Author: Maria-Liisa Nevala

A life of one’s own

Issue 1/1984 | Archives online, Authors

L. Onerva. Photo: Otava, 1907

L. Onerva. Photo: Otava, 1907

When L. Onerva (1882–1972) published her novel Mirdja in 1908 she was twenty-six years old. Two previously published collections of poetry had already established a reputation for her as a promising young writer and she was also achieving a name as a first-rate critic. Her career thus began in circumstances which augured well for distinction and fame, both of which came to her, although her fame derives not only from her literary abilities – it is due in part to the notoriety of her private life. Her works, always thought to have a biographical element, are often read for glimpses of bohemian and artistic life at the start of the century.

In the puritanical climate of the period Onerva was unquestionably unusual, although Finland was not without independent and literary women. Onerva had many talents; she was well educated, and when she met Eino Leino, the most famous poet of the day, she had published her first collection of poems. This meeting changed the nature of Onerva’s life. She left her husband. Leino’s marriage also broke down and the couple ran away to Germany and Italy for a year. They were never married and both later married other people. Nevertheless, their profound friendship lasted until Leino’s death in 1926. More…