European studies blog

20 posts categorized "Finland"

28 September 2018

1918: A New Europe on Film

On Saturday 27 October, the British Library will be hosting a study day, 1918: A New Europe on Film, that will look at 1918 and the end of the First World War from the perspective of those nations that were founded as a consequence.

Still from the Latvian film 'Lāčplēsis' showing actress Lilita Berzina as the legendary heroine Laimdota
Still from the Latvian film Lāčplēsis (1931) courtesy of the LAC Riga Film Museum collection.

Borders were redrawn and nations once part of larger entities were given a chance to determine their own course. Those borders were not necessarily natural, however, and the new geographies inspired new sets of problems. For some nations, this independence was short-lived and that precarity lives on today for many of these same nations.

1918: A New Europe on Film brings to light the many cinematic representations of this formative period and will show how film, documentary and television constructed and were constructed by an ever-shifting concept of national identity over a turbulent century. 1918 features as a key subject in every period and genre of film-making. It resurfaces as a paradigm for the now, a figure for great transformation, for endings, revolutions and new beginnings, and it often serves to express and comment on contemporary situations that could not bear direct representation.

An exciting programme includes expert speakers discussing Turkey, Latvia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine and Finland, covering archival footage, documentary, feature film and television across the century. Each presentation will be illustrated by film extracts, some of this material being shown for the first time, following very recent research. Film critic, programmer and expert in Czech and Eastern European Cinema, Peter Hames will introduce the study day.

The day has been organised in collaboration with Professor Dina Iordanova, University of St Andrews, and Professor Ewa Mazierska, University of Central Lancashire, with the cooperation of Yunus Emre Enstitüsü, The Finnish Institute in London, The British Croatian Society, The Romanian Cultural Institute in London and The Embassy of Latvia. For details of how to book see:

The study day forms part of a wider programme of events, entitled 1918: A New World?, aimed at approaching the 1918 centenary from alternative perspectives. Do join us in rethinking the century!

06 July 2018

‘Youngest of the seven brothers’: Eino Leino (1878-1926)

‘Once upon a time, in a distant northern country, there lived a man who had seven sons and three daughters…’ This might be the beginning of a folk-tale – and indeed young Armas Einar Leopold Lönnbohm, the youngest of the seven, born on 6 July 1878, would grow up to lead a life shaped by myth and poetry.

Leino Portrait 2404.g.20 1Eino Leino as a young man. From L. Onerva, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen (Helsinki, 1932) 2404.g.20.

At the time of his birth in Paltamo, Finland was still a Grand Duchy under Russian control, and as he grew up he became aware of the increasing friction between the Finnish people and their oppressors, culminating in the assassination in 1904 of Nikolai Bobrikov, the Governor-General of Finland, by the young Finnish patriot Eugen Schauman. Helen Dunmore’s novel House of Orphans (London, 2006; ELD.DS.193298) vividly evokes the atmosphere of that period and the fervour of the conspirators, afire not only with revolutionary zeal but with love of their country’s culture and literature.

Our hero’s father had changed his surname from the plain Finnish Mustonen (Black) to the Swedish Lönnbohm in the interests of his career, but as a loyal Finn the seventh son could not accept this, and it was under a new name of his own choice that he achieved fame as the poet Eino Leino.

Orphaned while he was still at school, the boy was taken in by relatives in Hämeenlinna, where he was educated at the local grammar school and subsequently entered the University of Helsinki. He was already showing signs of a precocious literary talent; at the age of 12 he published his first poem, and in 1896, when he was just eighteen, he brought out his first collection, Maaliskuun lauluja (‘Songs of March’). Two years later he and his elder brother Kasimir founded a literary magazine together; Kasimir became not only a poet in his own right but also a critic and theatre director.

Leino Maaliskuun laulujaCover of Maaliskuun lauluja (Helsinki, 1896) 011586.b.52.

Eino soon decided that academic study held little attraction for him, and left the university to become a journalist and literary critic for various Finnish newspapers. He also embarked on a career as a novelist, writing both historical fiction and works of social satire. In 1909-10 he travelled through Italy, Germany and Sweden, absorbing influences from European literature, including those of Gabriele D’Annunzio, Gerhart Hauptmann and Maurice Maeterlinck which inspired him to create a new Finnish theatrical tradition based on pure poetry rather than the naturalist drama typified by Ibsen. His poetry drew inspiration from Heinrich Heine and Johan Ludvig Runeberg, the poet whose words became the text of Finland’s national anthem, but also from the Kalevala, linking Finland’s present striving for independence with motifs from ancient legends. At the same time he sought to build bridges between Finland and the wider cultural legacy of Europe though his translations of Schiller, Racine, Corneille, Dante’s Divina Commedia (made in Rome in 1908-09) and Goethe’s Iphigenia auf Tauris (Helsinki, 1910; Ac.9080) and his essays on contemporary authors including Anatole France, Tolstoy, Ibsen and Strindberg.

Leino Dante 011420.d.22 Cover of Leino’s translation of Dante’s Paradiso (Porvoo, 1912) 011420.d.22

However, he experienced a constant tension between nationalist objectives and individualistic ideologies. Like W. B. Yeats, in his poetry he frequently uses symbols from folk poetry to contrast the heroism of the mythical past with the squalor and disillusionment of modern politics, and his early Symbolist dramas such as Sota valosta (‘War over light’: Helsinki, 1900; 11758.bbb.43) introduce the theme of decadence into a world peopled by heroes such as Väinämöinen, Ilmarinen and Lemminkäinen who are betrayed and rejected by a fickle populace greedy for material benefits rather than the light symbolized by Väinämöinen’s flaming sword.

When in 1905 political strike action against Russian rule brought into focus the differing political interests of the intelligentsia and the working classes, Leino’s pessimism increased as he witnessed the rise of the radical socialist workers’ movement and the clashes which occurred during the strike. From being an enthusiastic member of the Young Finland movement and ardent neo-romanticist, he became increasingly cynical; with the outbreak of the Finnish Civil War in 1917, Leino’s idealistic faith in national unity collapsed, and his influence as a journalist and polemicist diminished, although he was granted a state writer’s pension in the following year.

Leino’s personal life was similarly turbulent; he married three times, but possibly his most significant relationship was with the novelist L. Onerva (Hilja Onerva Lehtinen) whose two-volume biography of him, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen (‘Eino Leino: the poet and the man’) reflects the complex intertwining of their equally strong creative personalities.

Leino Portrait 2404.g.20 2 Eino Leino in 1922. Portrait by Antti Favén, reproduced in L. Onerva, Eino Leino: runoilija ja ihminen.

After suffering years of health problems and financial instability, Leino died on 10 January 1926 in Tuusula and was buried in Helsinki’s Hietaniemi cemetery. His birthday is celebrated throughout Finland on 6 July, when the national flag will be flying all over the country in honour of Eino Leino Day, ‘the day of poetry and of summer’.

Susan Halstead, Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services


14 January 2018

‘Do the Finnish people have a history?’ Zachris Topelius’s 200th birthday

Last month the Finlandia Prize, Finland’s most prestigious literary prize, was awarded to Juha Hurme for his novel Niemi (‘Headland’). In praising the work, the jury said that it ‘treats the myth of Finland and the Finns with all the knowledge that our culture contains. A scope of this breadth can only be explored with the magnificently dilettante literary style in which Hurme boldly challenges both the legendary Egon Friedell and Zachris Topelius’ (translation by Helsinki Literary Agency).

The last of these comparisons is inevitable for any writer who attempts a history of the Finnish peninsula. The reference to Zacharius (Zachris) Topelius draws our attention to a great author perhaps not so well-known outside of the Nordic region, and on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of his birth (14 January 1818).

Born in Kuddnäs in Ostrobothnia, Topelius wrote mainly in Swedish but was focal in Finland’s growing self-consciousness as a distinct nation. Since 1809, Finland had been a Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire yet Finland managed to gain more freedom to develop a national movement in the 19th century, than it had been allowed to do under Swedish rule previously. First as editor of the Swedish-language Helsinki daily, Helsingfors Tidningar, and later as a writer of historical novels and as Professor of History at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki (1854-1879), Topelius crafted exceptionally popular, romanticized and patriotic national histories and thereby heavily shaped the future identity of the burgeoning nation.

View of Helsinki in the mid-19th century
A view of Helsinki from the North-West, steel engraving by Magnus von Wright in Topelius’s Finland framställdt i teckningar (Helsinki,1845-52) 1264.d.15

His first published book, Finland framställdt i teckningar, was the earliest book of steel engravings of the Finnish landscape, for which he wrote a commentary. In later works, such as En resa i Finland (1872-74) and Boken om vårt land (1875), he continued to offer comprehensive overviews of his country, bringing the whole of Finland to readers with the help of masterful engravings by the likes of, among others, Magnus von Wright (1805-1868), Johan Knutson (1816-1899), and perhaps Finland’s most famous landscape painter, Bernt Adolf Lindholm (1841-1914).

View of Åbo Castle with a boat in the foreground
Åbo Castle, steel engraving by Johan Knutson in Finland framställdt i teckningar

Recently, the Society of Swedish Literature in Finland has created a digital portal for Topelius’s works, Zacharias Topelius Skrifter, which has so far published eight digital critical editions. This year, has released a digital critical edition of Boken om vårt Land (‘The Book of our Land’), which was and is still one of the most important history books in Finland, not least because it was, in the words of critic Pertti Haapala, ‘the foremost history textbook used in elementary schools between the 1870s and the 1940s, and it was read and commented on a great deal after the Second World War as well’ (Haapala, p. 26). The British Library has an 1886 copy of the Finnish translation, Maame kirja (first published 1876), which shows signs of being well-used by a young Finnish student, presumably the ‘Yrjä Hagelberg’ named on the inside cover. On the fly-leaf, you can make out a pencil drawing of a male figure coloured in red, lifting what apper to be weights. Later, we see several of the woodcuts coloured in (very capably) by young Yrjä. All in all, this Maamme kirja, a near 500-page textbook for young learners, full of lengthy verse quotations from the Kalevala and the Kanteletar, has however been treated with the respect that the seminal history text deserves.

Doodled picture of a figure in a long dress
Above: Doodle on the first page of Maamme kirja (Helsinki, 1886), YA.1990.a.1111); Below: The Imatra river coloured in by a student

Picture of the Imatra river coloured in by hand

Not only did Topelius frame his Finnish history from the perspective of a child’s experience, but he wrote a great many successful and enormously influential children’s books, which gave him the name ‘Mr Fairy Tale’. As Haapala notes, ‘it is easy to see that the child’s experience in reading The Book of Our Land is a metaphor for the emerging historical consciousness of a nation’ (p. 38). The children’s tales too are important in the development of the nation, as folk tales, myths, songs have always been in the foundation of national identities. Topelius’s Läsning för barn series (1864-1896, BL 12837.m.11) contains stories that continue to be translated into many languages. Each of the eight volumes contain around two hundred illustrations, some subtle and others of a more epic imagination.

Cover of 'Läsning för barn', a green background with gold lettering and a design of torches, a river and a cloud
Above: Cover of the first book of Läsning för barn (Stockholm, 1902), 12837.m.11. Below: ‘When you sleep amongst roses’, illustration by Carl Larsson, from Läsning för barn

A couple wearing roses in their hair and clothing

For the centenary of Topelius’s birth in 1918, the Swedish Academy asked the eminent Nobel Laureate Selma Lagerlöf to write something on him. Topelius was a clear influence on the Swedish author of Nils Holgerssons underbara resa genom Sverige (The Wonderful Adventure of Nils), which takes much from Topelius’s Boken om vårt Land, not least the idea to explain national geography from a child’s and bird’s eye view. Lagerlöf’s paean is to a writer of both Finland and Sweden, and ultimately ‘the North’ – its life and landscape. Zachris Topelius asks ‘Can you love a country, so hard, so cold, so full of neglect?’ His answer follows, ‘We love it because it is our roots, the essence of our being, and we are the ones our country has made – a hard, frosty, fierce people […]’ (En resa I Finland). The country that ‘made’ its people was itself created in the words of Topelius and fellow patriotic writers. And so, by extension, we might even say Topelius made a nation.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

 Zacharias Topelius, The Sea King’s Gift and other Tales from Finland (Retold by Irma Kaplan; illustrated by Anne Knight) (London, 1973), X.990/4615.

Ibid., Sammy and the Mountain King (illustrated by Veronica Leo) (London, 1984), X.995/461

Selma Lagerlöf, Zachris Topelius. Utveckling och mognad (Stockholm, 1920), 011851.aa.54.

Pertti Haapala, ‘Writing our History: The History of the ‘Finnish People’ (As Written) by Zacharias Topelius and Välnö Linna’, in Pertti Haapala, Marja Jalava, and Simon Larsson (eds.), Making Nordic Historiography: Connections, Tensions and Methodology, 1850-1970 (New York, 2017), 5353.922500

Maija Lehtonen, ‘Un Finlandais du XIXème siècle face à l’Europe. Les récits de voyage de Zachris Topelius’, in On the Borderlines of Semiosis. Acta Semiotica Fennica 2 (Imatra, 1993) YA.2003.a.18418.  pp. 401-412

30 November 2017

‘The Gospels are as good in Danish or German as in Latin…’: the earliest Nordic vernacular Bibles

Many factors contributed to the spread of the Reformation in the Nordic region from the 16th century onwards. The developing ‘national’ monarchies, with ever more centralized rule, gradually saw the Catholic Church as the main obstacle to the consolidation of wealth and power. This disillusionment with the Catholic Church was also of course a result of the dissemination of new Lutheran teachings, by German preachers who had moved north, by Scandinavian preachers who had been taught in Lutheran contexts, or often by Hansa merchants spreading the faith.

In the process of reforming the North, as elsewhere, vernacular translations of scripture were significant. As Bent Noack writes, ‘it is not sufficiently emphasized that the printing of vernacular texts long preceded the Reformation in many countries’ (The Cambridge History of the Bible, p. 423): there are mediaeval Danish and Swedish biblical manuscripts based on the Vulgate and, as early as 1514, Christiern Pedersen (c.1480-1554) had translated parts of the New Testament. In a preface to his 1515 translated Book of Homilies, Pedersen makes plain the richness of vernacular translations: ‘Nobody ought to think that the Gospels are more sacred in one tongue than in another: they are as good in Danish or in German as they are in Latin, if only they are rightly interpreted’. Soon after Luther’s 1522 translation of the New Testament there followed Danish (1524) and Swedish (1526) versions. So, Noack writes, these New Testaments ‘were called forth by the Reformation in Germany and served to prepare the soil for it in Scandinavia’, showing how vernacular translations preceded and then pushed forward the Reformation in the North, which was only made official by the establishment of a Lutheran State Church from 1536 (in Denmark and Sweden).

With state-sponsored Lutheranism came the means for producing complete Bible translations. The British Library holds examples of most of the earliest printed Bibles from the Nordic region. The earliest complete one was produced in Sweden. The ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’ (1541), named after the king who commissioned it, was translated by the brothers Laurentius and Olaus Petri and was heavily based on Luther’s translations. The German influence spread to the book’s production, style and typography, as the printer Georg Richolff of Lübeck was invited to Uppsala to print it. Richolff brought with him new type material and a range of woodblocks, including some by Lucas Cranach. In the image below, we see an elaborate architectural title frame for the New Testament and the German Fraktur type used for the title itself.

Swedish Bible title page
Title-page for the New Testament from Biblia, thet är, All then Helgha Scrifft, på Swensko (Uppsala, 1541) 1109.kk.5, the ‘Gustav Vasa Bible’

The British Library has another copy of this 1541 New Testament (1.b.3.), bound separately, which contains copious  manuscript annotations, some dated 1639, about which we know very little (below).

Swedish Bible annotated Epistles

What scholars consistently emphasise with this, and every other, early vernacular Bible is how the language and style of the translation influenced the standard modern languages and, in the case of Swedish, ‘the orthography and use of accents made its difference from Danish more distinctive’ (A History of the Book in 100 Books, p. 125). The first complete Danish Bible, known as the ‘Christian III Bible’, after the King of Denmark-Norway, was printed in 1550. The publisher of the Low German Luther edition, Ludwig Dietz, printed it in Copenhagen and the translation is generally ascribed to Christiern Pedersen, though it remains uncertain.  

Danish Bible title page

Danish Bible Christian III portrait

Danish Bible armourial bearings

Top to bottom: title page, King Christian III’s portrait and armorial bearings, from the ‘Christian III Bible’, Biblia, Det er den gantske Hellige Scrifft, vdsæt paa Danske (Copenhagen, 1550) 2.e.11

In Iceland, under the rule of Denmark at the time, book production begun with a press established by the last Roman Catholic bishop, Jón Arason, at Hólar. Noack describes the Reformation Bible as ‘its most outstanding specimen’ (Cambridge History, p. 140). It is known as the Guðbrandsbiblía (Gudbrand’s Bible), after Guðbrandur Þorláksson, the Bishop of Hólar at the time of its publication in 1584, who executed the translation and designed and engraved most of the woodcuts. A laborious project, it took 2 years to print 500 copies. Our copy is one of the 121 printed books donated to the British Museum by Joseph Banks in 1773, following an exploratory trip to south-eastern Iceland in the previous September.

Icelandic Bible title page
Titlepage (above) and note of  presentation by Joseph Banks (below) from the ‘Guðbrandsbiblía’, Biblia, þad er, Øll Heilög Ritning, vtlögd a Norrænu (Hólar, 1584), 692.i.1

Icelandic Bible presentation note Joseph Banks

Like the Swedish and Danish translations before it, the Icelandic Bible is said to have contributed enormously to the development of the modern standard language. Yet, even more emphatic is the influence of the vernacular Bible translation on the Finnish language, as it represents the first ever appearance of the language in print. Mikael Agricola (c.1510-1557) began translating Scripture following a period of study in Wittenberg and we hold a 1931 facsimile edition of his 1548 New Testament (Se Wsi Testamenti, Helsinki, 1931; The first complete Finnish Bible dates back to 1642 and was printed in Stockholm in an edition of 1200 copies. The task of the printer, Henrik Keyser, was made more difficult by the fact that none of the compositors knew any Finnish! The BL also holds the first Finnish Bible printed in Finland itself (Turku, 1685, BL 219.h.13).

Finnish Bible Genesis
Genesis, chapter 1 (above) and an illustration of David and Goliath (below) from the first complete Bible in Finnish, Biblia, se on: Coco Pyhä Ramattu, Suomexi (Stockholm, 1642),

Finnish Bible David and Goliath

The first New Testaments in the Greenlandic Inuit language, Testamente Nutak, (Copenhagen, 1766; 217.e.23) and in Saami , Ådde Testament, (Stockholm, 1755; 3040.a.29) can also be found in our collections.

To bring this brief survey of the earliest vernacular Bibles to a close, then, we should emphasize that these Bibles are not only the literary foundations of the Reformation but also the foundations of standard modern languages in the Nordic region. Thanks in part to the (mostly) consistent presence of a Lutheran State Church over the last four centuries, in the words of T.K. Derry, ‘the view of religion which was shaped in Germany still receives an ampler recognition in Scandinavia than in its homeland’ (A History of Scandinavia, p. 95).

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References/Further Reading

T.K. Derry, A History of Scandinavia (London, 1979), X.800/29298

S.L. Greenslade (ed.), The Cambridge History of the Bible. The West from the Reformation to the Present Day (Cambridge, 1963/1987), YC.1988.a.9888

James L. Larson, Reforming the North: the Kingdoms and Churches of Scandinavia, 1520-1545 (Cambridge, 2010), YC.2011.a.5047

Ole Peter Grell (ed.), The Scandinavian Reformation: from evangelical movement to institutionalisation of reform (Cambridge, 1995), YC.1995.b.214

Charlotte Appel & Morten Fink-Jensen (eds.), Religious Reading in the Lutheran North: Studies in Early Modern Scandinavian Book Culture (Cambridge, 2011), YC.2011.a.14186

Roderick Cave & Sara Ayad, A History of the Book in 100 Books (London, 2014),  YC.2016.b.1783


21 August 2017

A Tale of Two Countries

As we mark 100 years since the Russian Revolution, we should also consider another centenary linked to it. In 2017, Finland has been celebrating 100 years of independence from Russia. Finnish independence was officially declared on 6 December 1917 by Pehr Evind Svinhufvid, the head of the majority in the Senate at the time. With Russian powers supposedly transferred back to Finland in the middle of 1917 thanks to laws enacted by the newly configured Finnish Senate and an election that returned a low number of Russian-supported socialists, Svinhufvid was able to proclaim sovereignty in December and this was formally recognised by the new Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Vladimir Lenin. Independence did not however mean stability for a nation that continued to be influenced simultaneously by various Russian and German forces and the Finnish Civil War ensued in the first half of 1918.

Finland100 - Rodt eller Hvidt

Johannes Erwig, Rødt eller Hvidt? Sandheden om Finland (Copenhgen, 1918) A pamphelt from the period of the Finnish Civil War.

With this tumultuous beginning in mind, Finland is proudly celebrating this century of independence with a host of programmes worldwide under the banner ‘Finland 100’. One project that has been developed for this year between the Finnish Institute in London, The National Archives of Finland, the National Library of Finland and the British Library, with the contribution of other archives, is a ‘Tale of Two Countries’. This is a digital gallery offering ‘carefully curated pieces of the shared history of Finland and Britain and their cultural, political and economic relations.’

The British Library has contributed images from its digitized collections, and has also completed new digitizations of some significant relevant materials, including the first English translation of the Finnish epic Kalevala

Finland100 - Kalevala hero

Ancient Finnish hero from The Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, translated into English by J. M. Crawford (New York, 1888) 11557.d.8.

Another title to be newly digitized is M. Pearson Thomson’s 1909 travel guide to Finland, part of his series of guides Peeps at many Lands.

Finland100 - Peeps at many Lands cover Cover of M. Pearson Thomson, Peeps at many Lands: Finland, (London, 1909) W10-1152

The folks at the Tale of Two Countries website proudly show off a book that ‘gives us everything we need to spread the good word about Finland. He takes a quick look into history and tells us what the Finns are like.’

Finland100 - Peeps at many Lands woman

 Colour plate of a Finnish woman in traditional dress from Peeps at many Lands. Finland

In Winter sketches in Lapland, Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke travels through Lapland in a sledge describing for the reader the sights of the land and the customs of the people. The book’s 24 lithographs transport us to the winters of the Arctic!

Finland100 - Winter sketches Lapland

Above and below: Sleigh travel, from from Sir Arthur de Capell Brooke, Winter Sketches in Lapland, or Illustrations of a journey from Alten ... to Torneå ... (London, 1826) HS.74/1112 

Finland100 - Winter sketches Lapland 2

With a host of material from the various partner organisations, the cultural relationship between Finland and Britain is illuminated in a special way in this virtual gallery. Whether it’s a letter from Jean Sibelius to the British pianist Harriet Cohen, or an issue of the Finland Bulletin  (‘An English Journal devoted to the cause of the Finnish People’), the connected memory of two nations is preserved here.

A look at the website might even inspire your own peep at Finland… For those who have memories of Finland, there is even an option to share your memory through an uploaded image or a story. Have a peep!

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Studies

12 May 2017

A feisty Finnish feminist: Minna Canth

In 1820 James Finlayson, a Scottish Quaker and self-taught engineer, received permission from the Senate of Finland to build a textile factory in Tampere using water power from the Tammerkoski rapids. Three years earlier he had been invited by Tsar Alexander I to set up a similar factory in St. Petersburg, and he was now bringing modern industrial methods to Finland, then under Russian rule. Finlayson, a passionate philanthropist as well as a good businessman, was zealous in providing the best possible conditions for his employees; the enterprise throve and grew to become Tampere’s biggest provider of employment, with considerable benefit to the town’s social conditions. Finlayson founded not only an orphanage but also a school for the workers’ children, and it was here that Minna Canth, one of the most important figures in the Finnish women’s movement received her early education.

Photograph of Minna Canth with a facsimile of her signature

Portrait of Minna Canth from Hilja Vilkemaa, Minna Canth: elämäkerrallisia piirteitä (Helsinki, 1931) 10797.b.40.

Ulrika Wilhelmina Johnsson was born in Tampere on 19 March 1844, the elder daughter and first surviving child of Gustav Vilhelm Johnsson, whose hard work in the Finlayson textile factory enabled him to become a foreman there. At home and at school she was strongly influenced by the emphasis on industry and piety, and when in 1853 her father was promoted to manager of the Finlayson textile shop in Kuopio, she continued her education there, doing so well that she was allowed to enter a school for daughters of the upper classes and, in 1863, to enrol at the newly-founded teacher training college in Jyväskylä  (now the University of Jyväskylä), the first institute in Finland to admit women to higher education and to deliver teaching in Finnish.

However, before completing her studies, Minna married the college’s natural sciences teacher, Johan Canth, who was nine years her senior, and over the next thirteen years produced a family of seven children. Nevertheless, this was not the end of her ambitions, which developed in a literary direction. Canth became the editor of the newspaper Keski-Suomi (Central Finland), and his wife contributed articles on matters particularly relevant to women, including temperance, which she saw as a means of combating the addiction to alcohol which reduced many families to poverty. Her polemical attitude, which her husband shared, compelled them to leave Keski-Suomi in 1876 and to move in 1877 to a rival newspaper, Päijänne, which began to print her stories. Two years later her first collection of these, Novelleja ja kertomuksia (‘Novellas and Tales’) appeared in print.

Minna Canth did not shrink from taking on prominent public figures such as churchmen and authors when the occasion demanded. In 1885 she published one of her most famous plays, Työmiehen vaimo (‘The Wife of a Workman’), the story of a spirited and capable woman, Johanna, whose shiftless husband Risto ruins the family by drinking her money away while the laws governing women’s property render her helpless to prevent him. Set in contemporary Kuopio, the drama created a considerable scandal; that same year, its author spoke out robustly against a bishop who claimed that emancipation was against God’s law and the writer Gustaf af Geijerstam who supported him by arguing that men’s different needs and nature made it impossible for them to achieve feminine purity. Before the year was out, the Finnish Parliament had passed a new law allowing married women to hold property in their own right.

Title-page of Työmiehen vaimo

Title-page of Työmiehen vaimo (Porvoo, 1885) 11755.df.20

Canth wrote many other plays and works of fiction, but her last drama, Anna Liisa  is among the greatest and is still often performed. Seduced by Mikko, a local youth, the fifteen-year-old heroine conceals the resulting pregnancy and stifles her baby in a fit of panic. Mikko’s mother Husso buries it secretly, but she and Mikko resort to blackmail when, some time later, another suitor, Johannes, proposes marriage to Anna Liisa. Refusing to give in even if it means sacrificing her happiness, Anna Liisa confesses and goes to prison, but with a calm mind and clear conscience. Although critics have argued against the unfairness of a conclusion in which Mikko escapes punishment and Anna Liisa bears it alone, she emerges as a strong woman capable of making moral choices and determining her own future on the basis of their integrity.

Title page of Anna Liisa
Title-page of Anna-Liisa (Porvoo, 1895) 11758.df.32

Johan Canth had died in 1879, and while pursuing her literary career his widow continued to manage not only her household and family of seven but the draper’s shop which she had taken over from her father. Her vitality and outspokenness made her a tireless worker for women’s rights and human rights at a time when the Grand Duchy of Finland was striving towards independence from Russia, and her birthday is marked every year as a celebration of social equality throughout Finland.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities & Social Sciences), Research Services.

31 December 2015

‘On the hay in horses’ stable’: a Kalevala nativity

As 2015 comes to an end, the year in which the 150th anniversary of the birth of Jean Sibelius was celebrated with concerts of his music throughout the world, it is also appropriate to recall that it also marked the 180th anniversary of the publication of the first printed version of the Finnish national epic which inspired so many of his works – the Kalevala.

Title page of the first printed edition of the Kalevala
The first  printed edition of the Kalevala (Helsinki, 1835) British Library Ac.9080 [no. 2]

The edition was composed of material gathered by Elias Lönnrot (1802-1884), a physician whose work  as district doctor of Kajaani in Eastern Finland took him deep into the countryside, as the 4,000 people for whom he was responsible lived in scattered communities. He arrived in the area at a time when it had been ravaged by disease and crop failure, causing his predecessor to resign in despair. However, Lönnrot was ahead of his time in many ways, recognizing the importance of preventive measures such as hygiene and vaccination and also the value of traditional remedies, many of which he employed himself rather than dismissing them as primitive nonsense, and thus won the trust of his patients.

Portrait and facsimile signature of Elias Lönnrot
Portrait and facsimile signature of Elias Lönnrot, frontispiece from O.A. Kallio, Elias Lönnrot (Helsinki, 1902) 10760.aa.12

Along with these folk remedies Lönnrot, a passionate advocate of the Finnish language against the enforcement of Swedish and Russian by successive governments, began to collect fragments of ancient lays taken down from local singers. These told of the feud between the people of Kaleva and those of Pohjola, the quest for the Sampo, a powerful talisman, and the exploits of the legendary heroes Lemminkäinen, Kullervo and Väinämöinen, a smith, musician and adventurer who devised the Finnish national instrument, the kantele. Like the Homeric epics, the Kalevala also includes many fascinating details of crafts, warfare and household management, as well as enshrining the values by which the people of Kaleva lived.

Not only Sibelius, in his Kullervo symphony and cycle of Lemminkäinen legends including The Swan of Tuonela, was inspired by the Kalevala. Composers, poets, painters and sculptors in Finland and abroad seized upon the magic and mystery of its verses to explore its many layers of symbolism and potential for expression in a wide variety of media. It has also been translated into many languages since its first appearance. In Finland 28 February is celebrated annually as  ‘Kalevala Day’ to commemorate the publication of Lönnrot’s first version of the epic in 1835.

One  of the less familiar episodes, though, is especially suited to the Christmas season. In the 50th and final Runo (canto), the narrator tells of Marjatta, a cherished and protected young girl so pure that she will not drive in a sleigh pulled by mares who have been running with a stallion, or drink milk from cows who have been kept with a bull. Sent to the upland pastures to guard the flocks, she eats a magical lingonberry and shortly afterwards finds that she is expecting a child. Her parents cast her out, and she seeks refuge in vain with neighbours who drive her away with harsh words. In a stable deep in the forest she gives birth to a son, warmed by the breath of the horses:

And a sinless child was given,
On the hay in horses’ stable,
On the hay in horses’ manger.

Then she wrapped the little infant
And in swaddling-clothes she wrapped him,
On her knees she took the infant,
And she wrapped her garments round him.

Vignette of a baby being baptised
The opening of Marjatta’s story, vignette and design by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, from Kalevala (Porvoo, 1949) o11586.ppp.1.

Shortly afterwards the baby mysteriously vanishes and Marjatta goes in search of him, asking the stars, moon and sun for guidance until she finds him in the marshes and carries him off to be baptized. The old man asked to do so demurs, asking Väinämöinen for his judgment. When the latter calls for the destruction of the child, the infant speaks out and denounces him, and Väinämöinen, realizing that his power is at an end, sings for the last time before stepping into his copper boat and sailing away, leaving his kantele as a final gift to ‘Suomi’s children’.  

Drawing together the threads of Christian and pagan tradition like Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue, the closing lines of the Kalevala sum up its enduring significance for the Finnish people and for poets throughout the world:

Here the path lies newly opened,
Widely open for the singers,
And for greater ballad singers,
For the young, who now are growing,
For the rising generation.

Susan Halstead, Content Specialist (Humanities and Social Sciences), Research Engagement.

Vignette of of a child playing the kantele
The last lines of the Kalevala, with vignette by Akseli Gallen-Kallela of a child playing the kantele, from o11586.ppp.1.

08 August 2014

Moomins and more…

Saturday 9 August will be celebrated in Finland and worldwide as the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, Finnish artist and writer. Born in Helsinki into a Finland-Swedish family of artists – her father was a sculptor, her mother an illustrator – Tove Jansson is perhaps best known in this country as the creator of the Moomintrolls. 

Self-portrait of Tove Jansson, surrounded by characters from her Moomin storiesTove Jansson, Self portrait with Moomins (© Moomin Characters™).

In the first book about the Moomins that appeared in English in 1950, Finn Family Moomintroll  (‘Trollkarlens hatt’), Moominmamma writes a special letter to English children, anxious that they may not understand trolls and explaining the particular characteristics of a Moomintroll, how it is “smooth and likes sunshine” unlike ordinary trolls which “popp up only when its dark”.  She ends the letter by asking to be excused her “rottn’ english” saying that “Moomins go to school only as long as it amuses them”. 

This was the start of a long association with British readers, further strengthened in 1954 when a comic strip featuring the Moomins began to appear in the Evening News. Originally created by Tove Jansson herself, after some years the comic strip was continued by her brother, Lars Jansson. 

  Photograph of Tove Jansson and her brother LarsTove Jansson and her brother Lars (© Moomin Characters™).

Less well known perhaps is that she also illustrated the Swedish translations of some British classics, notably J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark. In 2011, the original English editions of the Lewis Carroll works, this time with the Tove Jansson illustrations, were published in the UK by the Tate, as the text on the back cover of The Hunting of the Snark puts it, “so that readers can enjoy this wonderful adventure afresh through the eyes of one of Europe’s finest illustrators”. 

Tove Jansson’s artistic flair was not only within the field of illustration and comic strips. A special exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki to mark this year’s centenary demonstrates her enormous versatility as an artist, from landscapes to still lifes, from political caricatures to large wall paintings created for public spaces. She also painted portraits, including many of herself. 

  Self-portrait of Tove Jansson in 1975Tove Jansson, Self portrait, 1975 (© Moomin Characters™).

In recent years her writing for adults has become increasingly popular in the UK. Both new and reissued translations of her novels and short stories have been published by Sort of Books and have sold in large numbers. The Summer Book (‘Sommarboken’), which describes the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they spend a summer together on an island, has won particular acclaim.  Justine Picardie, reviewing it in the Daily Telegraph, describes it as “a marvellously uplifting read, full of gentle humour and wisdom”. 

  Photograph of Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä with a small boat on the island KlovharunTove Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä on the island Klovharun where they spent their summers (© Moomin Characters™)

Sort Of have also published the translations of Tove Jansson’s autobiography Sculptor’s Daughter (‘Bildhuggarens dotter’), which describes her childhood in Helsinki, and this year, of the authorised biography by Boel Westin, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words (Tove Jansson: ord, bild, liv). 

For researchers studying Tove Jansson, the British Library’s collections have much to offer, including most of the original texts in Swedish, their English translations and a growing body of secondary literature, as her works have become the focus of increased academic interest. 

Last year we were delighted to add to our collections a copy of the very first Moomin book with its original pictorial card covers. Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (‘The Small Troll and the Great Flood’) was first published by Söderströms in Helsinki in 1945, and later that year in Sweden by Hasselgrens. Surprisingly it was first published in the UK only a couple of years ago in 2012, as The Moomins and the Great Flood. Although Tove Jansson herself was later self-critical of this first Moomin story, it saw the start of the very distinctive characters which have become some of the best loved in children’s literature worldwide.   

Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies


Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll. Translated by Elizabeth Portch. (London, 1950)  012591.g.82

Tove Jansson, Trollkarlens hatt.  (Helsingfors, 1957)

Lewis Carroll, The hunting of the snark. (London, 2011)  YK.2011.a.33954

Lewis Carroll, Alice's adventures in Wonderland.  (London, 2011)  YK.2011.a.33960

Tove Jansson, The summer book.  Translated by Thomas Teal.  (London, 2003)  H.2003/2483

Tove Jansson, Sommarboken. (Stockholm, 1972)  X.909/25688

Tove Jansson, Sculptor's daughter : a childhood memoir.  Translated by Thomas Teal.  (London , 2013)  YK.2014.a.12669

Tove Jansson, Bildhuggarens dotter. (Stockholm, 1968)  X.990/1792

Boel Westin, Tove Jansson : life, art, words : the authorised biography.  Translated by Silvester Mazzarella (London, 2014)

Boel Westin, Tove Jansson : ord, bild, liv (Helsingfors, 2007)  YF.2007.a.26218

Tove Jansson, Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (Helsingfors,1945) RF.2014.a.5

Tove Jansson, The Moomins and the great flood.  Translated by David McDuff.  (London, 2012)  YK.2013.a.14855

09 April 2014

Who or what were ‘the Vikings’?

Interest in ‘the Vikings’ seems boundless, and the current Vikings exhibition at the British Museum makes the subject particularly topical. Googling ‘Viking’ produces forty-seven million hits –  though most of them may be for computer games or brand names  –  and a search on our catalogue under vernacular forms of the term produces over 250 titles in Scandinavian languages and thousands more in English, with dozens of the latter published this year already in the BL catalogue. Beyond that narrow focus, however, the holdings of the British Library are very rich in printed materials, from the 16th century to date, relating to pre-Christian Scandinavia.

A recent article in the Evening Standard by the great medievalist David Dumville aimed to counter the ‘revisionist’ and ‘politically correct’ views that have “covered up the crimes of a bloody era” during the past half-century. He admitted that “Vikings are in general not coterminous with Scandinavians” yet capitalised the word as if it were an ethnic label – as misleading as using ‘Cowboy’ or ‘Cossack’ to describe the entire cultures of the USA or Russia, from their art forms and technology to their political systems and modes of warfare. The ancient Scandinavians’ name for themselves was ‘Northmen’ and for their language and culture ‘Norse’ (norrœn).  

Of the two Old Norse nouns víkingr (m.) and víking (f.), the first meant ‘pirate or sea-rover’ (OED),  the second an overseas plundering expedition. Their etymology is contested but related to the noun vík, ‘bay’, or the verb víkja, ‘to turn away’ etc., referring either to people from a bay area  –  such as the Vik region around the Oslofjord (though its inhabitants were called víkverjar, not víkingar)  –  or to those who ‘set out’ on raiding voyages. But such ‘vikings’ formed only a fraction of the Norse peoples.  Overseas trading voyages had been undertaken long before then, for instance by the peaceful  ‘farbönder’ of Gotland, while the fact that travel by boat was so much faster than overland was the basic reason why so many Norse groups lived near and moved around on water. Will scholars ever agree to stop using the over-worked term ‘viking’?   

Woodcut illustration of five men carrying a boat laden with weaponsCarelian raiders. Illustration from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus  Septentrionalibus, bk 11, ch. 7 (Rome, 1555)   152.e.9.

The causes of the increase in overseas raiding around 800 were both external and internal. The main external one was the expansion of the Carolingian empire, its threatening proximity provoking aggressive reactions. The major internal factor was technological, the rapid development of open-sea sailing ships at that time.  (The best surviving examples are the beautiful Gokstad and Oseberg vessels  –  displayed in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.)  Another was the breakdown of a centuries-old social system in increasingly violent power struggles among the elites that eventually reduced the number of kingdoms in Scandinavia from dozens to the three still existing ones.  

Photograph of a Viking ship in a museumOseberg ship, built around 820, buried 834, now in the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo (Picture by Daderot from  Wikimedia Commons)

An aggressive warrior ethos – already vividly described in the Old English Beowulf  poem, preserved in the British Library – saw raiding and pillaging as a perfectly honourable pursuit, enriching the participants. Change came only with the adoption of continental Christianity and feudalism, which no longer permitted unprovoked attacks on co-religionists. When the neighbouring Slavic, Finno-Ugrian and Baltic peoples likewise converted, the now christianised Norse elites  –  after a short period of ‘crusading’ around the Baltic  –  simply ran out of legitimate targets.  

Peter Hogg, former Head of Scandinavian Collections

Recommended reading:

Stefan Brink and Neil Price (eds), The Viking world (London, 2008) YC.2009.b.524

Gareth Williams, Vikings: life and legend (London, 2014) Catalogue of the British Museum exhibition

Saga  book of the Viking Society for Northern Research (London,  1892-  )  Ac.9939; volumes over three years old are also available online at

Proceedings of the Viking Congresses (quadrennial since 1950). Volumes catalogued separately. See also:

Viking and Medieval Scandinavia  (Turnhout,  2005-  )  9236.374400

28 February 2014

A Day to Celebrate Finnish Culture

Mastered by desire impulsive,
By a mighty inward urging,
I am ready now for singing,
Ready to begin the chanting
Of our nation's ancient folk-song
Handed down from by-gone ages.

So starts one of the earliest English translations of the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic, which tells the stories of mythical heroes and heroines.  The Kalevala is based on poetry in the oral tradition and is an arrangement of material collected by Elias Lönnrot and his assistants during their travels in Finland and Karelia in the first half of the 19th century. Lönnrot was a doctor, researcher and writer, with a particular interest in the Finnish language.

Cover of a biography of Lönnrot with his portrait and an image of an angelic figure playing a harpCover of August Ahlqvist’s biography Elias Lönnrot: elämä-kerrallisia piirteitä (Helsinki, 1884) 10602.d.28(4)).

There are two main editions. The first, published in 1835, was called Kalevala taikka vanhoja  Karjalan runoja Suomen kansan muinosista ajoista (‘Kalevala or old Karelian poems about the ancient times of the Finnish people’) and is known as the ‘Old’ Kalevala. In 1849 a new edition was published with the extra material that Lönnrot had gathered in the intervening years.  It is this second edition, the ‘New’ Kalevala, containing 50 poems and almost 23,000 lines, that is the one most commonly read and referred to when Finns talk of the Kalevala today. 

Title page of the 1835 edition of Kalevala.
Title page of the 1835 edition of Kalevala. Ac.9080 [no. 2]

Both editions were published by Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (The Finnish Literature Society) which was founded in 1831.  Lönnrot was its first secretary, and his notebooks and manuscripts can still be seen there.  Its website today states that ‘SKS's primary functions are the research and promotion of Finnish oral tradition, the Finnish language and literature’ and in this its aims have remained the same for almost 200 years. It had a central role as a cultural institute at a time of national awakening, after Finland broke away from Sweden in 1809. The Kalevala was a powerful symbol of this developing national identity, and many new works in the fine arts were inspired by it, perhaps most famously the paintings of Akseli Gallen-Kallela.     

Painting of a woman kneeling by the body of her dead sonLemminkäinen's Mother by Akseli Gallen-Kallela.  Image from Wikimedia Commons 

In the British Library, holdings of Kalevala-related material, both primary texts and secondary literature, are extensive.  Searching our catalogue for the term ‘Kalevala’ brings up some 370 entries, revealing a wealth of treasures.  Aside from the 19th-century originals (which appeared in the Proceedings of the Finnish Literature Society, a series we still collect today), there are also later editions and adaptations.  There are translations into many languages, which are an indication of how the work has captured the imagination of readers from all over the world.  Secondary material includes the yearbooks of Kalevalaseura (The Kalevala Society)and a wide range of other research publications. 

Book cover with an image of a young man in a forest blowing a horn Cover of Kalevalavihko (Helsinki, 1909)  11852.v.20

Those researching Lönnrot himself will also find much of interest, including a presentation copy (to his friend J.F. Granlund) of Mehiläinen (‘The Bee’), the first Finnish-language periodical, which he founded, and a copy of Suomalais-Ruotsalainen Sanakirja (‘A Finnish-Swedish Dictionary’) which he edited in his later years.

  Handwritten inscription by Lönnrot
Inscription by Lönnrot on the title page of Mehiläinen. (Oulu, 1836-37, 1839-40)  C.121.b.19

Today, February 28th, is Kalevala Day in Finland and flags will be raised to commemorate the publication of the first edition.  A wreath will be placed at Emil Wikström’s statue of Elias Lönnrot in Helsinki.  It is an occasion for celebrating not just the Kalevala itself but Finnish culture as a whole. 

Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies


The Kalevala, the epic poem of Finland, Translated by J. M. Crawford.  (New York, 1888.)  11557.d.8.

Kalewala taikka Wanhoja Karjahan Runoja Suomen kansan muinosista ajoista.  (Helsinki, 1835, 1849.)  Ac.9080 [nos. 2, 14]

Suomalais-Ruotsalainen Sanakirja. Finskt-Svenskt Lexikon  (Helsinki, 1874-86.)  Ac.9080 [no.50]


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