Finland Literature – From the Origins to the 19th Century

By | December 17, 2021

From the origins to the 18th century

In Finland the first manifestations in some literary ways are neither in Finnish nor in Swedish but in Latin, and of a religious theme (Vita et miracula S. Henrici, Piae Cantiones) without counting purely liturgical works such as the Missale Aboense (1488). The first known scholar, however, already writes in Swedish: it is the monk J. Budde or Roek (15th century), to whom we owe the Jöns Buddes bok (“Book of JB”), containing theological, mystical and hagiographic passages. And throughout the Catholic era it was precisely the priests of the cathedrals of Åbo and Viborg and the monks of the various monasteries who dedicated themselves to spreading literary culture. A religious was also the ‘father of Finnish literature’, the aforementioned (Lutheran) bishop of Åbo Michele Agricola (16th century), author of an Abbecedario (Abckiria, about 1542), of a prayer book (Rucouskiria, 1544) and a version of the New Testament (Se Wusi Testamenti, 1548).

In the second half of the sixteenth century and in the two following centuries Finnish and Swedish alternate as literary languages. E. Sorolainen composed Postilla (1621-25) in Finnish, with notions of theology, natural sciences, liturgy, etc.; H. Henrikinpoika translated the Piae Cantiones (1616); E. Petraeus wrote the first Finnish grammar (1649). In 1640, on the initiative of Queen Christina of Sweden, the Academy (university) of Åbo was founded. Notable poet in Swedish, even if with a single poem, SA Forsius (16th-17th century) had meanwhile revealed himself; later J. Chronander was noted, who with his comedies inaugurated the dramaturgy in Finland. Alongside him it is worth mentioning E. Justander or Juusti, who presented in 1650 the first theatrical piece in Finnish: Tuhlaajapoika (“The prodigal son”), which has been lost. For Finland 2013, please check

Among the Swedish-speaking poets of the early 18th century. J. Frese stands out: on the sad times in which he finds himself living they focus for example on Andelige och werldslige dikter (“Spiritual and worldly verses”, 1726). Of the same tenor is the cycle in Finnish Suru-Runot suomalaiset («Finnish mourning verses», 1720) by G. Calamnius. Moreover, also on the theoretical level in the eighteenth century important texts were produced, by H. Florinus, D. Juslenius, C. Ganander. But the central figure of the century was HG Porthan, author of the treatise on popular poetry De poësi fennica (1766-78), animator of the Aurora society and of the first Finnish newspaper Tidningar utgifne af ett Sällskap i Åbo («Newspaper published by a Society of Åbo», 1771), which was joined in 1775 by the first Finnish newspaper Suomenkieliset Tieto-Sanomat («News in Finnish language») by A. Lizelius. In the second half of the century there was a family of poets, the Achrenius: Abraham and his nephews Simon and Henrik, of whom the most gifted was the last, an elaborator of verses (in Finnish) with an impeccable rhyme. More significant, however, was the poem in Swedish, represented by personalities such as GP Creutz, author of the pastoral Rococo poem Atis och Camilla (“Atis e Camilla”, 1761), and FM Franzén (18th -19th century), who wrote lyrics of pre-romantic intonation.

Finland Literature in 19th century

The annexation to Russia in 1809 made the search for a national identity urgent. This was accompanied by the flourishing of the romantic movement, which received impetus from the two centers of Turku and Helsinki. Among the Finnish-language authors of the Turku group we remember P. Korhonen of the ranks of the so-called peasant poets; J. Juteini or Judén, moralizing poet, playwright and author of short stories. In the Helsinki group, on the other hand, prominent writers stand out: E. Lönnrot, discoverer and rhapsodist of the Finnish epos Kalevala ; JL Runeberg, who while writing in Swedish is considered the embodiment of the Finnish national spirit; JW Snellman, theorist of the Finnish cultural and political resurgence, author of the essay Läran om staten (“The doctrine of the State”, 1842), which contributed to the maturation of a national conscience.

The original Finnish literature, apart from the Kalevala, struggled to establish itself before 1850, when, due to the abolition of censorship, Finnish gradually took over. The undisputed architect of the rise of Finnish was A. Kivi with the masterpiece novel Seitsemän veljestä (“The seven brothers “, 1870) and also with the drama Kullervo (name of a Kalevalian character, 1864), the comedy Nummisuutarit (“The shoemakers of land “, 1864), the Kanervala verse cycle (” Field of heather “, 1866). In the 1880s the dictates of European realism also spread in Finland Recognized animator was M. Canth with his dramas interwoven with social criticism and his bitter stories. J. Aho’s personality is more complex, who began his career as a storyteller in the bed of realism (the Lastuja short story collection ” Trucioli “, 1st vol. 1891) and then moved on to a national neo- romanticism (the historical novel Panu, 1897). Realists were still T. Pakkala and S. Ivalo. At the end of the nineteenth century, national neo-romanticism gradually took over from realism, which in Finland took the name of Karelianism. Starting from realism, A. Järnefelt and the Swedish speakers KA Tavaststjerna and M. Lybeck reached neo- romanticism.

Finland Literature - From the Origins to the 19th Century