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by Bamber Gascoigne

Maria Jotuni (1880 - 1943) - originally Maria Haggrén, Maria Haggren-Jotuni


Novelist, playwright, one of the classic feminist authors in Finland. Maria Jotuni was influenced by postnaturalism and impressionism, which is expressed in her choice of form: short stories, fragments of prose, impressions and dialog. She often shows the society from a woman's point of view, as in her major novel, Huojuva talo (1963, Tottering house). Jotuni depicted the battle of the sexes in cultured urban circles and in poor villages in the countryside. Rejecting the sentimental ideal of true love, Jotuni portrayed marriage as a financial deal between two people, in which the woman is bought.

"Rakkaus, rakkaus ihmiseen ja kaikkeen olevaiseen, sen ehkä harhauttava voima väkevöitti hänen sielunsa pidättyväksi. Mitä käytäntöä se oli tätä maailmaa varten? Sillä tehtiin myönnytyksiä, kunniaa ilmiöille, sillä kiellettiin oma kipu, ruumiin oikeudet tuntea, ja palkaksi saatiin parhaimmillaan hengen tasapaino, kieltäytyvä liikkumattomuus, kuulaus, joka heijasti, mutta ei enää säteillyt. Mitä teki sillä tässä hänen elämässään, jossa vain toimeentulosta oli tapeltava." (from Huojuva talo)

Maria Jotuni (pseudonym of Maria Gustava Tarkiainen) was in Kuopio, the daughter of Petter Johannes Haggrén, the son of a tinsmith, and the former Greta Lovisa Miettinen, whose father was a farmer. Petter Johannes helped his father in his business, but was not very ambitious – he was a passionate reader, disappointed in life, and greedy for liquor. Jotuni wrote her early stories at the age of 12-13. At school she was one of the editors of the magazine Wesa.

After graduating from Kuopion Tyttökoulu (the Girl's School of Kuopio), Jotuni moved to Helsinki. She studied history and literature at the University of Helsinki, contributed to the student magazine, and published short stories in the newspaper Päivälehti. When not studying or writing, she went to see theatre plays on a regular basis. To earn extra income, she worked as a substitute teacher. Upon the publication of V.A. Koskenniemi's first collection of poems, Runoja (1906), Jotuni reviewed the work in the magazine Valvoja and corresponded with him for some time.

While at the university, Jotuni met her future husband, Viljo Tarkiainen (1879-1951), who lectured there and later was appointed Professor of Literature. They married in 1911 and had two children, Jukka and Tuttu. Tarkiainen had been her suitor from 1903, when they edited together with Edvard Richter a critical catalogue of amateur plays. In the aftermath of the new surname law of 1921, Jotuni suggested that their childred would start to use her surname instead of Tarkiainen, which she considered ugly.

Due to his influence in literary circles and his support to his wife, Tarkiainen occasionally faced accusations of partiality. A certain kind of rivalry between Tarkiainen and Koskenniemi led to mutual distrust and hostility which was well-know and lasted for decades. It also affected Jotuni's relationship with the writer Maila Talvio, a friend of Koskenniemi.

Jotuni was contemporary with such other noted feminist writers as Aino Kallas, L. Onerva, and Edith Södegran. Her first collection of short stories, Suhteita (1905), did not attract much attention, but Eino Leino considered it mature work for a debutant writer. It was followed by the collection Rakkautta (1907), characterized by according to Eino Leino "tasteless cynicism," and the collective novel Arkielämää (1909). Its central character, "Reverend" Nyman listens people's confessions, their secret sorrows and pleasures, within a period of a day and night in a rural village. The play was later translated into Swedish, Estonian, and German.

In Finland women became in 1906 the first in Europe to gain the right to vote, but the political victory was not fulfilled in the institution of marriage, which Jotuni saw as contract in which women are chattels to be traded. Behind the facade of respectability lay the hidden world of selfishness, disillusionment, unhappiness, and hypocrisy: "Don't you pity these people? Don't you think that each one of them has his little sorrows, that life isn't anything like what it seems?" (from Rakkautta) Although Jotuni did not dwell on erotic scenes, and her attitude towars sex was positive, she touched the subjects of illicit love, adultery, incest, and sexual aberrations.

With Rakkautta Jotuni made her breakthrough as a writer. It was translated into Swedish by Bertel Gripenberg and Jotuni sent a copy to the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun, who thanked her in a letter and praised the beauty of Finnish women. Jotuni published an essay on Hamsun in the magazine Valvoja. In 1908 Georg Brandes expressed his interest in the young lady, who had written about love. The title story appeared in French in the magazine Lettres scandinaves. Jotuni was also invited to visit the home of Professor J.J. Mikkola and Maila Talvio, who hosted a literary salon frequented by L. Onerva, Ilmari Calamnius (Ilmari Kianto), Larin-Kyösti, Kasimir Leino, and many Russian writers.

Jotunis's short stories were often based on dialogue, in which she confronted two different world views. Her best-known characters include Hilda Husso, the mother of an illegitimate child, who appeared in Suhteita, and Matami Röhelin, a grotesque nursemaid from Rakkautta. The masterful use of dialogue led her soon to drama. Vanha koti (1910, Old home) was first performed in Kotka, then in Helsinki at the National Theatre, and in Estonia in 1911. It was followed by Kun on tunteet (1913), Martinin rikos (1914), and Miehen kylkiluu (1914), which stirred doubts and suspicions in advance on account of its morality. However, this erotic carrousel about two woman who want to marry the same man, became highly popular. In 1918 Jotuni attacked on wartime speculations and corruption in her satire Kultainen vasikka (Eng. tr. The Golden Calf). Ritva Arvelo's film version of the play from 1961 received State film award, but failed commercially.

HERMAN: Katarina has speculated.
ANNA: Speculated? How is that possible?
KATARINA (Looks at Anna and Herman jealously):
Is that so impossible? Or do you also think it's a sin? That's it. Of course it's a sin. This demonstrates how far we poor wives get and what wages we've received for life's long sufferings. Where are the savings from our work?
ANNA: But what do you need savings for? For the grave?
(The Golden Calf, translated by Ritva Poom, in Portraits of Courage: Plays by Finnish Women, edited by S. E. Wilmer, 1997)

Tohvelisankarin rouva (1924, The wife of the henpecked husband), a comedy of love, power, and greed, provoked a parliamentary debate about the funding for the National Theatre. When WSOY returned the manuscript, it was published by Otava. At its premiere, a portion of the audience left the theatre. As a result of the controversy, Tarkiainen was dismissed from the board of the National Theatre, although he was not present when the play was accepted in the repertoire. The award-winning tragedy Klaus, Louhikon herra was based on a folk ballad, "Elinan surma" (The murder of Elina). It premiered at the National theatre in October 1942. The performace, in the middle of the the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union, was interrupted by air-raids. A number of the actors served at the front.

As a playwright Jotuni was influenced by Minna Canth, Henrik Ibsen and Anton Chekhov. She also wrote aphorisms, children's stories, and little pieces for newspapers. Her first collection of aphorisms, Avonainen lipas, came out in 1929, and the last, Jäähyväiset in 1949. Jotuni examined many subjects: society, art, human relations and different personality types. Especially she was interested in natural sciences, but  underlining that instinctive needs must be recognized  – she dreamed of a better man without implication to the Nietzschean concept of the Übermensch. However, it is likely that Jotuni became familiar with Nietzsche's thought before Also Sprach Zarathustra appeared in Finnish in 1907.

In the liberal newspaper Helsingin Sanomat Jotuni wrote ironically what horrors new technology, in this case the automobile, brings with it. The text was published in 1912 under the male pseudonym "Nix": "Thick clouds of smoke rise from the street and flutter against our windows. There looms the outside world, which we do not see. We hear only the awful blare of the cars, which obliterates the voices and laughter of the carefree folk. We wait until night-time to rest our nerves. No, the hooting and clattering of cars, laughter and hooting. The homeliness of home has disappeared."  (translated by Hildi Hawkins, in Helsinki: A Literary Companion, edited by Hildi Hawkins and Soila Lehtonen, 2000)

Jotuni's massive, posthumously published novel Huojuva talo depicts a destructive marriage – perhaps in this case a miniature model of the contemporary totalitarian ideologies. The tyrannical husband Eero Markku, a cultivated person outside his house, tortures psychologically and even physically at home her submissive wife Lea. The book was finished in the 1930s, but the manuscript remained unpublished for decades. Huojuva talo contained elements from Jotuni's own marriage, and feelings of alienation from her husband, who originally encouraged her to continue with the work.

Tarkiainen was infamous for his short temper. His students said that he used to bang the lecturer's desk with his fist in rage. He had once hit his wife so hard that her left eardrum was broken. Jotuni participated with the manuscript in an international writing contest, arranged by A.M. Heath. When Auni Nuolivaara's (already forgotten) Paimen, piika ja emäntä won in Finland, Jotuni drew her work back. Jolán Földes's The Street of the Fishing Cat received the first prize in the All-Nation's Competition. Jotuni never published new novels. Nearly similar unlucky contest history was with Helvi Hämäläinen's Säädyllinen murhenäytelmä although it came out later in censored edition. Maaria Koskiluoma's adaption of Jotuni's novel was first staged at the Lappeenranta City Theater in 1983 and then performed at the Oslo Theater Festival. A five-part TV drama directed by Eija-Elina Bergholm was broadcast in 1995.

After the Civil War (1917-18), Jotuni occasionally felt irritated, perhaps due to hormonal disturbances. In the 1920s she started to have heart symptoms, which troubled her for the rest of her life. The family moved in 1921 to Cygnaeus Street. It became the Tarkiainens permanent address in Helsinki. Jotuni began to collect antiquities for her home, especially she was interested in "Le style Louis XIV." The comedy Miehen kylkiluu was filmed in 1937, but the screenplay, written by Ilmari Unho and the director Orvo Saarikivi, did not have the sharpness and humor of the original work.

With her husband, Jotuni bought in 1919 a small house on the shore of Lake Tuusula.  It was meant to be the summer home for the whole family, but she did not like being close to nature. Moreover, the light summer nights got on her nerves, and she rather stayed in the city in the summertime, writing alone in their apartment on the Cygnaeus Street. The reclusive periods in empty rooms, filled with furniture covered with sheets, were not good for her. Jotuni developed fears and anxieties, but maintained a cheerful tone in letters to her family.

Little is known of Jotuni's private life as she refused most interviews. From the 1920s, she suffered from jealousy and was constantly asking where her husband had been, what he had been doing etc. There is no evidence of him being unfaithful. Although the couple was never able to overcome their differences, they keep up the facade of a happy marriage. In 1938, Jotuni received the Aleksis Kivi Award, for the disappointmed of Koskenniemi, who thought he would be given the honour. Her play, Amerikan morsian (The bride from America), finished after the award, was not performed until 1966. Jotuni died on September 30, 1943, in Helsinki.

For further reading: Maria Jotunin näytelmät by Irmeli Niemi (1964); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Orfeus nukkuu by Annamari Sarajas (1980); Huojuva talo: romaanista teatteriesitykseksi ed. by Maaria Koskiluoma, Pekka Kyrö (1986); Viljo Tarkiainen by Kari Tarkiainen (1987); Rikkautta jos rakkauttakin: Maria Jotunin naiskuva by Liisa Hakola (1993); 'Descriptions of the People: Jotuni and Lassila' by Kai Laitinen, in A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2, ed. by Lea Rojola (1999); Arki ja tunteet: Maria Jotunin elämä ja kirjailijantyö by Irmeli Niemi (2001); Maria Jotuni. Vain ymmärrys ja hymy by Kari Tarkiainen (2013); Suomalaisia naiskirjailijoita: Minna Canth, Maria Jotuni ja Aino Kallas by Silja Vuorikuru (2019); Alkukantaisuus ja tunteet: primitivismi 1900-luvun alun suomalaisessa kirjallisuudessa by Riikka Rossi (2020)

Selected works:

  • Suhteita, 1905 [Relations]
    - TV drama 1971, dir. Hilkka Silanen, Matti Tapio, starring Tiia Louste, Pertti Palo, Tuulikko Pohjola, Hilkka Silanen, Ritva Valkama
  • Rakkautta, 1907 (as Maria Haggrén-Jotuni) [Love]
    - Kärlek (translated by Bertel Gripenberg, 1908)
    - Man kallar det kärlek (translated by Heidi och Birgitta Parland, 1971)
    - Armastus: novellid (kokoaja Saluri Piret, 2015)
  • Arkielämää, 1909 [Everyday life]
    - Vardagsliv (translated by Ragnar Ekelund, 1920)
    - Altagsleben: eine Geschichte aus Finnland (translated by Gustav Schmidt, 1923)
    - Argielu (translated by Friedebert Tuglas, 1931)
  • Vanha koti, 1910 (play) [Old home]
  • Kun on tunteet, 1913 [When there are feelings]
    - film 1954, dir. Erik Blomberg, starring Rakel Laakso, Sasu Haapanen, Kaisu Leppänen, Eeva-Kaarina Volanen, Rauni Luoma, Aku Korhonen, Emmi Jurkka, Maija Karhi, Tarmo Manni, Rauha Rentola, Pentti Viljanen;based on such short stories as 'Rakkautta', 'Matami Röhelin', 'Josefina', 'Maantiellä' etc., dir. Erik Blomberg, starring Rakel Laakso, Sasu Haapanen
  • Martinin rikos, 1914
    - TV play 1980, dir. Timo Bergholm, starring Pehr-Olof Sirén, Anja Pohjola, Kaija Pakarinen, Paavo Pentikäinen, Liisamaija Laaksonen, Hannu Kahakorpi, Matti Oravisto
  • Miehen kylkiluu, 1914 (comedy) [Man's rib]
    - Mannens revben: komedi (radioplay, translated by Birgitta Parland, 1982)
    - films: 1937, dir. Orvo Saarikivi and Hugo Hytönen, starring Elsa Rantalainen, Verna Piponius, Helena Kara, Sointu Kouvo; TV play 1967, dir. Veikko Kerttula, Lauri Leino, starring Harri Tirkkonen, Tuulikki Pohjola, Tuija Vuolle, Martti Pennanen, Lauri Leino, Hilkka Silanen - Opera: The Rib of a Man (1977-78), composed by Ilkka Kuusinen, libretto by Sakari Puurunen
  • Musta härkä. Kuvitettu kertomus lapsille, 1915 (illustrated by M. Collin)
  • Savu-uhri, 1915 (comedy) [Burnt offering]
  • Kultainen vasissa, 1918 (comedy)
    Zolotoj telec = Kultainen vasikka: komedia v treh dejstviahk (translated by Taisia Dzafarova, 2005)
    - The Golden Calf (Eng. tr. by Ritva Poom, in Portraits of Courage: Plays by Finnish Women, edited by S. E. Wilmer, 1997)
    - TV plays: 1961, dir. Ritva Arvelo, starring Aino Mantsas, Helge Herala, Marja Korhonen, Toivo Mäkelä, Irma Seikkula; 1992, dir. Jukka Sipilä, starring Anna-Leena Härkönen, Eeva-Maija Haukinen, Aarre Karén, Tarja Keinänen, Jouko Klemettilä, Leea Klemola, Liisamaija Laaksonen
  • Jussi ja Lassi, 1921
  • Tohvelisankarin rouva, 1924 (comedy) [The wife of a henpecked husband]
    - TV plays: 1965, dir. Rauni Mollberg, starring Lasse Pöysti, Birgitta Ulfsson, Tarja-Tuulikko Tarsala, Paavo Pentikäinen; 1984, dir. Kaija Viinikainen, starring Eeva-Maija Haukinen, Harri Tirkkonen, Kaija Pakarinen, Juhani Kouki, Anja Pohjola
  • Tyttö ruusutarhassa ynnä muita novelleja, 1927 [The girl in the rose garden and other stories]
  • Avonainen lipas, 1929 [The open casket] 
  • Olen syyllinen 1929 (tragedy) [I am guilty]
  • Hämärässä, 1930 (drama)
    - TV play 1966 (15 min), prod. Yleisradio (YLE), dir. Jarmo Nieminen, starring Ritva Valkama, Tuulikko Pohjola
  • Kootut teokset 1-4, 1930
  • Kurdin prinssi, 1933 (comedy)
  • Vaeltaja, 1933 [Wanderer]
  • Jouluyö korvessa, 1946 [Christmas in the backwoods]
  • Klaus, Louhikon herra, 1946 [Klaus, master of Louhikko]
  • Norsunluinen laulu, 1947
  • Jäähyväiset, 1949 [Farwells]
  • Valitu teokset, 1954 (foreword by Unto Kupiainen)
  • Maria Jotunin aforismit, 1959
  • Maria Jotunin ihmisiä, 1959 (illustrated by Erkki Tanttu)
  • Novelleja ja muuta proosaa 1-2, 1961 (edited by Irmeli Niemi)
  • Neekeri tulee: pieni näytelmä lapsille, 1963 (play)
  • Huojuva talo, 1963 [Tottering house]
    - Ett vajande hus (translated by Kerstin Lindqvist,1999)
    - TV adaptation in 1995, dir. Eija-Elina Bergholm, written by Maaria Koskiluoma, starring Kari Heiskanen, Sara Paavolainen, Sinikka Sokka, Mikko Viherjuuri, Jaana Järvinen, Raimo Grönberg
  • Äiti ja poika, 1965 (illustrated by Annikki Puurunen)
  • Evakuoidut: palvelustytön romaani, 1966
  • Valitut teokset, 1970 (illustrated by Antero Aho)
  • Novelleja, 1974
  • Novelleja ja muuta proosaa 1-2, 1980 (2 vols., edited by Irmeli Niemi)
  • Näytelmät, 1981 (edited by Irmeli Niemi)
  • Elämässä kiinni: Minna Canthin ja Maria Jotunin ajatuksia, 1994 (edited by Salme Saure)
  • Intohimo ihmiseen, 2000 (edited by Irmeli Niemi)

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