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||Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872) - Alexis Kivi (Kiwi) - originally Alexis Stenvall|
Finnish national writer, playwright, poet, novelist, whose major work was Seitsemän veljestä (1870, Seven Brothers). Aleksis Kivi was the first professional writer publishing his works in Finnish. He died in poverty at the age of thirty-eight.
EERO: How many stars in Charley's Wain, how many sons at Jukola?
Aleksis Kivi was born at Nurmijärvi in southern Finland, some twenty miles north of Helsinki. He came from a poor background. His mother was Annastiina (Hamberg) Stenvall, the daughter of a smith, who was five years older than her husband. Eerik Johan Stenvall, Kivi's father, was a tailor, who could read and write. Eerik had learnt Swedish, the language every educated Finnish spoke, before a Finnish-language culture fully developed. Kivi also acquired a complete mastery of Swedish. However, in the wake of national awakening Kivi translated his surname (Stenvall, 'stone-bank') into Finnish (Kivi, 'stone').
In 1846, at the age of twelve, Kivi left for school in Helsinki, where he found lodgings at the home of a prison warder. For a year his teacher was A.J. Cranberg, an old sailor, and at his small cottage Kivi studied among others Swedish. While living at the home of a master tailor, named Albin Palmqvist, he read widely in his library. With Palmqvist's daughter, Albina, who was five years his senior, he discussed of such writers as Shakespeare, Cervantes, and Byron. Kivi fell in love with Albina, and according to some sources, he proposed marriage. Albina went in 1853 to Denmark, where she started to use morphin for her neuralgia. During the following years, Albina spent much time abroad, but when she visited Finland, she met Kivi several times. Kivi never married and Albina also remained single. However, Albina possibly influenced a number of Kivi's female characters in his plays, including Liisa in Yö ja päivä (1866), Elma in Karkurit (1866), Lea in Lea (1868), Marianne in Canzio (1868).
Kivi managed to finish in 1857 secondary school, although he occasionally neglected his studies, partly because he suffered from hunger. In 1859 Kivi managed to enter the University of Helsinki, where he read the classics of world literature and became interested in the theater. At the Swedish teatter of Helsinki, he saw plays by Molière and Schiller and he was familiar with the Danish dramatist Ludvig Holberg. Kivi's first play, Kullervo (1859), was based on the Kalevala and showed the influence of Shakespeare in its dramatic technique. In Helsinki Kivi made friends with J.V. Snellman, the famous philosopher, journalist and politician, who helped him economically. Among his friends were also such Finnish-speaking intellectuals as Fredrik Cygnaeus, Elias Lönnrot, Julius Krohn, and Emil Nervander.
At university Kivi studied sporadically. He was more interested in writing and intended to become a celebrated poet like Runeberg. Kullervo won a competition held by the Finnish Literature Society. With the prize money Kivi could continue his literary career. In Nurmijärvi and Siuntio he was helped by Charlotta Lönnqvist, a self-sacrificing benefactress, and perhaps also by the Adlercreutz family. From 1863 Kivi devoted himself to his calling. He published 12 plays, collection of poems and Seven Brothers, which he wrote for ten years. The work was crushed by the influential critic August Ahlqvist, who opposed its realism. Ahlqvist's hostile criticism became later a symbol of oppression of artistic freedom. "It is a ridiculous work and a blot on the name of Finnish literature," Ahlqvist wrote in the newspaper Finlands Allmäna Tidningen.
Seven brothers is a humorous novel depicting orphan
which first appeared in four volumes in 1870. To evade the Lutheran
Church's requirement, that they learn to read and write before
confirmation, the brothers flee to the wilderness. After encountering
all kinds of disasters, they return to society – matured and ready to
take responsibilities. Kivi's individualism and his unconventional
approach won him many enemies among the Fennoman movement, which
emphasized agrarian and conservative values. Kivi also challenged
taboos concerning what was considered decent. His independent country
boys were considered too wild – they were not modelled on an idealized
picture of the people, but revealed their ignorance, laziness, tendency
to heavy drinking, and 'Roussean' resistance to bourgeois values.
Moreover, Kivi's mixture of comical, mythological, and tragic was not
understood. Nowadays Seven Brothers
has been interpreted at
many levels. Having nearly finished the first draft of his translation of Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the poet Pentti Saarikoski thought that Kivi is better
writer than Ibsen, because "you get this feeling that he made up the
words himself, that every single word was being used for the very first
time." (Aleksis Kivi and/as World Literature by Douglas Robinson, 2017, p. 20)
In 1865 Kivi won the State Prize for his play Nummisuutarit
(The Heath Cobblers). He lived in Siuntio from 1864, reading, writing,
visiting Helsinki – and when he could afford it, occasionally drinking
in taverns. Kivi also wrote a play about a beer outing at Schleusingen,
(1866), which was not published during his lifetime: this farce contains a brisk
drinking song, which begins with the words "Terve, ruskee ohranneste": "Hail, brown barley juice, / Hail strong foaming cheer!
/ Let it all go down / So long as it's beer." (translated by Keith
Although Kivi had influential supporters, among them Kaarlo Bergbom, who established the Finnish
Theatre, he was deeply depressed by the attacks of Ahlqvist and other
critics. In the late 1860s Charlotta Lönnqvist could not support the
author any more. All of Kivi's money, which he earned from his
writings, went to debts. His last years were shadowed by economical
worries, and a physical and mental breakdown. However, most of his life
Kivi had been healthy. While in Nurmijärvi, Kivi liked to swim, fish, and roam the wild forests with his rifle on his shoulder.
Showing signs of schizophrenia, he was committed to a mental hospital in Lapinlahti. It has also been suggested that he suffered from borreliosis (lyme disease). After nine months, on May 1872, his brother Albert brought him from Lapinlahti to Tuusula, where he spent his last months in a small rented cottage. Kivi died on the same year on December 31. According to the popular legend his last words were: "Minä elän!" (I am alive!).
Now dig my grave
Among Aleksis Kivi's most famous poems is 'Sydämeni laulu' (Grove of Tuoni, grove of night / Song of my Heart) – a dark and very moving work, in which a woman seems to wish her baby dead. The poem was basis for Jean Sibelius song (Op. 18 No. 6) with the same title from 1898. In the poem a mother sits alone with her child and asks: "Tell me, my child, my summerbright, tell me: wouldst thou not sail away from here to a haven of everlasting peace while the white pennant of childhood still flies clean? On the shore of a misty, tideless lake stands the dark manor of Tuoni; there in the heart of a shadowy grove, in the bosom of a dewy thicket a cradle is prepared for thee with snowy linen and wrappings. Hear therefore my song; it wafts thee to the land of the Prince of Tuoni." ('Grove of Tuoni' can be translated as 'Grove of Death'. Keith's Bosley's translation in Aleksis Kivi: Odes from 1994 uses more modern language than Alex Matson in his work.) Although none of the brothers die in Seven Brothers, death is also one of themes in the book. Usually literary critics have emphasized humorous aspects of the story.
Grove of Tuoni, grove of night!Link: Seitsemän veljestä, a multimedia presentation by Melon Arbus Productions Oy (in Finnish)
For further reading: Aleksis Kivi by V. Tarkainen (1915); Aleksis Kiven muisto by V. Tarkiainen (1919); Aleksis Kivi aikalaistensa arvostelemana by J.V. Lehtonen (1931); Nurmijärven poika by J.V. Lehtonen (1934); Aleksis Kiven persoonallisuus by Paavo E.S. Elo (1950); Aleksis Kiven runomaailma by Lauri Viljanen (1953); Aleksis Kivi 1860-1960. Bibliografinen opas Kiven maailmaan by Sulo Haltsonen (1964); Runoilija ja arvostelija by Eino Kauppinen (1966); Aleksis Kivi by Erik Ekelund (in Swedish 1960, translated into Finnish 1966); Aleksis Kiven näytelmät by Aarne Kinnunen (1967); Aleksis Stenvallin elämä by Veijo Meri (1973); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Tuli, aurinko ja seitsemän veljestä by Aarne Kinnunen (1974); Aleksis Kivi by Rafael Koskimies (1974); Paloon Stenvallit by Jaakko Puokka (1979); Syksystä jouluun by Kalle Achté (1982); Elon saarel tääl by Veijo Meri (1984); Aleksis Kiven maailmasta, ed. by Markku Envall (1984); Aleksis Kivi by Kai Laitinen (1989); Kohtalon vaihtoehdot by Oiva Ketonen (1989); Lumivalkea liina: Aleksis Kivi ja rakkaus by Esko Rahikainen (1998); 'Kivi, Pioneer and Classic' by Kai Laitinen, in A History of Finland's Literature, edited by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Aleksis Kivi by Hannes Sihvo (2002); Seitsemän veljestä ja lukemisen juonet by Aarne Kinnunen (2002); Metsän poika: Aleksis Kiven elämä by Esko Rahikainen (2004); Albina: Aleksis Kiven suuri rakkaus by Anja Kauppala (2003); Vimman villityt pojat by Pirjo Lyytikäinen (2005); Impivaaran kaski: Aleksis Kivi kirjallisuutemme korvenraivaajana by Esko Rahikainen (2009); Nyt ei auta pelko eikä vapistus: Aleksis Kiven terveydestä, kirjeistä, unista ja seitsemästä veljeksestä, edited by Jukka Aaltonen et al. (2015); Kanervakankaalla: näkökulmia Aleksis Kiven runouteen, edited by Päivi Koivisto (2017); Aleksis Kivi and/as World Literature by Douglas Robinson (2017); Ihmissydän: henkilöitä ja kohtaloita A. Kiven maailmoissa by Reeta Holopainen, Sakari Katajamäki, Ossi Kokko (2018); Aleksis Kiven elämä ja sairaudet: tutkimus Aleksis Kiven sairauksista hänen elämänsä eri vaiheissa by Raimo K.R. Salokangas (2018); Saapasnahka-torni: Aleksis Kiven elämänkertomus by Teemu Keskisarja (2018); Mansikoita ja mustikoita : näkökulmia Aleksis Kiven runouteen. II, edited by Päivi Kovisto & Hanna Karhu (2020) ; Seitsemän veljestä ja opas sen lukemiseen, edited by Sakari Katajamäki (2020) - Literary festival: Kivi's birth-county Nurmijärvi is celebrating the national writer every year with plays and other events based on his works. See other literary festivals: Pentinkulma Days (Väinö Linna Association) and Päätalo Days in Taivalkoski. Aleksis Kivi in films, plays, opera, novels: Minä elän (1946), film dir. Ilmari Unho, starring Rauli Tuomi; Aleksis Kiven elämä (2002), film dir. Jari Halonen, starring Marko Tiusanen. Aleksi Kivi (1974), play, written by Veijo Meri; Yössä Gehennan (1984), play, written by Ilpo Tuomarila; Yks perkele, yks enkeli (1985), play, written by Arvo Salo. Aleksis Kivi (1997), opera, composed by Einojuhani Rautavaara. Nuori Aleksis (1947), novel, written by Elsa Soini; Stenvallin tapaus (1995), novel, written by Kirsti Manninen and Jouko Raivio; Aleksi Kivi ja Serbian prinsessa (1996), novel, written by Antero Viinikainen. Kivi, novel, by Hannu Mäkelä (2010)