitudes conventionally considered masculine. The article also analyses the characters’ relationship with arts and the meaning of the woman artist in the context of the period.

As several of the characters of “Armukadedus” question classical definitions of femininities/ masculinities, the novel is a symptomatic text in the context of modernization and shifting gender relations.