Danish writer who became famous only after her suicide.

Artexplainer in stories
Maria Pedorenko
May 16, 2023
On March 7, 1976, 58-year-old Tove Ditlevsen ate a handful of sleeping pills. This put her on a par with Richard Brautigan and Virginia Woolf, other writers who took their own lives.

Usually, talented writers are discovered immediately after their deaths. However, Ditlevsen was not so lucky: she received worldwide recognition only half a century after her suicide.
Illustration: Maria Petrova / Zaborona
Tove Ditlevsen was born and raised in a working-class neighborhood in Copenhagen. Her family lived on the edge of poverty and she was afraid of ending up in Sunnholm, an institution for the poor where they had to work for shelter and food. Since childhood, Tove's dreams of becoming a poet have been coexisting with a beggarly future. The family didn't even have enough money to continue their daughter's education after school.
Photo: Annie Spratt / Unsplash
Tove has been writing all her life. First for her desk, then for local newspapers. Her work includes 40 books - from novels to collections of poems.

"I am happy when I write. I'm happy and forget about everything around me until it's time to hang a brown bag on my shoulder and go shopping," she wrote in her autobiographical book 'Dependency', the last part of the Copenhagen Trilogy.
Сover of the book 'Dependency'
The three books "Childhood", "Youth", and "Dependency" are Ditlevsen's most famous works. These coming-of-age novels are in tune with the "Neapolitan Quartet" by the Italian Elena Ferrante, whose characters also spent their childhood dreaming of escaping poverty and making their dreams come true.
Photo: pinguin
However, while the dark side of Ferrante's novels was made up of family feuds and the struggle between the Communists and the Nazis, Ditlevsen opened up the abyss of her dark emotions to her readers, speaking frankly about depression and addiction to alcohol and morphine.
"Despite the darkness in these three books, they shine with Tove's honesty and humanity. Her seemingly simple works have a surprising power of life," writes the American writer Erica Wagner about The Copenhagen Trilogy.
Over the past few years, Ditlevsen's trilogy has been translated into dozens of languages, her other works have been included in the Danish school curriculum, and in her homeland, everything related to her is now being massively published and reprinted: biographies, correspondence, and even a collection of her columns from a local newspaper, where Tove answered readers' questions.

But fame came to her only 50 years after her death.
Photo: Emil Widlund / Unsplash
Her contemporaries, mostly men, criticized Ditlevsen because she wrote in the genre of autofiction, a popular mixture of autobiography and fiction in the last 7 years. The genre's responsibility and sincerity were considered low topics that had no place in great literature.
Illustration: Ivan Chernichkin / Zaborona
Her "garlands of words" (as she characterized her texts herself) consisted of stories about the twists and turns of girlhood and womanhood: the fear of losing oneself in motherhood and marriage, the thirst for liberation in a society shackled by strange laws, inappropriate courtships that turn into violence and leave wounds that will never heal.
Here, for example, is one of the most famous quotes from the first part of the Copenhagen Trilogy: "Childhood is long and tight, like a coffin, and you can't get out of it without help."
Photo: Tamara Gak / Unsplash
"Ditlevsen's voice is a welcome addition to the canon of women who have shown us their hidden faces so that we can wear our own," says New York Times critic Megan O'Grady about the author.
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