Search results for "aleksis kivi"

The stages of Aleksis Kivi

30 September 1984 | Archives online, Authors

The organic unity of written and performed drama is today considered an unarguable truth especially in acting circles. The work of Aleksis Kivi appears, on this view, anachronistic to say the least: he created the basis of Finnish drama at a time when the indigenous Swedish-language theatre was taking its first faltering steps and theatre in Finnish was not even dreamed of. And more: his most important works still inspire interpretation after interpretation, and audiences continue to flock to see his plays.

Kivi’s drama is no mere paper art, scribbled by an artist in a garret. Details from contemporary accounts reveal that Kivi was naturally drawn to acting, and presumably he had some gifts in that direction. Some of his friends thought him a good mimic. Kivi had marked out his first stage as a boy on the slopes of the Taabori mountain close to his home. His first play concerned the weekly trip to church; he sketched his own satirical version of the sermon and the reading of the banns. As a schoolboy and a student he invented and organised brigand plays in Helsinki and Nurmjärvi; scholars believe that his model was Schiller’s Die Räuber. In Siuntio he read Shakespeare aloud, in Swedish, to his saviour and patron Miss Charlotta Lönnqvist, and to her students of household economy – ‘although, of course, a lot had to be cut out.’ More…

Aleksis Kivi: Kirjeet [Letters]

8 August 2013 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Critical edition, edited by Juhani Niemi et al.
Swedish-language letters translated into Finnish by Juhani Lindholm and Ossi Kokko
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 2012. 426 p, two map drawings
ISBN 978-952-222-390-6
€ 43, paperback

In his poetry, plays and masterly novel Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834–72) laid the foundations of Finnish fiction. Kivi died an early death, impoverished and mentally ill. In this critical edition seventy of his letters and three letters received by him are presented with notes and an introduction. Most of the book consists of background articles and supplementary items. Professor Jyrki Nummi provides an interesting analysis of biographies of Kivi. The other authors discuss, for example the literature Kivi drew on in his own works: he had read world classics in Swedish, but in Finnish there was not yet much to read apart from the folk poetry. Other topics of discussion are Kivi’s skill in using Swedish – the language of the educated class in Finland – and what his letters reveal about his network of acquaintances. The letters are grouped in chronological order, with introductions by Professor Emeritus Juhani Niemi. Most of the letters are comparatively short, sent to relatives and friends. They reflect Kivi’s attitude towards his own work, as well as his worries about his financial situation and declining health.
Translated by David McDuff

The man and his work

30 September 1984 | Archives online, Authors

Aleksis Kivi

Aleksis Kivi. Drawn in 1873 almost certainly by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905).

Aleksis Kivi’s Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, English translation 1929), is the best known and the most beloved in Finland. Its sentences have become part and parcel of the common tongue. Its events are often cited as historical happenings, its characters and their vicissitudes are now permanent national property just as the characters of Shakespeare are for the English, those of Molière for the French, or those of Cervantes for the Spaniards.

Aleksis Kivi’s life (1834–1872) is filled with paradoxes and unanswered questions. How could a village tailor’s son who has acquired only a little learning at home and who managed to graduate from secondary school, after many efforts, only at the age of 23, became an author of the first rank? How could a man who travelled within a radius of only a few dozen miles during his life know the Finnish landscape and the Finnish mind so thoroughly that his novel even today, mutatis mutandis, conveys a true picture of an entire nation? How could he free himself from the spirit and the idealised conception of the art of his own day so completely as to be able to write books sharply at variance with the other literary works of the same era, in which he followed his own path and found fully independent artistic solutions? And how could a book which is, practically speaking, the first Finnish-language novel and which thus springs up as a unique phenomenon from an inadequately cultivated linguistic soil, reach such heights as to become the supreme achievement of all Finnish literature? The enigmatic quality of Kivi’s character is further enhanced by the fact that there exists only one authentic portrait of him, drawn when he already lay dead; that the original manuscript of Seitsemän veljestä is not extant; and that of his letters, only about seventy have been preserved, some only brief notes and most of them dealing with financial arrangements. More…

On not translating a tragedy

31 March 1989 | Archives online, Authors

In February 1860, the Finnish Literature Society, under the chairmanship of Elias Lönnrot, met to hear the judges’ reports on the entries for a drama competition: the Society was offering a substantial prize for a dramatic work written in the Finnish language. The announcement had been made two years earlier, but since no entries were received before the closing elate, the offer had been extended for a further year. This time three plays had been submitted: First Love, an adaptation from the French; The Glib Talker, another adaptation; and Kullervo, an original tragedy in five acts.

August Ahlqvist, the chairman of the judging committee, was only 34 years old but already a formidable scholar and much respected in the literary and academic world: he was soon to succeed Lönnrot as Professor of Finnish in the University of Helsinki (or Helsingfors, as most people still called it). The report on Kullervo, as read out to the Society, begins with starchy criticism, continues with enthusiastic praise, and ends with grudging approval – a typical committee production, revealing between the lines sharp differences of opinion. More…

Esko Rahikainen: Impivaaran kaski [The burnt clearing at Impivaara]

24 September 2009 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Impivaaran_kaskiImpivaaran kaski. Aleksis Kivi kirjallisuutemme tienraivaajana
The burnt clearing at Impivaara. Aleksis Kivi as trailblazer of Finnish literature.
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2009. 270 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-107-0
€ 29, hardback

This year marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of Finnish national author Aleksis Kivi (1834–1872). His work as a creator and cultivator of the Finnish language and literature was truly pioneering. Impivaaran kaski (the title refers to his major work, the novel Seitsemän veljestä, Seven Brothers, 1870) deals with the social conditions surrounding the creation of his works and examines their critical reception. Divisive literary disputes raged, and it was not until the second decade of the 20th century that Kivi’s status came to be acknowledged more widely. Esko Rahikainen – a librarian at the National Library and the author of several books on the life and works of Kivi – has utilised new sources to investigate the criticism and marketing of Kivi, as well as readers’ experiences and the use of his works in Finnish education.


30 September 1984 | Archives online, Fiction, poetry

The poems of Aleksis Kivi were long considered no more than a peripheral aspect of his work. They were, as Kivi’s friend Kaarlo Bergbom wrote in a review, ‘gold that can’t be minted into coins’. The reason appears to have been Kivi’s poetic technique, which made a clear break with tradition. He did away almost completely with rhyme and instead emphasised the rhythm and musical sound qualities of words. He shortened words in a way that did not find favour with any subsequent Finnish poets. He avoided emotional expressions of patriotism and romantic love poetry; instead, he composed poems that were extended, narrative and fresco-like. Lauri Viljanen, whose 1953 study brought about a re-evaluation of Kivi’s poetry, has given them the apt soubriquet ‘epic idyll’.

The first of Kivi’s poems appeared in the Kirjallinen Kuukauslehti (‘Literary monthly magazine’) in 1866; a collection of his poetry entitled Kanervala was published the same year. Other poems appear in his novels and plays, and some have appeared in a collection after his death. Karhunpyynti (‘The bear hunt’) is from Kanervala. Its descriptive nature is typical of Kivi. The verse structure is tightly controlled but unrhyming. The winter landscape of the third verse, repeated at the end of the poem, is a ceremonious point of rest among the otherwise busy activity.

– Kai Laitinen


The Bear Hunt

The men on skis set out for the forest, a brave company
With guns and bright spears
And clamouring dogs on the leash,
With blazing eyes,
As the dawn chases gloomy Night
From the sky’s brow,
And the sun raises his head. More…

The price of success

31 December 2007 | Authors, Reviews

Tuomas Kyrö. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY

Tuomas Kyrö. Photo: Veikko Somerpuro/WSOY

A Finnish novel – or any fictitious work – that contains inaccurate historical facts can evoke bafflement in its readers, and public disapproval can follow from these ‘errors’. Finnish readers are unaccustomed to postmodernist stylistic devices. The details connected with Finnish wars, in particular, are examined under a magnifying lens.

The fourth novel by Tuomas Kyrö (born 1974), Benjamin Kivi (WSOY, 2007), stretches the boundaries of realism with its tale of a 100-year-old adventurer, written in the style of a memoir. It encompasses changing identities, periods of societal crisis, and war, which protagonist Benjamin Kivi calls simply ‘the killing’. In Finland we’re accustomed to regarding the Winter War (1939–40) and the Continuation War (1941–44) as honourable efforts to defend the country from the Soviet Union. More…

Bombast and the sublime

17 January 2013 | Reviews

Torsten Pettersson
Skapa den sol som inte finns. Hundra år av finsk lyrik i tolkning av Torsten Pettersson
[Create the sun that is not there. A hundred years of Finnish poetry in Swedish translations by Torsten Pettersson]
Helsinki: Schildts & Söderströms, 2012. 299 p.
ISBN 978-951-52-3034-8
€25, paperback

In the 1960s my mother sometimes used to amuse herself and us children by reciting, in Finnish, in our bilingual family, selected lines of verse from the half-forgotten poetry canon of her school years.

Eino Leino (died 1926) and the great tubercular geniuses Saima Harmaja, Uuno Kailas, Katri Vala and Kaarlo Sarkia (all dead by 1945) were familiar names to me as a child. Early on, I realised that their poetry was both profoundly serious and also slightly silly, just because of its high-flown seriousness. More…

‘Joy and peace prevail…’

25 December 2010 | Fiction, Prose

Dear readers,

to celebrate the change of the year we publish an extract from Aleksis Kivi’s 1870 classic novel, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers), translated by David Barrett, and a bit of a classic of our own too: it’s a nostalgic glimpse of a Finnish Christmas spent in a humble cottage inhabited, in addition to the eponymous seven brothers, a horse, cat, cockerel and two dogs (at least). Enjoy!

Soila Lehtonen & Hildi Hawkins & Leena Lahti

On a festive night

It is Christmas Eve. The weather has been mild, grey clouds fill the sky, hills and valleys are covered with the snow that has only recently begun to fall. The forest gives out a gentle murmur, the grouse goes to roost in the catkined birch, a flock of waxwings descends on the reddening rowan, while the magpie, daughter of the pine-wood, carries twigs for her future nest. More…

Sounds familiar

31 March 2004 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Finland’s national poet, Johan Ludvig Runeberg, wrote in Swedish, but modelled his work on the Finnish-language folk tradition. The poet Risto Ahti describes the oddly easy experience of rendering Runeberg’s work back into Finnish

In the Swedish literary canon, Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) is one of the most important writers, in fact the most important after August Strindberg.

In the Finnish literary world, Runeberg is a stranger. He is known as a writer of hymns, and of the words of a few songs, but his importance is recognised essentially as a patriotic figure, not a writer. At one stage, Finnishness and Runebergness were spoken of almost in the same breath. Until the 1930s, his collection of poetry Fänrik Ståls sägner (Tales of Ensign Stål, I-II, 1848, 1860) was learned by heart like the Ten Commandments – not for its literary merits, but for its patriotic spirit. More…

Two men in a boat

25 June 2014 | Fiction, Prose

The meaning of life, Bob Dylan, the broken thermostat of the Earth, the authors Ambrose Bierce and Aleksis Kivi…. Two severely culturally-inclined men set out to row a boat some 700 kilometres along the Finnish coastline, and there is no shortage of things to discuss. Extracts from the novel Nyljetyt ajatukset (‘Fleeced thoughts’, Teos, 2014)

The red sphere of the sun plopped into the sea.

At 23.09 official summertime Köpi announced the reading from his wind-up pocket-watch.

‘There she goes,’ commented Aimo, gazing at the sunken red of the horizon, ‘but don’t you think it’ll pop back up again in another quarter of an hour, unless something absolutely amazing and new happens in the universe and the solar system tonight!’

Aimo pulled long, accelerating sweeps with his oars, slurped the phlegm in his throat, spat a gob overboard, smacked his lips and adjusted his tongue on its marks behind his teeth. There’s a respectable amount of talk about to come out of there, thought Köpi about his old friend’s gestures, and he was right.

‘Sure thing,’ was Aimo’s opening move, ‘darkness. Darkness, that’s the thing. I want to talk about it and on its behalf just now, now in particular, while we’re rowing on the shimmering sea at the lightest point of the summer. More…

Kullervo: to be, or not?

10 September 2010 | Articles, Non-fiction

The curse of Kullervo by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899, in the Finnish Art Museum Ateneum)

A young man is born a slave under stars that augur ill for him. He is maltreated and betrayed from birth. He cannot control his physical power, his aggression or his thirst for revenge and, finally, after fatal errors and deliberate acts of violence, his remaining desire is to die. What, in the end, did life hold for him?

The cruelly tragic story of Kullervo in the Kalevala was largely the creation of the national epic’s compiler, Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884), who put together a number of originally unconnected folk-epic fragments collected in disparate localities throughout the north and east of Finland. This process involved many stages and went on for decades. The first version was published in 1835; for a shorter version for schools in 1862 Lönnrot cut the most violent and erotic scenes – including those involving Kullervo and his sister in an incestuous encounter. More…

Veijo Meri’s errant heroes

30 September 1981 | Archives online, Authors

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

Veijo Meri. Photo: Irmeli Jung / Otava.

At the funeral of F. E. Sillanpää, the Nobel prize-winner, Veijo Meri was one of the pall-bearers, representing the younger generation of Finnish writers. The coffin was heavy and it suddenly began to slip the hands of the bearers just as they reached the church doors. A tiny stone in one of his shoes was causing Meri the most intense agony. It was a critical moment. Novels, short stories and plays by him are full of such situations. The characters stumble and are confused. The more difficult the situation, the more comic it often is.

Veiio Meri (born 1928) grew up in army barracks in the small town of Hämeenlinna. His childhood and youth were overshadowed by the war – as is reflected in many of his works. His first book, Ettei maa viheriöisi (‘Lest the land grow green’, 1954) is a collection of short stories about a lonely soldier wandering on both sides of the lines. More…

New from the archive

26 March 2015 | This 'n' that

Kullervo's curse

Kullervo’s curse. Painting by Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1899)

Finland’s national epic adapted for the stage by Finland’s national writer: best known as the author of the first significant novel in Finnish, Seitsemän veljestä (Seven Brothers, 1870), Aleksis Kivi (1834-1972) also turned one of the Kalevala’s grimmest stories, that of Kullervo – a tale of incest, revenge and death– into a five-act tragedy.

The translation is by one of Books from Finland’s most long-standing collaborators, David Barrett (1914-1998), a true linguistic genius with a speciality in Georgian as well as Finnish in addition to classical Greek; as well as his work with texts in Finnish and Georgian, he made extensive translations of Aristophanes for Penguin Classics. Barrett felt, as he argues here in his introduction, ‘that Kullervo, if suitably translated, might succeed where Seven Brothers had failed, in bringing Kivi’s genius to the notice of the English-speaking world’.

Was he right? It is up to you, dear readers, to judge.

For a very different, demythologized, view of the Kullervo story, we also publish a manuscript by the modernist poet Paavo Haavikko (1931-2008) from his television adaptation Rauta-aika (‘Age of iron’, 1982).

The Kalevala is in development as a film by the Finnish entertainment company Rovio, of Angry Birds game, and the Finnish-born video game company Supercell. It remains to be seen how the Kalevala take to the big screen.


The digitisation of Books from Finland continues, with a total of 372 articles and book extracts made available online so far. Each week, we bring a newly digitised text to your attention.

Concrete dreams

30 September 1986 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Marja-Liisa Vartio

Marja-Liisa Vartio. Photo: SKS archives

Pirkko Alhoniemi on Marja-Liisa Vartio’s works

Although it is now 20 years since the death of Marja-Liisa Vartio (1924-1966), her writing remains as vivid as ever. Her books are regarded as classics of modern Finnish prose, and they constantly attract new readers, as the demands for reprints testify. Vartio’s style has not lost its freshness, nor her social vision its edge, even in the teeth of the aggressive feminism of the 1980s.

It is a little difficult to gauge the secret of her continued popularity. Although the main character of her novels is always a woman, Vartio cannot really be seen as a champion of the feminine point of view. Most essential and at the same time paradoxical in her work is perhaps the fact that, from a purely Finnish starting point, she is able to give valuable insights into the general change in world view that followed the Second World War. More…