Representing Pariah Femininity. Sexuality, gender, and class at the fin-de-siècle

  • Hélène Ohlsson Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University
Keywords: Pariah femininity, sexuality, gender, class, Ellen Hartman


This article discusses the representation of an actress’s sexuality, femininity, and class at the fin-de-siècle with an emphasis on pariah femininity. The central empirical sources for this study are the correspondence between King Oscar II (1829-1907) and Baroness Henriette Coyet (1859-1941) about the famous actress Ellen Hartman (1860-1945). Tracy C. Davis’s feminist historiographical methodology is put to use in the analysis in combination with Mimi Shipper’s notion pariah femininity. The analysis of the correspondence shows how the actress Ellen Hartman’s femininity was discursively constructed as pariah femininity embodying asexuality, excessive sexuality, and of a degenerate moral. It is argued that Hartman’s specific kind of pariah femininity is based on a perceived threat triggered by her public profession, sexual history and social ambition. Her body was sexualized, her sexuality demonized, and her appearance downgraded to defuse the threatening presence of her profession, femininity, and class. The historical sources also show a change of attitudes toward intersections of femininities and class.

Author Biography

Hélène Ohlsson, Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University

Hélène Ohlsson is an actress, director, and scriptwriter who, since 2012, is a PhD Candidate in Performance and Theatre Studies at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University. Her research focuses are divas, historical actresses, the long nineteenth century, and critical femininity studies. Her dissertation about actress Ellen Hartman is scheduled to be finished during the spring of 2018. Hélène Ohlsson was educated as a performer at École Jacques Lecoq in Paris. She has also been active as a drama teacher and dramaturge.


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How to Cite
Ohlsson, H. (2018). Representing Pariah Femininity. Sexuality, gender, and class at the fin-de-siècle. Nordic Theatre Studies, 29(1), 44-63.