Author: Merete Mazzarella

A womanly pursuit

Issue 4/2007 | Archives online, Authors, Reviews

Fredrika Runeberg

Fredrika Runeberg. Photo: Svenska litteratursällskapet i Finland

The wife of the national poet was not herself expected to write – quite the reverse, in fact. But, says Merete Mazzarella, Fredrika Runeberg (1804–1877) did

She was married to the national poet.

What is a national poet? Someone who is hugely admired in his own time, who helps to forge a national identity, who appears to bear the responsibility for the future of his people on his shoulders. Young nations like Finland – before 1809 a part of Sweden, from 1809 to 1917 an autonomous Grand Duchy under the Russian tsar – need national poets; old nations – like Sweden or Denmark – do not. A national poet is a father figure, thus almost inevitably a man.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) was to become the national poet of Finland; a journalist, teacher and writer. The first poem from his collection of epic poems, Fänrik Ståls sägner (‘The tales of Ensign Stål’, 1848–60), became the national anthem. Since he was Swedish-speaking – as was the whole of the educated class at that time – we have an interesting paradox: his concept of the Finnish national character was actually created in Swedish. More…