Ditlevsen, Tove (1917–1976)

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Ditlevsen, Tove (1917–1976)

Danish writer of poems, short stories, novels and memoirs, a total of 37 works. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1917; committed suicide in March 1976; daughter of Ditlev Ditlevsen and Alfrida (Mundus) Ditlevsen; married four times; children: one daughter and two sons.

Cited as "one of the most important writers of her generation," by Tillie Olsen , Tove Ditlevsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1917. She grew up in a socialist working milieu in Copenhagen and left school after graduating from the eighth grade. Before marrying her first husband, the editor of Wild Wheat, a journal for avant-garde poetry, she held several office jobs.

Her writing concentrates on life within the family, influenced by but separate from the social and political sphere. Women and the roles through which they create their identity are her subject matter, and she measures women's quality of life by the intensity of their emotional relationships. Particularly, Ditlevsen's later works portray the loneliness of middle-class women, their emotional and social state of exposure, and their experience of sexual submission and suffering as indigenous to their lives.

Her novels, which are to some extent auto-biographical, fall into two categories. The earlier works are naturalistic depictions of people and places, focusing on childhood. In the later novels, marital problems are depicted as universal concerns. She explains the angst that runs like an undercurrent in all her work in terms of traumatic childhood influences, which no subsequent experiences can obliterate.

As contributions to the women's literature of the 1970s, her works are particularly valuable as they dramatize the consequences of locking women into marriage, into the roles of wife and mother. She presents the opinion that a talent for writing exacts a price in the form of human relationships and that women primarily may feel the burden of the resulting loneliness.

Tove Ditlevsen's books were well received. Readers identified with her characters and responded to her warmth, sensitivity, and sense of humor. Nineteen years after her death, a new generation of Danes began to embrace her work.


Ditlevsen, Tove. Tove Ditlevsen Om Sig Selv. Copenhagen: Gyldendahl, 1975.

Mogensen, Harald, ed. Om Tove Ditlevsen. Copenhagen: Forum, 1976.

Mork, Margit. Kender Du Tove Ditlevsen. Copenhagen: Grafisk Forlag, 1986.

Inga Wiehl , native of Denmark, teaching in Yakima, Washington