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Nordic FAQ - 4 of 7 - FINLAND
Section - 4.7 Finnish literature

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          Most of the text below is reproduced on the Project Runeberg
          pages on Nordic Authors
          <>. Links to the
          Project Runeberg pages are provided when they hold also other
          Fire has destroyed most of the early literature the Finnish
          church and monasteries must have produced. The first known
          Finnish author was Jöns Budde, a Franciscan monk who lived in
          the Brigittene monastery at Naantali in the latter part of 15th
          century, chiefly translating from Latin to Swedish, but he also
          wrote a few things of his own. Codex Aboensis written probably
          in Turku in the 1440's is an important collection of law texts;
          Missale Aboense printed in 1488 for the Finnish church is a
          beautiful book and a source of medieval Finnish religious life.
          Mikael Agricola (circa 1510-57), a bishop of Turku and great
          advocate of Lutheranism, is considered the father of Finnish
          literature. His ABC-book published 1538 is the first known book
          in Finnish, but the translation of New Testament (1548) is his
          greatest achievement. Paavali Juusten (?1512-72) was another
          important 16th century author; his Chronicon episcoporum
          Finlandensium (Chronicle of the Finnish Bishops [published in
          Latin]) is an important source of early Finnish history. Erik
          Sorolainen (1545-1625) did most of the translation of the Old
          Testament when the whole Bible was eventually published in
          Finnish in 1642, delayed by the Thirty Years' War. The first
          grammar of Finnish, Linguae Finnicae brevis institutio [Latin],
          was written by Eskil Petraeus in 1649.
          Daniel Juslenius (1676-1752) was an enthusiastic advocate of
          things Finnish. He wrote a baroque study on Finland (Aboa vetus
          et Nova [Latin], 1700) which among other things traced the
          origins of Roman civilization to Finland; a defense of
          Finnishness (Vindicae Fennorum [Latin], 1702); and most
          importantly, the first major Finnish dictionary (Suomalaisen
          Sana-Lugun Coetus, 1745), containing 16,000 entries. He and his
          ideological followers became known as Fennophiles
          (proto-nationalists, but not separatists). Jakob Frese
          (1691-1729) and Gustaf Filip Creutz (1731-1785) contributed
          importantly to the Swedish-language poetry of the era.
          The first major Finnish poet, however, was Frans Mikael Franzén
          (1772-1847), whose fresh, romantic poetry was enormously
          popular in Sweden (including Finland!) in his time. His teacher
          was the great scholar Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804), a
          student of Juslenius and a Fennophile, who brought Finnish
          history-writing, study of mythology and folk poetry, and other
          humanistic sciences to an international level. His De Poësi
          Fennica (published in Latin in five parts 1776-78), a study on
          Finnish folk poetry, had great importance in awakening public
          interest in the Kalevala-poetry and Finnish mythology, and the
          study was also the basis of all later study of the poetry. He
          was among the founders of the Aurora Society that advocated
          Finnish literary pursuits and was the editor of the first
          Finnish newspaper, Tidningar utgifne af et sällskap i Åbo,
          founded in 1771. Antti Lizelius (1708-1795) published the first
          newspaper in Finnish, Suomenkieliset Tieto-Sanomat, 1776.
          Porthan inspired the following generation of Finnish authors,
          poets and researchers, many of whom were among the founders of
          the Finnish Literature Society in 1831. A movement literary
          trend known as Helsinki Romanticism was born in the 1830's when
          the university was moved to the new capital. Four young
          university students came to have towering importance to the
          forming of the Finnish literature, and ultimately, the Finnish
          national identity. These were the poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg
          (1804-77), the scholar Elias Lönnrot (1802-84), the author
          Zacharias Topelius (1818-1898) and the Hegelian philosopher and
          statesman Johan Vilhelm Snellman (1806-81).
          Especially important was Elias Lönnrot, who did a huge task of
          collecting folk poetry from the remote wildernesses of Karelia,
          and compiling these to what was to become Finland's national
          epic, the Kalevala. (1849). It is composed of 50 poems
          (sometimes called runes), altogether 22,795 verses. The book
          starts with a creation-myth, then goes on to recount the deeds
          and adventures of the three protagonists, Väinämöinen the
          magician and bard, Ilmarinen the smith, and Lemminkäinen the
          wanton loverboy and warrior, and ends with the introduction of
          Christianity to Finland. Lönnrot was under the influence of
          Homeric ideals and tried to forge the poems into a single epic,
          adding bits and pieces of his own and altering some parts to
          make them appear a whole, which they however never have been.
          Nevertheless, its role to the development of Finnish
          literature, arts and identity can hardly be over-estimated, and
          having been translated to all major world languages and lots of
          minor ones, it is no doubt the most important contribution of
          Finland to world literature. Lönnrot also published a
          counterpart to Kalevala, the Kanteletar, a collection of
          ancient lyrical poetry often sung by women. These two books,
          however, cover but a small part of the recorded Finnish folk
          poetry. For instance, between 1908-48 was published a massive,
          33-volume book series called Suomen Kansan Vanhoja Runoja,
          containing altogether 85,000 poems, with well over a million
          verses. Kalevala & Kanteletar can be found (in Finnish) at
          <> &
          Runeberg's main works were the realist/idealist poem
          Älgskyttarna (Elk Hunters, 1832), which can be called the first
          major literary portrayal of ordinary people in Scandinavia, the
          Ossianic epic Kung Fjalar (King Fjalar, 1844) and the emotional
          and humane heroic poem Fänrik Ståls Sägner (The Tales of Ensign
          Stål, I 1848, II 1860) on the war of 1808-09, which enjoyed
          huge popularity in both Finland and Sweden and became something
          of a national romantic symbol.
          Topelius was a full-blooded romantic, more superficial as a
          literary artist than Runeberg, and less of an innovator. His
          Fältskärns Berättelser (1851-67, The Barber-Surgeons Stories)
          is a historical novel set in the Thirty Years' War, in the
          tradition of Sir Walter Scott; he is also well known in Finland
          for his fairy tales.
          Snellman's chief achievement was in his role as a national
          awakener, the editor of two newspapers, strongly encouraging
          literature as part of the process leading to independence.
  Early writers in Finnish
          The first great prose writer in Finnish - considered by some to
          be the most genial - was Aleksis Kivi (1834-72), a novelist and
          playwright who during his lifetime was largely ignored. Major
          works include Seitsemän Veljestä (The Seven Brothers, 1870),
          his most celebrated play, and the comedy Nummisuutarit (The
          Heath Shoemakers, 1864). He was more modern and many-sided in
          his expression than Runeberg, but his image of the Finnish
          people was too "raw" and realistic for most people of his era,
          and he died in extreme poverty, suffering from a mental
          Minna Canth (1844-97), an energetic fighter for women's rights
          and social justice, was a contemporary of Juhani Aho
          (1861-1921), a novelist and short-story writer known for his
          humorous sketches and lyrical, dreamy descriptions of nature.
          Eino Leino (1878-1926) was a poet of exceptional talent,
          drawing heavily on the Kalevala tradition. His main themes are
          love and nature, and poem collections such as Helkavirsiä
          (Helka-hymns, 1903), Halla (Frost, 1908) which includes the
          wonderful love/nature poem Nocturne, and Hymyilevä Apollo (The
          Smiling Apollo) are still much-loved. V. A. Koskenniemi often
          turned to classical themes. Uuno Kailas wrote harsh,
          self-analytic verse, whereas Kaarlo Sarkia sought solace in
          aestheticism and fantasy. The personal, abrupt, and humorous
          poetry of Aaro Hellaakoski and the equally humorous, learned,
          yet folklike verse of P. Mustapää were only appreciated after
          1945. The generation of the 1950s, including Paavo Haavikko and
          Eeva-Liisa Manner, introduced new poetic forms to which their
          successors often added absurd humor, formalist experimentation,
          and social criticism.
  Modern writers in Swedish
          Finland-Swedish modernism was introduced by Edith Södergran
          (1892-1923). She didn't receive much recognition in her
          lifetime, but is now regarded one of Finland's foremost poets.
          She was first influenced by French symbolism, then German
          expressionism and Russian futurism, and creatively applied
          these to her own poetry. Her free rhythm, strong, challenging
          images fired by a Nietzschean self-conscience and conviction of
          the importance of her message were new and baffling to the
          Finnish audience, and she was almost without exception
          misunderstood and even ridiculed. Her first collection of poems
          was Dikter (Poems, 1916), which was followed by Rosenaltaret
          (The Rose Altar, 1919) and Landet som icke är (The land that is
          not, 1925) among others. Always physically weak and somewhat
          sickly, she died young just as she was starting to get
          followers. Among these the most important were Elmer Diktonius
          (1896-1961), Gunnar Björling (1887-1960) and Rabbe Enckell
          In recent years writers such as Märta & Henrik Tikkanen, Kjell
          Westö (b. 1961) and others have proved that the size of a
          linguistic minority has very little to do with the quality of
          its literature.
          The author Tove Jansson (b. 1914) has won much international
          fame for her creation of the Moomins, philosophical-minded,
          friendly trolls who live in Moominvalley. There are many books
          on their adventures, e. g. Muminpappan och Havet (Moominpappa
          and the Sea). Her fantasy world charms with its richness,
          inventiveness and wisdom of life spiced with witty humor. The
          events and imagery flow freely and uninhibited, yet reflecting
          the phenomena of the real world.
  Modern writers in Finnish
          Joel Lehtonen, Volter Kilpi, and especially Frans Eemil
          Sillanpää (1888-1964) dominated naturalistic prose in the first
          half of the 20th century. Sillanpää was awarded the 1939 Nobel
          Prize for literature for the book Silja, nuorena nukkunut
          (Silja, Fallen Asleep While Young, 1931). Also important are
          Toivo Pekkanen, who wrote about the plight of industrial
          workers, and Pentti Haanpää, who portrayed with a bitter but
          defiant humor the struggle of humans against harsh nature in
          northern Finland.
          After World War II, Väinö Linna had great success with the
          novel Tuntematon Sotilas (The Unknown Soldier, 1954) which
          played a part in the healing of the wounds of the war and is
          read by almost every Finnish schoolkid. The extensive use of
          dialects make the book quite impossible to translate;
          translations into English and many other languages do exist,
          but cannot be recommended very highly (although I hear the
          Swedish one is pretty good). His other major work is the
          trilogy Täällä pohjantähden alla (Here Under the North Star,
          1959-62), a story of the struggles of poor farmers that
          culminated in the Civil War of 1918. More recently, Veijo Meri
          has described the violence and absurdity of human life,
          especially during times of war.
          Mika Waltari (1908-79) is among the Finnish prose writers best
          known to an international audience. He wrote his most
          successful novels in the 1940s and 50's, many of them on
          historical subjects; among these is Sinuhe egyptiläinen (The
          Egyptian, 1945), a novel set in ancient Egypt, about the
          collapse of traditional ways of life and the inflation of
          inherited values. It's also been filmed into a dreary Hollywood
          From the 1960s, social issues became central to the young
          novelists and poets. Hannu Salama went through a famous trial
          for blasphemy (after which the blasphemy laws were repealed)
          for his novel Juhannustanssit (Juhannus Dances, 1964). Pentti
          Saarikoski was the leading poet of the 60's. Often better
          remembered for his for his unhealthy lifestyle, Saarikoski was
          nevertheless one of the most genial poets in Finnish and a
          brilliant translator of e. g. Homer and Joyce. Such younger
          writers as as Alpo Ruuth and Antti Tuuri have also dealt with
          social issues.
          Another author who has long been very popular in Finland and
          has started to win international fame recently is the humorist
          Arto Paasilinna; Jäniksen Vuosi (The Year of the Hare, 1974),
          is the story of an advertising man who gets sick of urban life
          and escapes to the wilderness with his pet hare.
          For electronic versions of some of the works of Nordic
          literature, see the collection of Project Runeberg:
          + Icelandic Literature
          + Literature from the Viking Age
          + Medieval Nordic Literature
          + Danish Literature
          + Norwegian Literature
          + Literature of Finland
          + Literature from the Age of Liberty [ in Sweden and Finland
            (1719-1772) ]

[ the sections above are available at the www-page ]


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