Century Love War


The Swedish feminist Ebba Witt-Brattström’s book Century Love War has by some been interpreted as a war against her ex-husband.

Witt-Brattström, however, claims that her war is not private but an intellectual war against what she calls the cultural man. At the same time it is a campaign for literary women.

“I consider all our choices in life as political,” she says. “I want women to stop being ashamed of themselves.”

The dialogue In her book Century Love War lets you hear the last, pounding heartbeats of a couple’s shared existence, a man and a woman who has lived together half a life. What was once great love has turned into a drawn out struggle.

“He said: If you desert me you will have only life-long hate ahead of you.

She said: I think either you or I must die.”

Ebba Witt-Brattström is an award-winning author and scholar in comparative literature. She is currently Professor of Nordic Literature at Helsinki University.

Last year Witt-Brattström was in dispute with the Norwegian author and cultural man Karl Ove Knausgard.

Witt-Brattström wondered in a confrontational way why literary men, such as him, can get away with being a male-chauvinistic pig who romanticize sexual fantasies about under-aged women.

Knausgaard evidently read her comment and promptly brought his counter-attack: “I’ve lived here so long that I’ve occasionally wondered whether the cyclops are right, and I’m wrong. Yes, that I actually am a literary pedophile, a latent homosexual Nazi mass murderer.”

Somewhat surprisingly he did not aim at Witt-Brattström. Maybe he considered her too small a target since his anger was on the Swedish people, the entire population, attacking them for their complete inability to deal with ambiguity.

Ove Knausgaard
Ove Knausgaard

“The book in which I described a grown man’s love for a 13-year-old girl is a novel about an assault, but also a book a book about regression and infantilism,” Knausgaard writes. “The infantile exists all around us. We live in a culture that worships youth, worships the simple and worships the childish.” A novel, on Knausgaard’s account, is the opposite: “It seeks complexity, it seeks ambiguity, it seeks truth in places other than where it formulated in slogans, or where it is framed, hard and unrelenting, rigid and unchangeable.”

Now Witt-Brattstström has written a chocking book about verbal and violent abuse in a relationship closely modeled on her own failed marriage to Horace Engdahl, a literary historian and critic, being a member of the Swedish Academy since 1997.

 Century Love War is Ebba Witt-Brattström’s literary debut and is influenced by Märta Tikkanen’s classic novel The Love Story of the Century from 1978.

Written by Tor Kjolberg