Author: Tove Jansson
Artist and author Tove Jansson (1914–2001) is known abroad for her Moomin books for children and fiction for adults. A large selection of her letters – to family, friends and lovers – was published for the first time in September. In these extracts she writes to her best friend Eva Konikoff who moved to the US in 1941, to her lover, Atos Wirtanen, journalist and politician, and to her life companion of 45 years, artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
Brev från Tove Jansson (selected and commented by Boel Westin and Helen Svensson; Schildts & Söderströms, 2014; illustrations from the book) introduced by Pia Ingström
7.10.44. H:fors. [Helsinki]
exp. Tove Jansson. Ulrikaborgg. A Tornet. Helsingfors. Finland. Written in swedish.
to: Miss Eva Konikoff. Mr. Saletan. 70 Fifty Aveny. New York City. U.S.A.
Now I can’t help writing to you again – the war [Finnish Continuation War, from 1941 to 19 September 1944] is over, and perhaps gradually it will be possible to send letters to America. Next year, maybe. But this letter will have to wait until then – even so, it will show that I was thinking of you. Curiously enough, Konikova, all these years you have been more alive for me than any of my other friends. I have talked to you, often. And your smiling Polyfoto has cheered me up and comforted me and has also taken part in the fortunate and wonderful things that have happened. I remembered your warmth, your vitality and your friendship and felt happy! At first I wrote frequently, every week – but after about a year most of it was returned to me. I wrote more after that, but the letters were often so gloomy that I didn’t feel like saving them. Now there are so absurdly many things I have to talk to you about that I don’t know where to begin. Koni, if only I’d had you here in my grand new studio and could have hugged you. After these recent years there is no human being I have longed for more than you. More…
From Meddelande. Noveller i urval 1971–1997 (‘Messages. Selected short stories 1971–1997’, Schildts, 1997)
I’ll make it to Maritim, got hold of Gustafsson, van coming at 8, have redirected mail to summer address, bye kiss Tooti
Take last things out of fridge
Hi my name is Olavi. You write well but last time you didn’t make a happy ending. Why do you do this?
We look forward to your valued reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades
Don’t say too much if they ring, don’t promise yet. Bye Tooti
Hi! We’re three girls in a mad rush with our essays about you could you help us by saying in just a few words how you started writing and why and what life means to you and then a message to young people you know the kind of thing. Thanks in advance More…
A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’, 1978)
When the summer exhibition closed in the evenings and the last visitors went away, it became very quiet. A short time later boat after boat set off from the shore and sailed back to the village on the other side of the lake. The only member of staff who remained overnight was the caretaker; he slept in the sauna changing room at the bottom of the large lawn where the sculptures had been lined up among the trees. He was very old and had a bad back, but it had been hard to get hold of someone who didn’t mind the long, lonely evenings. And there had to be a night caretaker because of the insurance. More…
A short story from Meddelande (‘Messages’, Schildts, 1998)
Mother, hello! It’s me … can’t hear you very well. I rang a while ago, but maybe you were having your nap?
(Cheerfully) Yes, of course, you can take a nap whenever you like. I can always phone back.
But Mother, listen to what I’m saying now: that’s the last thing I want you to do. It’s awful if you’re just sitting there by the phone, waiting and waiting. You mustn’t do that. I can phone later when I phone, you know that. How’re things?
But that’s good. Great. And you’ve made your evening cup of tea? More…
A short story from Resa med lätt bagage (‘Travelling light’, Schildts, 1984)
Dear Jansson san
I am a Japanese girl.
I am thirteen years and two months old.
I will be fourteen on the eighth of March.
I have a mother and two little sisters.
I have read everything that you have written.
When I have read it I read it again.
Then I think about snow and being allowed to be by myself.
Tokyo is a very big city.
I am learning English and I am a very diligent student.
I love you.
I dream of one day being as old as you and as wise.
I have a lot of dreams.
There is a Japanese poem called haiku.
I will send you a haiku.
It is about cherry-blossoms.
Do you live in a big forest?
Forgive me for writing to you.
I wish you health and long life.
Tamiko Atsumi More…
Tove Jansson wrote the first Moomin book in the dark days of Finland’s Winter War in 1939. This extract, from Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (‘The little trolls and the big flood’, Schildts, 1945, 1991), tells the story of how the Moomins found their home
It had become very hot late in the afternoon. Everywhere the plants drooped, and the sun shone down with a dismal red light. Even though Moomins are very fond of warmth, they felt quite limp and would have liked to rest under one of the large cactuses that grew everywhere. But Moominmamma would not stop until they had found some trace of Moomintroll’s Papa. They continued on their way, even though it was already beginning to get dark, always straight in a southerly direction. Suddenly the small creature stopped and listened. ‘What’s that pattering around us?’ he asked.
And now they could hear a whispering and a rustling among the leaves. ‘It’s only the rain,’ said Moominmamma. ‘Even so, now we must crawl in under the cactuses.’
All night it rained, and in the morning it was simply pouring down. When they looked out, everything was grey and melancholy. More…
A short story from Brev från Klara (‘Letters from Klara’, Söderström & Co, 1991)
you are hurt because I forgot your ancient birthday: that is unreasonable of you. To put it bluntly, you have expected my particular devotion all these years merely because I am three years younger. But let me now at last tell you that the passage of the years An Sich is no feather in one’s hat.
You pray for Higher Guidance – excellent. But until you receive it, it might perhaps be as well to discuss certain bad habits which are, as a matter of fact, not foreign to me, either. More…
A short story from Resa med lätt bagage (‘Travelling light’, 1987). Introduction by Marianne Bargum
From the very beginning it was quite clear no one at Backen liked him, a thin gloomy child of eleven; he looked hungry somehow. The boy ought to have inspired a natural protective tenderness, but he didn’t at all. To some extent, it was his way of looking at them, or rather of observing them, a suspicious, penetrating look, anything but childish. And when he had finished looking, he commented in his own precocious way, and my goodness, what that child could wring out of himself.
It would have been easier to ignore if Elis had come from a poor home, but he hadn’t. His clothes and suitcase were sheer luxury, and his father’s car had dropped him off at the ferry. It had all been arranged over the phone. The Fredriksons had taken on a summer child out of the goodness of their hearts, and naturally for some compensation. Axel and Hanna had talked about it for a long time, about how town children needed fresh air and trees and water and healthy food. They had said all the usual things, until they had all been convinced that only one thing was left in order to do the right thing and feel at ease. Despite the fact that all the June work was upon them, many of the summer visitors’ boats were still on the slips, and the overhaul of some not even completed. More…
A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones
What I am about to write might perhaps seem exaggerated, but the most important element in what I have to tell is really my overriding desire for accuracy and attention to detail. In actual fact, I am not telling a story, I am writing an account. I am known for my accuracy and precision. And what I am trying to say is intended for myself: I want to get certain things into perspective.
It is hard to write; I don’t know where to begin. Perhaps a few facts first. Well, I am a specialist in technical drawings and have been employed by Finnish Railways all my life. I am a meticulous and able draughtsman; in addition to that I have for many years worked as a secretary; I shall return to this later. To a very great extent my story is concerned with locomotives; I am consciously using this slightly antiquated word locomotive instead of loco, for I have a penchant for beautiful and perhaps somewhat antediluvian words. Of course, I often draw detailed sketches of this particular kind of engine as part of my everyday work, and when I am so engaged I feel no more than a quiet pride in my work, but in the evenings when I have gone home to my flat I draw engines in motion and in particular the locomotive. It is a game, a hobby, which must not be associated with ambition. During recent years I have drawn and coloured a whole series of plates, and I think that I might be able to produce a book of them some time. But I am not ready yet, not by a long way. When I retire I shall devote all my time to the locomotive, or rather to the idea of the locomotive. At the moment I am forced to write, every day; I must be explicit. The pictures are not sufficient. More…
A short story from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’). Introduction and translation by W. Glyn Jones
The newspaper came at five o’clock, as it did every morning. He lit the bedside lamp and put on his slippers. Very slowly he shuffled across the smooth concrete floor, threading his way as usual between the modeling stands; the shadows they cast were black and cave-like. He had polished the floor since last making some plaster casts. There was a wind blowing, and in the light from the street lamp outside the studio the shadows were swaying to and fro, forced away from each other and then brought together again: it was like walking through a moonlit forest in a gale. He liked it. The monkey had wakened up in its cage and was hanging on to the bars, squealing plaintively. “Monk-monk,” said the sculptor as he went out into the hall to fetch his newspaper. On his way back he opened the door of the cage, and the monkey scrambled on to his shoulder and held on tight. She was cold. He put her collar on and fastened the lead to his wrist. She was a quite ordinary guenon from Tangier that someone had bought cheap and sold at a large profit: she got pneumonia now and then and had to be given penicillin. The local children made jerseys for her. He went back to bed and opened his newspaper. The monkey lay still, warming herself with her arms around his neck. Before long she sat down in front of him with her beautiful hands clasped across her stomach; she fixed her eyes on his. Her narrow, grey face betrayed a patience that was sad and unchanging. “Go on – stare, you confouded orangoutang,” the sculptor said and went on reading. When he reached the second or third page the monkey would suddenly and with lightning precision jump through the newspaper, but always through the pages he was finished with. It was a ritual act. The newspaper is torn apart, the monkey shrieks in a triumph and lies down to sleep. It can give you some relief to read about all the worthless nonsense that goes on in the world every morning at five o’clock and then to have it confirmed that it is worthless nonsense when the whole lot is made unreadable by a great hole being made through it. She helped him to get rid of it. More…