Finland Literature

By | November 3, 2021

The most ancient texts date back to the period of the Reformation and are the work of the Protestant bishop Mikael Agricola (1510-57), who wrote an ABC (1543) and a translation of the New Testament (1548). For the rest of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the only literary expressions are writings of a religious and didactic nature, devoid of any artistic pretense. Elias Lönnrot (1802 -84) collected in a systematic work that popular poetry, rich in mythical and magical legends, which had been handed down orally for centuries. The Kalevala was born, the Finnish national epic, which paved the way for subsequent research into popular heritage. Reading the Kalevala stimulated the first great Finnish writer, Alexis Kivi (1834-72), author of the novel The Seven Brothers, a popular representation of epic breadth, in which there is a sensitivity for ethical problems that is a peculiar characteristic of this literature. In the years between 1870 and 1880 a realist narrative developed which had as its main exponents Minna Canth (1844-97), author of dramas of social denunciation and also in the practical life animator of the feminist campaign for the equalization of women’s rights; and Juhani Aho (1861-1921), whose narrative, under the influence of the French (Maupassant, Daudet, Bourget) was enriched with psychological and erotic nuances. A deeply Christian realist writer was also Arvid Järnefelt (1861-1932), who, referring to the humanitarian ideas of Tolstoy, preached a bloodless social revolution. Populist themes developed Kauppis-Heikki (1862-1920), who with witty humor characterized situations and characters of the Savo region, Teuvo Pakkala (1862-1925) who described the poor environment of the suburbs of Oulu, Santeri Alkio (1862-1930) who faced social problems related to the peasant environment. A mainly historical investigation instead conducted Santeri Ivalo (1866-1937) in his numerous novels and short stories.

According to ehistorylib, around 1895 a neo-romanticism emerged which was originally expressed in the poem by Eino Leino (1878-1926). His Verses of halka (halka are the bonfires that are lit in spring to celebrate the arrival of the new season) sing a heroic and magical world in which the spirit of Kalevala seems to relive . Leino was joined by the poets Larin Kyösti (1873-1948), author of popular lyrics of simple musicality; Otto Manninen (1872-1950), a lyricist of refined and hermetic sensitivity, the classical and cerebral Veikko Antero Koskenniemi (1885-1962), who was also an appreciated essayist. Neo- romantic fiction had its most valid representative in Johannes Linnankoski (1869-1913), who in the novels The Song of the Red Flower and The Fugitives gave a vigorous psychological representation of the conditions of the Finnish people. The novelist Volter Kilpi (1874-1939), who from a neo- romantic inspired by Nietzsche moved on to a realistic description of the life and residents of his land; Joel Lehtonen (1881-1934) who followed an evolution similar to that of Kilpi and in the novel Putkinotko gave an epic and unconventional representation of the Finnish peasant, smuggler and distiller of brandy; Ilmari Kianto (1874-1970) who in the novel Giuseppe the beggar (1924) presented that singular type of proletariat, represented by peasant-woodcutters, who thrive on expedients in the endless lands of Finland. Next to them, three writers: Maila Talvio (1871-1952), with novels centered on the conflict between sin and innocence, sensuality and purity or dedicated to the condition of the proletariat and the environment of the middle bourgeoisie; Maria Jotuni (1880-1943), writer above all of short stories in which she blends the comic with the tragic; Aino Kallas (1878-1956), intellectual author, who with refined elegance treated subjects drawn from the history and folklore of Estonia. The new generation gathered around the magazine Tulenkantajat (Bearers of Fire), spokesperson for the literary currents that go under the common label of “modernism”. Interpreters of this spiritual climate were, among the poets, Uuno Kailas (1901-33), one of the greatest Finnish poets, author of metaphysical lyrics, of insistent and desperate confession of existential anguish; Katri Vala (1901-44), who died in a sanatorium like Kailas and like him a sensitive interpreter of the tragic sentiment of life; Aaro Hellaakoski (1893-1952), who experimented with innovative forms and contents in the denunciation of social conventions and the hypocritical bourgeois mentality. Also worthy of mention are the poetesses Elina Vaara (1903-80), Saima Harmaja (1913-37), Helvi Hämäläinen (1907-98), also the author of novels of social denunciation; the folklorist Martti Haavio (1899-1966), known as a lyricist under the pseudonym of P. Mustapää, Yrjö Jylhä (1903-56), Kaarlo Sarkia (1902-45). In fiction they emerged Frans Eemil Sillanpää (1888-1964), Nobel laureate in 1939, author of novels and short stories in which human life is interpenetrated with that of nature; Mika Waltari (1908-79), who achieved worldwide attention with a series of historical novels with an exotic background. Novels inspired by the living conditions of the urban and rural proletariat wrote Toivo Pekkanen (1902-57), Unto Seppänen (1904-55), Martti Merenmaa (1896), Pentti Haanpää (1905-55).

In the theater Lauri Haarla’s scenic imagination and intellectualism stood out (1890-1944), Erkki Kivijärvi’s (1882-1942) taste for the description of living rooms and citizens, the political satire of Ilmari Turja (1901-98). Dramas also wrote storytellers such as Unto Seppänen, Toivo Pekkanen and the eclectic Mika Waltari. Starting from the 1950s, there has been a radical change in lyricism, thanks to poets such as Helvi Juvonen (1919-59), Eeva Liisa Manner (1921-1995) and especially Paavo Haavikko (b.1931), whose stylistic virtuosity and experimental allowed him to conquer the position of a classic of Finnish modernism. With Pentti Saarikoski (1937-83), enfant terrible of Finnish literature, gifted as a translator of ancient and modern classics and a daring formal experimenter, political commitment also broke into the lyric. The subversive force of the collection What really happens? (1962) is intended to break the customary ways and relationships of traditional culture, establishing a trend that will be followed by Väinö Kirstinä (b.1936), Jyrki Pellinen (b.1940) and Pentti Saaritsa (b.1941) while Juani Peltonen (b. 1941-98) approaches the romantic-fantastic model. Also worth mentioning are Gaj Westerberg (b. 1946) and Tommy Tabermann (b. 1947). The rethinking of history in the light of the new geopolitical position, war and new social conditions were the dominant themes of the prose of the 1950s, in which Väinö Linna occupied a prominent position (1920-92) with the novel Unknown Soldier (1949), which shared the epic-realistic style of Paavo Rintala (1930-99) and Eeva Joenpelto (b.1921), an acute observer of society in the first period of national autonomy. In the following decade, the strand of workers’ literature born after the war was also consolidated: the events became collectivized, the language was colored with colloquial expressions, the relationships between men, conditioned by daily needs and by the reasons for power, were revealed in their harshness by the works by Alpo Ruuth (b.1943), Lassi Sinkkonen (1937-76) and above all Hannu Salama (b.1936), who for the novel The Midsummer Dance (1964) was tried for blasphemy.

If the crisis of the middle class, already present in the works of Eila Pennanen (1916-94), found valid interpreters in Kerttu-Kaarina Suosalmi (b.1921), Antti Tuuri (b.1944) or Eeva Kilpi (b.1928), author, among other things, of The period of the Winter War (1989), the more traditional narrative vein, the one linked to the land and peasant life, did not lose interest. The escape from the countryside, the ambivalence of feelings, between nostalgia and rejection, towards the past, are present in the six volumes of I campi flourish (1971-89) by Eino Säisä (1935-1988), and in the vast autobiographical work of Kalle Päätalo (1919-2000). Outside of a precise orientation, some of the most original writers of the new generation should be remembered, such as Timo Mukka (1944-73) or Daniel Katz (b. 1938). Particularly original are the works of Arto Paasilinna (1942-2018), characterized by hilarious events often set in Nordic nature. The death of a novel character (1985) by Matti Pulkkinen (b.1944), one of the most discussed books of the decade due to the complex compositional collagetechnique and the obscure vision of man, shared by Esa Sariola (b. 1951) in Alla mia morte (1987). The problem of evil is also indicated by critics as the main theme of other new writers, including Pirkko Saisio (b.1949), Hannu Aho (b.1949), Annika Idström (b.1947) and Olli Jalonen (b.1954). Legacies of metropolitan youth cultures can be felt in the prose fragments by Rosa Liksom (b. 1958), rich in an unusual visionary and poetic force.

Finland Literature