Lisa Grahn

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Literature and Rhetoric

Visiting address:
Engelska parken, Thunbergsvägen 3 P
Postal address:
Box 632
751 26 UPPSALA

Short presentation

I am a lecturer in literary studies since 2022. My dissertation is about motherhood and mothering in Sara Lidman's Railroad epic. My research is focused on gender, historiography and the borders between fiction and non-fiction. At present, I am working on Swedish historical novels from the 1960s and onwards. I also study influencer literature and digital capital on the book market.


PhD in literature, 2022.

Between 2021-2023 I am a part of the EU funded project "MotherNet: Developing a New Network of Researchers on Contemporary European Motherhood”.


My dissertation, Motherhood and narration in Sara Lidman's Railroad Epic, examines motherhood and mothering in seven novels by the Swedish author Sara Lidman (1923–2004). Published between 1977 and 1999 and collectively known as the Railroad Epic, the novels depict the industrialization of Northern Sweden in the late 19th century, and how it affected the people living there. Reading it as a story about motherhood and mothering not only broadens our understanding of Lidman’s work, but also widens the scope of representations of motherhood in Swedish literature. The study examines the depictions of lived experiences of motherhood, pregnancy and childbirth in the novels, as well as the conflict between (bodily) integrity and incorporation into family life and ideals. Moreover, it explores narratological power structures and the ethical implications of the motherhood motif. The analysis comprises close readings of the embodied experiences of motherhood and mothering, influenced by feminist phenomenological thinking. The epic is read as historiographical metafiction, as a way of using historical narratives to explore and question how history itself is told.

The study uses the masculine-coded capitalist and colonial market economy that is introduced during the course of the novels to contextualize the mothers’ positions in a patriarchal structure, while focusing on mothering work to center the agency of the mothers. To this end, the thesis illustrates the width and complexity of the experiences of mothering in the novels, while connecting it to the wider themes of the epic, such as colonialism, modernity, and the conflict between community and integrity. Concerning this conflict, the study argues for a reading of pregnancy and mothering as potential sources for transcendence. Furthermore, the results highlight how already existing power structures are effected by gendered reproduction norms, creating a hierarchy amongst mothers which is then replicated in the narrative. In addition to these individual experiences, the results demonstrate how the matrilineal, along with repeated events and magical elements such as visions, ghosts, and spirits of unborn children, create a perception of existence as fragmented and multi-layered. The deconstruction of hegemonic history and storytelling is interpreted as a way to share experiences and sensations that are perceived of as ineffable, and to tell the stories of the unheard.


Recent publications

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Lisa Grahn