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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Kauppis-Heikki (1862-1920) - pseudonym of Heikki Kauppinen


Finnish self-learned author with a rural worker's background. Kauppis-Heikki's (real name Heikki Kauppinen) stories are generally considered among the best of Finnish folk writers. They grew from his childhood living in poverty, and his struggle to have a better life. Much of his work depicted country people, especially women of the Northern Savo. "The path of us Finnish writers in stewn with thorns," said the author, playwright and social activist Minna Canth to him; early on, she encouraged Kauppis-Heikki in writing.

"Minulla on aluperin ollut semmoinen ajatus, ettei kirjallisuudella saisi olla mitään näkyvää tarkoitusta, vaan että sen tulisi puhua puhuttavansa melkein sanattomasti, ikäänkuin luokse hiipien. Minä en jaksa käsittää, että ihmisille tarvitsisi sormella osoittaa, että katso tuohon. Senvuoksi minua on moitittu siitä, ettei minun kirjoistani tahdo löytää ydintä, vaikka sitä hakemalla hakee." (from Valitut teokset by Kauppis-Heikki, 1973)

Heikki Kauppinen was born in Iisalmi, the illegitimate son of Tiina Loviisa Remes, a widow, and Pekka Karppinen, a tenant farmer, who died in 1910. Soon after the birth of his son, Tiina Loviisa was forced to go begging for food from door to door.

Besides working as a servant, Kauppinen's mother toiled at her spinning wheel, and sold clothes. When there was not enough food, she ate herself bread made of bark and gave her son bread made of real flour. In 1873, she married a widow, Samuli Partanen.

Never having a carefree childhood, Kauppinen worked hard at his stepfather's house – he was 11 years old, but during this period he learned to write. In 1877, he was hired as a farm-hand for the the Protestant minister H. Th. Brofeldt, who was Juhani Aho's father. Kauppinen's mother died of typhoid in the same year. In the new surroundings Kauppinen began to read poems and composed his own early verses. "I read and read, and it was as if I was moved into another world. The great main room, where there was nobody else at the time, became a fabulous place. It was now the home of the muses..." (in 'Ihanin muistelmani', 1898) From the beginning of the 1880s, Kauppinen was tutored by Juhani and Pekka Aho and the literary circle around Elisabet Järnefelt, Arvid, Eero, and Kasper Järnefelt. "You cant' write a play," said Kasper Järnefelt after reading Kauppinen's attempt in playwriting, entitled Lain loppu, "until you have progressed more, and it takes a lot of effort."

In 1884, Kauppinen was employed as a stand-in elementary school teacher. Brofeldt, who had helped Kauppinen to embark on this new career, did not understand his literary aspirations. Encouraged by Juhani Aho, who called his protégé as a "self-learned sensation", Kauppinen made his debut as a writer with the short story 'Äidin kuoltua' (1884, After mother's death). It was published in the literary magazine Valvoja. This piece earned Kauppinen his first fee. Decades later, Kauppinen contributed an article to the magazine, entitled 'Mitä Juhani Aho on ollut minulle kirjailijana' (1911, What Juhani Aho had meant for me as a writer), in which he expressed his debt to his mentor. Another important writer for Kauppinen was Arvid Järnefelt, whose Tolstoyanism left traces in his work.

Kauppinen also made the acquaintance of Minna Canth. She hired him as an assistant in her shop in Kuopio. However, Kauppinen devoted there all his time to poetry – he used to write on the wrapping papers, and let the customers wait when he was absorbed in his readings.

While in Kuopio, Kauppinen saw his first play, performed by the company of the Finnish Theatre (Suomalainen Teatteri), which toured around the country. Canth's attempt to get him a job at the theatre failed when Kauppinen was considered "too slow". In the summers of 1886 and 1887 he worked as a journalist in Jyväskylä and Kuopio.

From 1887 to 1893, Kauppinen held a regular job as a teacher at a circular school. In his free time he wrote stories, which he sent for criticism to Helsinki to the brothers Pekka and Theodor Brofeldt. "Thank your good fortune that you have been condemned to live in that backwoods", said Minna Canth in a letter to him. "There you will perhaps remain an honest man." (Sanoi Minna Canth, ed. by Ritva Heikkilä, 1987) Due to his poor mastery of Swedish, spoken by the educated classes, Canth arranged a stipend for Kauppinen to study the language, but he spent the money on a warm fur coat.

In 1890, Kauppinen married Hanna Korhonen. From 1893 to 1908 he worked as a director of reform school in Kehvo. Recalling bad memories from his own childhood, Kauppinen tried to avoid corporal punishments. During this period, he studied for teacher's diploma and passed the examinations without needing to prove his mastering of the art of writing. He then moved to Ulmala near Iisalmi, where he worked as a teacher until 1920. From 1918, received a small author's pension granted by the State.

Kauppinen's first book, Tarinoita (1886), a collection of short stories, drew from his own harsh experiences, but the sharp edge of reality is softened by humour – he was no Maxim Gorky, radicalized by poverty, and emotionally against the bourgeois society. Thus it was no surprise to Juhani Aho that Kauppinen said in a letter to him after the socialists declared a general strike in 1917: "That was all we needed to add to our misery and despair."

Having made his breakthrough into the literary world, Kauppinen published the novels Mäkijärveläiset (1887), which the conservative critic Agathon Meurman slaughtered in  the Finland magazine, and Viija (1889), a tale of a heiress, who chooses the wrong suitor and dies young. Minna Canth criticized its psychological portrayal of the heroine. Women were also central characters in Laara (1893), about a servand, who marries a weak drunkard, and Aliina (1896), in which a young, calculating servant girl struggles to improve the position of her family. Her story contains also many passages about women's rights.

Uran aukaisijat (1904), built around a great summer festival, was partly autobiographical, drawing on Kauppinen's life as a teacher in the 1880s. Especially in his short stories about common folk Kauppinen's sense of humor came out, the major example being Anaski, a liar and thief, the hero of a collection of tales published in 1911. Otherwise the atmosphere of his works was generally melancholic, the hopes and ambitions of his characters are constantly destroyed by reality.  Savolainen soittaja (1915) ends happily, a poor country boy eventually makes a breakthrough as a musicians and decided to help illigitimate children like himself.

"Älä puhu mitään arvosta," kielsi Aho. "Sinä et sitä asiata ymmärrä. Kertomuksillasi on ainakin yksi arvo, joka ei ole niinkään vähäinen. Ne ovat omiasi, tarkoitan omintakeisia, eikä jäljittelyjä kielen, aineen tai tekotavan puolesta. Ne yhteensä merkitsevät siksi paljon, että kirjoita sinä vain edelleen, äläkä jupise joutavia." ('Mitä Juhani Aho on ollut minulle kirjailijana', Valvoja, 1911)

Kauppinen published several collections of poems and short stories. His novel on the life of Th. Brofeldt, Paimen ja lampaat (1922), was left unfinished. Part of the work appeared posthumously with a preface by Juhani Aho. While in Kehvo, Kauppinen was active in the local temperance society, and began to correspond with politician, author and journalist Santeri Alkio. He also contributed to the magazine Pyrkijä, an organ of the Finnish Youth Association movement. Alkio, who was the chief editor of the magazine, thought that Kauppis-Heikki's humorous short stories would attract readers. After settling in Ulmala, he participated for a short time in politics, supporting first the centrist Agrarian Union and then liberals. Kauppinen was a much sought-after speaker.

Kauppinen's leg was operated in 1917, but he managed to work at school with a wooden prosthesis. His daughter Elsa died in 1919 and the author himself suffered from a stroke of apoplexy, from which he never fully recovered. Kauppinen died in Lapinlahti on September 3, 1920. He was buried in Iisalmi and in 1922 a memorial stone, made by the sculptor Eemil Halonen, was erected on his grave. Juhani Aho was buried in the same cemetery in 1921. 

For further reading: Kansankirjailijoita katsomassa by Viljo Tarkiainen (1904); Kauppis-Heikki by Ilmari Havu (1925); 'Kauppis-Heikki', in Aleksis Kivestä Martti Merenmaahan (1954); Korkea elämänkaari by Yrjö Karilas (1954); 'Kauppis-Heikki', in Kootut teokset 6: Kirjoja ja kirjailijoita I-IV by V.A. Koskenniemi (1955); 'Kauppis-Heikki (1862-1920)' by Ilpo Tiitinen in Valitut teokset by Kauppis-Heikki (1973); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); 'Kauppis-Heikki ja vapauden teema' by Tapio Kopponen, in Kirjojen meri, ed. by Kai Laitinen, et al. (1983); Sanoi Minna Canth, ed. by Ritva Heikkilä (1987); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita Jöns Buddesta Hannu Ahoon by Lasse Koskela (1990); Realismista symbolismiin, ed. by Tellervo Krogerus (1994); Hiljaisuuden ja kulttuurin Kyrönniemi, ed. by Hannu Ullner (1995); Syvistä riveistä: kansankirjailija, sivistyneistö ja kirjallisuus 1800-luvulla by Pertti Lassila (2008); 'Rohkeus katsoa ihmistä läheltä' by Minna Maijala, in Hiidenkivi (4/2012); Juhani Ahon ja Kauppis-Heikin kotipappila Kyrönniemi 1876-1883 by Asko Kauppinen (2017); Sadan vuoden työteliäisyys: Kauppis-Heikin ja Eino Säisän proosan mielenmaisemissa by Juha Drufva (2022)

Selected works:

  • Äidin kuoltua, 1884
  • Mäkijärveläiset: kuvaus Savon kansan elämästä, 1887
  • Viija: kuvaus Savon kansan elämästä, 1889
  • Kirottua työtä, 1891
  • Laara: kuvaus elämästä , 1893
  • Aliina, 1896
  • Varosen jouluharmit y.m. tarinoita, 1987
  • Uran aukasijat, 1904
  • Naapurit; Warosen jouluharmit; Kahden puolen ikkunata, 1905
  • Kuvaelmia, 1905
  • Tarinoita I-IV, 1886-1906
  • Anaski 1911 (new, enlarged edition 1923)
  • Savolaisia: tarinoita, 1912
  • Patahurjat: sivistyshistoriallinen tarina, 1913
  • Savolainen soittaja: romaani, 1915
  • Kootut teokset I-V, 1920-21
  • Paimen ja lampaat, 1920 (unfinished work depicting H.G. Theodor Brofeldt)
  • Valikoima tarinoita, 1930
  • Valitut teokset, 1953 (introduction by Viljo Suomi)
  • Suomalaista huumoria, 1963 (with others)
  • Valitut teokset, 1975 (3. ed.)
  • Savolainen soittaja; Viija, 1983
  • Alarapun aviopari ym. tarinoita, 1991 (äänikirja)
  • Savolainen soittaja; Aliina, 1991 (edited by Kari Levola)
  • Kotikyliltä: Kauppis-Heikin kirjeenvaihtoa, 2003
  • Kirottua työtä: kuvaus Savon kansan elämästä, 2015 (E-kirja)

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