Eva Neander was one of the most eminent Swedish authors of the 1940s.
Eva Neander was born in Jukkasjärvi. When she was very young she and her family moved to Härnösand, where she spent the remainder of her childhood. Her father, a school inspector named Johan Neander, died when she was six years old. Her mother, Emilia Neander, then married for a second time and the family moved first to Borås and then to Gothenburg. Eva Neander gained her school-leaving certificate in Gothenburg in 1941. Following brief university studies in Gothenburg and Uppsala Eva Neander initially worked as a journalist for Ny Tid in Gothenburg and then for Västgöta-Demokraten in Borås. In 1946 Eva Neander became an employee of the magazine Vecko-Journalen.
Eva Neander had been a bit of a child prodigy. She had her stories published in the Sunday supplement of the newspaper Svenska Dagbladet when she was only twelve years old. In 1945 she won a prize for her short story entitled “Vilse”, with which she had entered a competition held by Åhlén & Åkerlund publishing house. This story served as the basis for her first novel, Dimman (the Fog), which was published in 1946.
Dimman is an episodic prose-poetry story about Bitte who is described as having a skin so thin that a word could drill its way through it. Whilst desperate for closeness she shies away from all human touch and intimacy. She cannot tell the difference between left and right and is one of those children who is always last to be chosen for a team. Her entire childhood is just one long humiliation. Bitte’s life as an adult and married woman only poses further challenges. Having suffered a miscarriage Bitte ends up in an asylum as the fog, which had surrounded her ever since childhood, finally consumes her.
The tone of Dimman and the rest of Eva Neander’s written work is dark and angst-ridden, in typical 1940s fashion. The portrayed sense of the unreal is also reflected in the use of thin and fragile language. What gives Eva Neander’s texts an altogether special tone is, however, that she combines these typically contemporary elements with her own particular humour and irony. For example, in Dimman Bitte tries to buy a “hectogram of peace” when she becomes a housewife. One of the women in the 1949 short-story collection entitled Nattljus is described as the type who “smooches with death”. Eva Neander allows another female character to state that she is “thinking of committing suicide. It’s just at your fingertips. Especially when your head is pounding and you can’t be bothered to get dressed”.
In Dimman, as in the ensuing poetry collection Död idyll, published in 1947, as well as the two short-story collections respectively titled Staden, also from 1947, and Nattljus, Eva Neander pointedly describes the gossipy pettiness of small communities. Her lead characters are consistently female and can be divided into two types: those who conform and allow themselves to be turned into stereotypes or those who are not able to live according to the norms. Even though her sympathy remains resolutely with the latter type they are all subject to the author’s disgust. The destructive force of convention eats up the soul of each character. Eva Neander’s second novel, Vattnet, which was never completed, sees her liken convention to a dragon that holds a small community prisoner within its grip and never allows anyone to leave it.
Vattnet is the only one of Eva Neander’s stories which focuses on a strong young woman with a lust for life. Margit Selig, as the character is named, observes and suffers the surrounding world’s mendaciousness all the while retaining her own integrity. She is determined not to be defeated.
Margit Selig is a ballet-dancer, which has great significance to Eva Neander who clearly distinguishes between women who move easily and agilely and those who are cumbersome and slow. She uses dance as a recurring theme to express freedom in her writing, particularly in her poetry collection, notably entitled Död idyll (Dead Idyll). When the 26-year-old character of Margit Selig, in the important short story called “Avsked till fadern” within the Nattljus collection, looks back on her life, it is dancing which is shown to be at its core and its goal.
In the winter of 1950 Eva Neander was found lifeless at lake Unden. At the time she was working on Vattnet, which was posthumously published in 1951 as part of the collection called Lilla bror och lilla syster. The collection, in addition to the incomplete Vattnet, comprises a previously published autobiographical text and a number of new poems and short stories. Eva Neander was considered to have been a major and promising author, compared by many to Karin Boye.
Although Eva Neander’s output was not particularly extensive she nevertheless managed to develop her own particular style and to create her own coherent fictional world. The environment she depicts, which is clearly influenced by the Härnösand of her childhood, serves as a constant background in her writings. Many of the characters make repeat appearances, such as the pale doctor and his gossipy wife, councillor Hannäs and his greedy mouth and unclear eyes, the fat, dirty, indiscreet home-carers, and bourgeois matrons with their prying eyes. Her gallery of characters is both fixed and volatile. When Bitte, in Dimman, re-appears in a short story in the collection Staden, she is portrayed with a much stronger character whilst her cousins Agneta and Marie (who are also recurring figures) lose their strength as they become cornered and crushed by the narrow women’s roles allowed within small towns and marriage. The short stories that make up Nattljus in many ways contain the novel that she was working on at that time of her death. The first short story, “Historien om Julia”, presents the beautiful and lively actress Julia Behrens who is about to steal the siblings Margit and Jan Selig’s father from them, and many of the short stories describe their and their mother’s loneliness and isolation.
The red-haired Julia, who is the prototype for women who move with ease and agility through life, can be seen as the Selig family’s evil genius. However, it seems like the family carries its dissolution and destruction within and Julia actually represents a fascinating and enviably powerful woman. The young Margit Selig bears a lot of similarities to her — she has the same red hair, the same interest in dance. In contrast to her younger brother, Jan, who constantly puts his head above the parapet in an attempt to prove himself, she is a survivor.
Following Eva Neander’s death her written work became forgotten. During the 2000s she was rediscovered and her work has been re-issued by the small publishing house Eolit och Rosenlarv.
Eva Neander is buried at Finnerödja Cemetery.