I understand nothing of what is really going on, don’t see the connections, don’t grasp the extent of the revolution that is underway, now silent and concealed, now with shouts and banners and hallelujahs, and least of all do I perceive that labour is the kernel of this as of all other revolutions, the sacred freedom of labour. But I do grasp something, at least, there is something that I sense instinctively like a call, an exhortation, a fanfare. I recognize the spirit that speaks in Nora’s lines, recognize it as my own, the fighting spirit. This unites me with all those of whom I know nothing, my sisters, my scattered and faltering legionnaires the world over.
Ida Aalberg was honoured like a queen that evening. In those days she was such a great star that her arrival at our National Theatre was merely a guest performance, in between her triumphs in St Petersburg and on the continent. The people were packed in crowds on the square outside the theatre, formed a human chain to the hotel where she was staying, cheered, wept, lifted her in their arms. I was one of those who pushed their way to the front! The tears ran down my cheeks, I shouted and cheered with all the might of my lungs. In spite of the biting winter chill, my coat fell open, and it never occurred to me to cover my bare head as I stood before this lofty, tragic figure, this first woman I had ever seen who could hold her head high. What good fortune that I at least had a leather cap to press passionately to my chest!
As I stood there like this I presented a thoroughly odd spectacle, and it was not surprising that the great diva noticed me as she passed. Perhaps she also felt touched by such naive and obviously youthful enthusiasm. She stopped right in front of me, took a rose from her bosom, handed it to me with a radiant smile and said: Thank you for coming, dear child!
I stood rooted to the spot holding the rose, the sacred rose of the elect. The people talked and babbled around me, they pushed and shoved me in the crush, trod on my toes. I stood still and looked at my rose. I no longer shouted, cheered, wept, or swam in a sea of bliss. The great solemnity of what had happened to me filled me with a pure, lofty, stern emotion, a responsibility, a demanding certainty that required me to muster all my inner strength. In my eyes it was not the celebrated actress who had given me the rose and marked me out from everyone else. It was Nora, the Nora my passionate heart had summoned forth and experienced with the last drop of its red blood, it was she who had given me the rose and said to me: Don’t give in, Vega! Revealed to me, by a gesture of fate, in a glittering second of inner perception were the secret direction of my conflicting sensations and experiences and the jealously hidden goal of my proud, indomitable dreams.
It was then that I resolved to become the knight of the proud, free woman! With the rose in my hand I gave a holy vow that I would never betray this cause. Never in my life would I marry, never submit to a man’s enticements! Free, untouched and pure I would lead women on to victory. Again with glorious flames within me burned activity long subdued and repressed, and the fighting spirit in my being, the dissension in my name claimed their due. Within my inner self, Atahualpa’s avenger rose up from his humiliation, swords clattered, armies prepared for battle. What music to my ears! What beatitude to my breast! I would show them all, show Mr Dreary and Fridolf and all who called me woman and tried to exclude me from a life of freedom and danger what a woman could achieve in this world. To think that no one had perceived this before! That was something I could not grasp. I was convinced that I was going to create a worldwide movement. For surely women could not voluntarily allow themselves to be shut in like this, like Nora, for example, become dependent and be dandled like children all their lives? A woman only needed to be brave and get to the top, and then all the others would follow. And the brave woman was I, Vega Maria Dreary!
translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff