Copyright
Arthur Reade.

Finland and the Finns online

. (page 10 of 22)
Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 10 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


breast." He regards the Finnish peasant as "the
most humorous in the world ; in my opinion he has
a profounder inner life than any other. However
this may be, I long to be away from here, from the
Swedish population, and to hear the Finnish lan-
guage around me. My life here is indescribably
monotonous. I don't get on with the peasants and
still less with the gentry. I spent the last two years
almost like a prisoner in a tower. During the last
three months, however, I have amused myself by
hunting, and have bagged ninety-eight birds caper-
cailzie, blackcock, hazel hens and two ptarmigan.
On my expedition I have used both gun and snares. ' '
Kivi's homesickness in a Swedish-speaking tract
becomes intelligible when one reads his works.
* i The Seven Brothers, ' ' his greatest book, could
have sprung from no other country than Finland
and could have been written in no other language
than Finnish. It was published in 1870. Although a
few of the critics had some idea of its worth, Pro-
fessor Ahlqvist, the most eminent of them, made it
the subject of the most bitter attack, which did the
author serious damage in every respect. Early in
1871 Kivi's mind gave way and he was removed
to an asylum, where he died on December 31, 1872.
"The Seven Brothers" is both realistic and sym-
bolical. It is symbolical of the struggles of man to
subdue the intractable forces of nature, both in the
world around him and in his own breast. Kivi se-



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 145

lects the moment when the wild nomadic life of half
civilized man is being transformed into the more dis-
ciplined life of a civilized community. Man has to
break in wild nature with a plough and force the
desert to produce crops for his use, and he has to
break in his own self-willed soul, as one breaks in a
wild horse. The story is told realistically enough,
yet with vivid and grotesque imaginative power and
fantastic humour. Kivi's favourite reading was
the Bible, Shakespeare and Cervantes, and his real-
ism is that of the two sixteenth-century writers.

The seven brothers are the sons of a man who had
been a great bear-hunter and had finally lost his life
in this pursuit. He had a farm called Jukola, in
South Tavastland, but had neglected it owing to his
passion for hunting, and his sons inherited his dis-
like for regular work, though they loved the farm
with a passionate love. After their mother's death
they come into conflict with the village authorities.
They had never succeeded in learning to read and
are threatened by the pastor with the stocks. They
go to the parish clerk to learn, en route proposing
one after the other to a girl who will not take any of
them, and having a fierce battle with the boys of a
neighbouring village. They cannot master the
alphabet, are locked up by the clerk without any
food, but break the window and after many adven-
tures escape home. But they have made the neigh-
bourhood too hot for them, and, to escape being
put in the stocks, they take to the woods with their
guns, a couple of dogs, and their one-eyed horse
drawing a cart laden with hunting gear, household



146 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

gods and the cat. They live in the woods, building
themselves a room which serves every purpose, in-
cluding that of a bath-room, and spend their time in
hunting, lazing and story-telling.

But at Christmas this hut is burnt down and they
are forced to return to Jukola till the spring, when
they take to the forest again and have extraordinary
adventures. Once when they are bear-hunting their
dogs are attacked by a herd of wild bulls. First
come ten bulls, seven of which the brothers suc-
ceed in slaying after a terrible struggle. But pres-
ently they are attacked by thirty-three of them.
They fly madly over the fence, through which the
bulls crash, and over one obstacle after another, till
they take refuge on a high rock where the beasts
cannot follow them. Here they have to stand a
siege. They shout and yell in vain for help. For
three days they are without food. One of them gets
drunk at the brandy flask, and a horrible fight takes
place in which they are all in imminent danger of
falling down from the rock. As it rolled and
writhed from side to side, "the heap of brothers
looked like a many-headed monster. " By a wild
instinct of justice, the drunkard is condemned to
death, and one of the brothers has to be forcibly
restrained from flinging him from the rock. Finally
they do the only thing left to them to do, and shoot
the bulls. It is a terrible massacre. The owner is
furious, but the brothers, dripping with the blood
of the bulls they have skinned, and desperate with
hunger and strain, threaten to send him to another
world after his bulls if he has them molested. A



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 147

compromise is arranged and the brothers agree to
make good the damage. In order to do so they have
to cultivate the soil, and a new stage in their
career is entered upon. They begin to realize that
they are members of society and that, as such, they
have duties and responsibilities. This conversion is
accompanied by many backslidings, but gradually
there is a reconciliation between the brothers and
society. They return to Jukola, learn to read, get
married and settle down. The transition from
nomadic to civilized life has been completed, and a
new stage in the history of the brothers, and of the
fatherland they symbolize, has commenced. As it is
said of one of them : ' ' The fatherland was no longer
for him a vague part of a vaguely conceived world
of which he knew neither where nor what it was.
Now he knew where that land was, this precious
quarter of the world where the Finnish people
lives, builds and struggles, and in whose bosom our
fathers' bones rest. He knew its frontiers, its seas,
its secret smiling lakes and its fir-grown ridges,
extending like brushwood fences. The picture of
our land as a whole, with its features, kind as a
mother's, had impressed itself once for all in the
depths of his heart."

As Kivi's work is almost unknown outside Fin-
land, and owing to the extreme difficulty of transla-
tion is likely long to remain so, the following vivid
incident may serve to give an indication of his
quality. The brothers, in celebrating Christmas out
in the forest, had got fighting, and as a result their
hut was set on fire and nearly all their belongings



148 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

burned. It was night and they were practically
naked, for they had been partaking of the Christmas
bath, but they would die of cold if they stayed where
they were and there was nothing for it but to make
for the nearest shelter.

"Thus they betook themselves on their journey,
naked, save for their tow-yarn shirts and carrying
each his birch-wood knapsack on his back and his
gun over his shoulder or in his hand. Thus they
trod the dark and wintry road, fleeing from the cold
which came rushing upon them from the marshes of
the north. Yet it did not show them its most terrible
countenance. Winter did not this time put forth all
its severity. Sometimes, indeed, the face of the
heavens was bare, but the sailing clouds covered it
again and it blew but moderately from the north.
And the brothers were accustomed to cold. Their
skins had been tanned by the cracking cold of many
a winter, and, formerly, as unruly boys, they had
often gone barefoot for hours at a time and been
stuck in snow-drifts. Nevertheless, this journey
from Impivaara to Jukola was ghastly, terrifyingly
ghastly. They hastened forward with dread at
heart. At the head rode Eero and Simeoni on
Valko's back; the others followed them, running at
their heels, trampling the snows of the wilderness
amidst the driving snow. But at Impivaara, close
to the stove, the stones of which were still glowing,
sat the cat and the cock, gazing sadly at the charred
ruins.

"The brothers hastened in the direction of the
village ; already they had left Sompio Marsh behind



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 149

them and were approaching Teerimaki, where the
terrible howl of the wolves was continually audible.
But at the moorland between the marsh and Sennala
Matti's clearing there was a change of riders: Eero
and Simeoni dismounted and two of the other
brothers quickly took their places. Without delay
they continued on their journey, plunged across the
rising moor, crossed the road leading to Viertola,
and went on through the wide and murmuring pine
forest. At last they approached the rocky hill at
Teerimaki and suddenly the many-voiced and wild
crying of the wolves ceased. Soon they stood at the
top of the hill and gave their horse breathing-time ;
the riders got off its back and two others at once
took their places. Still they remained on the snowy
hill-top; the north wind blew, the sky momentarily
cleared again, and the pole of Charles's Wain
showed that it was past midnight.

"But when they had rested, the brothers hastened
onward again, following the level route over the
hills and, when that ended, descending into the dark
forest where nature lay gloomy around them. The
moon looked down palely, the owls shrieked, and
here and there in the depth of this wilderness stood
a strange shape, like a forest bear, terrifyingly
huge it was the mossy upturned roots of fallen
pines. Like rigid and motionless ghosts, these bear-
shapes stared at the strange procession that rushed
past them. Without a movement they gazed, but
between them and among them there soon arose in
the desolate forest an awful movement. For now
the hungry wolves were collecting on the tracks of



150 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

the brothers, coming nearer and nearer to them.
Now in front, now behind, now rustling over the
path or between the trees on either side of it,
glimpses could be caught of them hurrying along.
Furious and bloodthirsty, they followed the fugi-
tives from Impivaara; there was a cracking and a
snapping around them when the dry pine branches
broke. Valko trembled and snorted nervously, and
the man who was riding in front could scarcely pre-
vent him from bolting. The wolves ventured nearer
and nearer. Panting and bloodthirsty, they often
swung past the men at close quarters, and in order
to frighten them the brothers sometimes fired off
their guns to the right or to the left, but the wolves
did not retreat far.

"Now they came to Kiljava moor. Here and
there stood the withered trunk of a pine, the home of
hawk and owl. The fury of the wolves became
terrible and the men were in fearful peril. Tuomas
and Timo were riding, but the others, who were
running after them, suddenly stopped and almost
simultaneously fired a sharp volley at their pur-
suers, who shrank back from it and withdrew a lit-
tle. Once more the men rushed on, but it wasn't
long before the bay of the pursuing wolves was
again heard around them and the danger was
greater than ever. Then Tuomas pulled up the
horse and said in a loud voice: 'If your guns are
empty, load at once as quick as lightning.' Thus
he cried, and dismounted, bidding Timo hold on to
Valko. The brothers stood still and loaded, and
felt no cold either in their feet or in any other part.



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 151

>.

The wolves, too, stood still, fifty paces from the men,
staring continually at them with their ravenous eyes
and lashing their tails in eager anticipation.

' ' Tuomas. Are our guns loaded ?

" Aapo. Yes. What shall we do?

"Fuhani. All at once!

"Tuomas. No, if we love our lives! Some one's
gun must always be loaded remember that. Lauri,
you have the steadiest hand and sharpest eye, stand
by me.

"Lauri. Here I am. What do you want?

"Tuomas. A hungry wolf will even eat its bleed-
ing brother. If we could bring that off, we are
saved. Let us try. Lauri, we will aim at the one in
front on the left, but you others, reserve your fire.
Lauri, look sharp as an eagle and fire when I give
the word 'Now.'

"Lauri. Ready.

"Tuomas. Now.

"They both shot at the same instant and the
wolves fled in hot flight. But one of them remained
on the spot and tried to hobble after the others, but
in vain. The men hastened onward again with
might and main : six brothers on foot, and Timo
alone on the horse in front of them. Thus it continued
for a while. But soon the wolves ceased their flight,
wheeled round and hurried once more towards the
men. The driving snow rustled and the level
plateau of Kiljava resounded when they rushed for-
ward in a pack. At wild speed they reached their
comrade who was writhing in his own blood, dashed
by him, but quickly swung round as the smell of



152 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

blood arose temptingly to their nostrils. They
slewed round, their tails lashed, the snow whirled
in a blizzard, eyes lusting for blood gleamed in the
night. Horrible to see, they rushed in a band at
their wounded brother, and a frightful howling and
tumult arose on the moor; one might have thought
the pillars of the sky were broken. The ground
shook and the snow was transformed into a wild
mess, where his former friends tore to pieces the son
of the wilderness whose blood the sure aim Tuomas
and Lauri had caused to flow. But silence reigned
once more over the midnight moor. Nothing could
be heard except soft breathing and the crunching of
bones as, with bloody muzzles and glittering eyes,
the creatures eagerly tore to pieces their victim.

"But far from their terrible foes the brothers
journeyed on, and like music in their ears was the
murderous clamour of the wolves at Kiljava for
them it was the sweet and joyful message of safety."

II. AHO

Kivi was followed by Pietari Paivarinta, a peas-
ant who lived in Osterbotten. In the 'seventies,
when he was already a middle-aged man, he fell on
the ice one day, broke his leg, and was laid up for
several weeks. He employed the time in writing a
novel which was largely an autobiography. It de-
scribed how he was one of many children in a poor
peasant home, where hunger often knocked at the
door; how during one portion of his childhood he
even had to beg, how he learned to read and write
without going to school, and how when twelve years



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 153

old he went into service. Soon after coming of age
he marries, and a new struggle begins. He and his
wife borrow money and buy a piece of uncultivated
land, on which they build a cottage for themselves
and work manufully until they are finally able to
pay off the debt and bring up a numerous family in
well-being. Prosperity, however, brings trials of its
own. The hero is elected to responsible positions
in the commune, which take him away from home-
life, and gradually begins to drink. On one occa-
sion, when drunk, he maltreats his wife, but this mis-
deed proves his salvation, for he is conscience-
stricken, reforms, and henceforth leads an exempla-
ry life.

This may serve as a type of the peasant novel in
Finland. There is little action, but the description
has all the fascination and the originality of truth.
It succeeds in rendering the real and unmistakable
atmosphere of Finnish peasant life, with its depth
and its simplicity. One is thankful that the Fin-
nish peasant has not been too overwhelmed by the
prestige that surrounds authors to dare thrust him-
self into those sacred ranks. It is known that
Paivarinta hesitated to do so, but once, when in
Helsingf ors, he saw Topelius and other writers, and
discovered that they were ordinary human beings,
upon which he felt entitled to try his own hand at
composition.

The Finnish novel is not, of course, free from the
defects of its origin. Among the early writers there
is a lack of selection, a formlessness and a long-
windedness which, as we saw, characterizes the de-



154 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

scriptions of things in the "Kalevala" also. But
against this must be set the virtues of freshness of
vision and faithfulness of representation. These
writers know what they are talking about, and they
give us life near the marrow. The subjects which
they choose are drawn from their own struggles
against cold and hunger and darkness, the diffi-
culties of rearing a family and so on. Birth, growth,
love, decay and death are described as they appear
to the peasant. As we read, we peep into the
peasant's soul. There is a naive realism about it.
He does not idealize his fellow-peasants in the spirit
of a Eousseau, he writes of them just as he knows
them just as we might write of mutual acquaint-
ances to friends whom we know well.

Quite a large number of peasant novelists ap-
peared after Paivarinta, but as, when space is lim-
ited, it seems advisable to concentrate attention on
the larger figures only, I shall pass by such inter-
esting writers as Kauppis-Heikki, Santeri Alko,
Heikki Merilainen and Juhani Kokko (better known
as Kyosti), and pass at once to Juhani Aho, who,
however, does not spring from the peasantry, but
from the clergy.

When we reach Juhani Aho we enter upon a new
stage in the art of Finnish novel-writing. In the
course of an illuminating study, Professor Soder-
hjelm says of him that "his life-work in the service
of Finnish literature is something that, in the litera-
ture of many other countries, only a long develop-
ment, often embracing several generations, has
brought about. He has in an astonishingly short



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITEEATUEE 155

time effected a revolution in Finnish prose, raised
it to a high artistic perfection. His peculiarity and
significance consist in the fact that he has responded
with the same sensitive receptivity to the influence
both of Finnish nature and national character and
of the modern currents in foreign literature. In
the best of his art he is completely a European ; but
the deep vein of personal lyricism, whose murmur
is heard in all his writing, has never been diluted,
and the inner affinity with the land and the people
which makes him so entirely Finnish has never been
broken. When we say that he has created and de-
veloped a modern Finnish art of story-telling, we
underline the three words, modern, Finnish, art,
with equal emphasis. ' '

Juhani Aho was born in 1861 at Idensalmi, and is
said to have received his first literary impetus from
a groom, who used to recite him bits out of Eune-
berg and Walter Scott. He is a tall, fair and mas-
sive man, who gives one the impression of some
ancient chieftain. He lives simply and works in the
most modest of studies, from which he overlooks
the open sea beyond a foreground of rocky coast.
The summer life in the open air is his delight, and
he is, like Euneberg, an enthusiastic angler. His
strongest literary impressions were derived from
Euneberg and Topelius, and, later, from the Nor-
wegian realists of the 'eighties. His earlier stories
deal with Finnish peasant life. In "The Eailway"
to the writing of which he looks back with great
pleasure he records with great insight the transi-
tion when the remote country-side first comes into



156 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

contact with modern mechanical civilization. An-
other good example is his short story, "When
Father brought home the Lamp." All that that
wonderful and puzzling new implement meant to the
Finnish country-side, and all the wonder and ad-
miration it evoked among the neighbours, is brought
out with rare humour and sympathy. Behind the
humour and the fun, there is a suggestion of the
lamp as sympolizing the triumph of light over dark-
ness in these far-off regions. Finally, there is a
certain regret for the ancient life passing away.
Pekka, an old labourer, did not take to the lamp,
and the children of the house used to creep out to
the bath-house to be with the old man, who spent the
long evenings sitting there by the light of the pare,
and to listen to the crickets, who had forsaken the
dwelling when the changes took place.

Aho presently passes to a study of life among the
wealthier classes, as in "Squire Hellman," "The
Parson's Daughter" and "To Helsingf ors. "
"Squire Hellman" is a broadly humorous study of
the tables turned on a bully. Through the first half
of the story the Squire rushes like a tornado, the
terror of his wife, servants and horses. He is a
mean and avaricious man, rack-rents his tenants and
is loathed by the neighbours, on whom he hurls a
force of invective that recalls Squire Beltham in
"Harry Richmond." His uncontrollable temper,
however, brings him into conflict with the authorities
of the law and he becomes as cringing as he had
formerly been domineering. His final discomfiture,
when he is forced to spend a large sum of money on



LANDMARKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 157

a dinner to those whom he has insulted, and suffers
agonies at every glass of wine that is drunk and
every cigarette that is smoked, is told with great
spirit. In one part of the story Aho reveals the
psychological interest which becomes so pronounced
a feature of his later novels. It is when Hellman
drives across the ice, miserable and chilled to the
bone, and for a moment sees himself as the ugly
thing he really is and remembers his petty thefts
and his hardness to the poor. The mood soon passes,
as it would in so shallow a nature, and is replaced
by his usual bouncing self-assertion. Another fea-
ture of the story is the sympathy that Aho reveals,
almost unconsciously, for the poor whose faces Hell-
man grinds. He is alive to the evils of the country-
side, where Hellmans turn beggar-women and their
children roughly from the door 'and evict unfor-
tunate tenants.

In "The Parson's Daughter" we see the pathetic
and unsuccessful struggle of a girl brought up in
narrow surroundings at a country parsonage to
liberate herself and live a larger life. She is com-
pelled to marry her father's curate, a man she does
not love, and in a later and much finer book, "The
Parson's Wife," we see the intolerable married life
that opens out its weary vista before her. Romance
comes to her in the person of a lover, and her chang-
ing feelings afford Aho the opportunity for a won-
derfully fine psychological delineation. She resists
the exquisite temptation, but her life seems utterly
valueless and broken. "To Helsingfors" shows
how a boy, who has been educated simply in the



158 FINLAND AND THE FINNS

country, becomes a student and is brought in con-
tact with the vices of the larger world in the coun-
try's capital. It is a painful work.

In 1889 Aho paid a visit to Paris, which had im-
portant results on his writing. Hitherto he had
written in the rather circumstantial way of the
peasant novelists, although he had gifts of refine-
ment and vivid perception far superior to theirs.
But in France he learned to cut away unnecessary
matter and concentrate. The result is seen in his
volume of short studies entitled " Chips," the first
of a notable series, in which the author touches
upon a great variety of subjects both grave and gay.
They are models of fine workmanship and full of
atmosphere, and rank as some of Aho's very best
work. A good example is that entitled "Pioneers."
It describes in a very few pages how a young man
and a girl who were in service at a country parson-
age determined to get married. They were having a
nice easy time of it in service, but the instinct that
brought them together and the desire to start a home
of their own made them eager to face a life that could
be nothing but hard. For they had to create their
little holding out of forest and rock-strewn soil, with
hardly any capital to start on. And so they marry
and are full of hope, though the parson, who realizes
what they are facing, anxiously shakes his head. A
few years later we see the man, pale and worn out,
driving his wife 's coffin to the churchyard on a tum-
ble-down cart drawn by a poor starved horse. The
story was of debts, frost, children, a sick wife, and
then her death from overwork. The cottage they



LANDMAEKS OF FINNISH LITERATURE 159

had entered so full of hope was now untended and
desolate, and signs that the struggle had been too
much for human nature were all around. Neverthe-
less, they had worked valiantly. Land had been
cleared for corn, and birchwood had been cut down
and groves of alders had been converted into mead-
ows, "but behind them stood the dark pine forest
like an unsurmountable wall. There he had been
obliged to stop."

"The first pioneer has fulfilled his task; the man
can do no more good there now. His strength, his
energy are gone, the fire of lys eye is extinguished
and the self-confidence of his marriage morn has
forsaken him. Another will certainly come after
him and take over the cottage plot. He perhaps will


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryArthur ReadeFinland and the Finns → online text (page 10 of 22)