Monday, December 12, 2005

Understanding delayed

I don't know her name any more, but a friend in junior high school (whose name I remember) dragged me with her to visit this old lady in some of the lunch breaks. My friend was sent by her family, I was cajoled into accompanying her while doing her daughterly duty.

After the first few visits, I was not hard to ask. This was a woman who lived in a house filled with books. There was a piano my friend played for a few minutes each visit, but what I cared for were the books: all the walls in that large, old house covered with them. The lady was almost blind, but she rejoiced at the technology of the casette player, because she could listen to books! There was a magnifying glass in each room, and she wrote letters. Not just your regular "hello, how are you" letter, but intellectual discussions with authors and professors all over the country, and one of them was a quite famous fellow student. She had studied with Inger Hagerup, who was a well known poet, political activist and one of the few early female intellectuals. This old lady was no famous poet, but she was something else - a woman who had chosen her passion for academic and intellectual pursuits over other, more common activities for girls of nice families. And seeing she was a contemporary of Inger Hagerup - well, she had to be one of the very few other intellectual Norwegian women, right?

I suspect she came from an old, well-off family where the daughters could afford the luxury of education. The house she lived in was no common little shack, it was withdrawn, like a manor, into a large garden in the more exclusive area of town. But her choice still touched even my 14 year old self. At the time I had no idea what I was looking at, what kind of woman who served me oatmeal cookies with brown cheese and chocolate milk, but over the last years, while the words "Inger Hagerup early pioneer female liberation" have been sinking in, I have realised and grieved at the lack of understanding my younger self had. How could I understand? Her accomplisment through a life of scholarly labour was so far from the experience of a wild barbarian girl as it could be.

Still... I always wanted to just stay behind and read, quietly, in one of her large leather chairs.

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