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(Fritiof) Tito Colliander (1904 - 1989)



Swedish-speaking Finnish writer, the most significant interpreter of the Greek-Catholic view of life in the Finnish literature. Between the world wars Colliander was a central member of the artist colony of Kuokkala in the Karelian Isthmus, in the eastern part of Finland, where also the poet Edith Södergran had her last home. The theme of wandering is central in Colliander's fiction – in his own life the author restlessly moved from place to place.

"Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He arose and came (Luke 15:20)." (from Way of the Ascetics, 1952)

Tito Colliander was born into a cultural family in St. Petersburg. His father was Sigfried Joakim Colliander, an officer in the Russian army, and mother Dagmar Ilmatar (von Schoultz) Colliander. The family, which was liberal, first greeted joyfully the Revolution, but soon the reality turned into a nightmare. In his youth Colliander saw how a suspected thief was beaten to death, and this memory became a key to his works, from his novel Korståget (1937) to Gripen (1968), a book of memoirs. Also Colliander's novel Förbarma dig (1939) dealt with the theme of suffering and reconciliation. As in the novels of Dostoyevsky, Colliander examined through his characters deep religious and moral problems. Colliander's humanism and sensitivity to the plight of poor links him to the great 19th-century Russian writers.

At the age of seventeen Colliander met Solveig Segerstråle (von Schoultz), who was thirteen and became later a higly acclaimed writer. At that time Colliander collected insects and wanted to pursue the career of a doctor. The relationship and correspondence lasted about years, ending in 1925 when she broke with him. Colliander wrote very little about this matter in his memoirs, but Solveig von Schoultz recalled their love story in Pitkin vedenviivaa (1993). She later married the composer Erik Bergman, her second husband. Colliander married in 1930 Ina Behrsen (d. 1985); they had three children. Ina was an artist and refugee from Russia, who created a distinguishable career as a painter and graphic. In 1959 she was awarded the Pro Finlandia medal.  Because of Ina's impractical nature, Colliander hired domestic help so that they both could focus on their assignments instead of household work.

Colliander studied art in Turku from 1921 to 1923 and then worked as a teacher of art in Porvoo (1923-1928). After marriage he spent a year with Ina in the Karelian Isthmus, and returned to Helsinki in 1932. During the 1930s Ina participated in several exhibitions, concentrating especially on woodcut, a difficult medium, but less expensive than oil painting. After visiting the Petser Orthodox Monastery in Estonia, Tito and Ina joined the Orthodox Church. Between the years 1949 and 1953 Colliander studied at a Greek-Catholic seminary and worked as a teacher from 1950 to 1969 in Swedish-Finnish schools.

The old Russian culture and Orthodox religion of his childhood impressed deeply Colliander's entire production in art and literature. He published his first book, En vandrare, in 1930. It was followed by collections of short stories, novels, and collections of poetry in the 1930s and the 1940s. Taina (1935) was awarded the State literature prize. In the story a young woman, Taina, who has traveled over the ice to Finland, wanders into a small emigrant community. She doesn't remember much of her past, all her images are confused. Barbara Doll, an old woman, takes Taina into her protection and during her recuperation Taina finds love and God again. The book reflected Colliander's Orthodox belief, and his recollections from Kuokkala in the Villa Golicke, which was his family's summer home.

Ljuset (1936) told about a physicist who is blinded by the very subject he has studied his whole life, the nature of light. Colliander's breakthrough work was Korståget, which was based partly on his own life. The protagonist is young Tomas who escapes from revolutionary St. Petersburg to Finland. Tomas is haunted by a memory: his best friend was lynched because Tomas accused him of stealing a bread. At the end he experiences a religious conversion. The restless, wandering Thomas became the prototype of Colliander's heroes, outsiders, refugees, and cast-aways, who prove with their own story that security is only an illusion in life.

During the war years Colliander was, according to his memoirs, "adrift". The family lived in Kokemäki, Kirkkonummi, Kalajoki, Helsinki, Punkaharju, and spent time in hotels and bording houses. With Mika Waltari, Viljo Kajava, Maila Talvio, and Örnulf Tigerstedt he participated in 1942 in the Writer's Congress in Weimar, where the highlight was Joseph Goebbels's speech. Later Colliander refused to divide nations and individuals into criminals and innocents, in spite of war crimes trials. Economically the period was relatively good – royalties from his books came regularly. Korståget was translated into German (under the title Der Versprengte), Dutch, and Norwegian. Förbarma dig, translated by Helmut de Boor, was published as Erbarme dich: Erzählung in Switzerland. The story, a battle between good and bad, is narrated by a young boy, who describes his father, a dreamer, whose life is destroyed by a woman. In Grottan (1942), a marriage novel, the theme was the power of the irrationality of the mind. A central figure is an eight-year-old girl.  Träsnittet (1946), a long poem written for the disillusioned post-war readers, was illustrated by Ina Colliander. She was also her husband's first reader and trusted critic. 

In the 1950s Colliander devoted himself to theological studies. He also wrote a book on the Orthodox faith in 1951. By that time his novels from the 1930s and 1940s were mostly forgotten.

"Genom att se på ikonerna lär man sig att förstå sammanhangen, hur allting hänger ihop. Och när man läser de gamla texterna. Där blir det klart, att det inte är bara något som skett, men något som sker, alltid sker, varje stund in i evigheten." (from Början, 1979)

Vi som är kvar (1959) examined the question of quilt. The narrator is an invalid, who helps a girl but unintentionally pushes her to commit suicide. The seven-volume memoirs (1964-1973) was Colliander's major work after World War II. Its central themes are suffering, belief, and redemption. Colliander often avoids dates and years, he moves freely in time, from one impression to another. In one scene, depicting the narrator's wanderings in France, Colliander tells about his visit in a music cafe. An old Russian song, pleading Lord to hear the prayer, evokes images from his childhood, and he realizes that life is longing, eternal, never ending longing.

Colliander's memoirs came out first in Swedish. After their translation Colliander became perhaps more popular among Finnish readers, and interest arose into his older works. In 1968 Colliander was given an honorary doctorate at Åbo Akademi. Ikkuna (1984), a collection of short stories from the 1930s to the 1960s, appeared in Finnish in 1984, and Taina in 1993. Colliander also wrote plays and biographies of such artist as Ilja Repin (1942) and Tyko Sallinen (1948). Asketernas väg (1952), about the Christian way of life, has been translated into Finnish, English, and Russian. Colliander died in Helsinki on May 21, 1989. Some of his religious books are available at the new Valamo Monastery in Heinävesi.

For further reading: Det som har varit, det som är by Solveig von Schoultz, ed. by Inga-Britt Wik (1999); Aitoa ihmistä etsimässä: ihmisenä olemisen ongelma Tito Collianderin tuotannossa by Eira Herneberg (1989); Ihmisen ääni by Tito Colliander (1977); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Inas längtan. Ina Collianders brev till Sven Grönvall 1925-1974, ed. by Kati Bondestam (2005); Tito Colliander och den ryska heligheten by Astrid Andersson Wretmark (2008); Kirjeitä Innalle - Skeemaigumeni Johanneksen kirjeitä Ina Collianderille vuosilta 1947-1957, suom. Sergius Colliander (2014)   

Selected works:

  • En vandrare, 1930
  • Småstad, 1931
  • Kråkan och jag: en vers för små barn, 1932 (illustrated by Ina Behrsen-Colliander)
  • Huset, där det dracks, 1932
  • Bojorna, 1933
  • Glimtar från Tyskland: några anteckningar, 1934
  • Taina, 1935
    - Taina (suomentanut Eira Hernberg, 1993)
  • Direktör Brenner, 1936
  • Ljuset, 1936
  • Korståget, 1937
    - Ristisaatto (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1978)
  • Förbarma dig, 1939
    - Armahda meitä (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1976)
  • Dager är, 1940
  • Grottan, 1942
  • Ilja Repin: en konstrnär från Ukraina, 1942
    - Ilja Repin: ukrainalainen taiteilija (suom. Lauri Kemiläinen, 1944)
  • Den femte juli: J.Z. Duncker och Savolaxbrigaden, 1943
    - Heinäkuun viides päivä: J. Z. Duncker ja Savon prikaati (suom. Helka Varho, 1944)
  • Två timmar och andra noveller, 1944
  • Bliv till, 1945
  • Vart tog det livet vägen, 1945
  • Ilja Repins undomsår, 1946
  • Träsnittet, 1946
  • Två timmar, 1946
  • Riksmomentet, 1947
  • Sallinen, 1948
    - Sallinen (suom. Jarl Louhija, 1949)
  • I årtal, 1949
  • Grekisk-ortodox tro och livssyn, 1951
    - Kreikkalais-ortodoksinen usko ja elämännäkemys (suom. Paula Kononen, 1952) / Ortodoksinen usko ja elämännäkemys (suom. Paula Kononen, 1982)
  • Asketernas väg, 1952
    - Kristityn tie (suom. Paula Kononen, 1957)
    - The Way of the Ascetics (translated by Katharine Ferré, 1960) / Way of the Ascetics: The Ancient Tradition of Discipline and Inner Growth (translated by Katharine Ferré, 1985)
  • Kristillisyys ja kulttuuri, 1953
  • Farled 1936-1953, 1954
  • Samtal med smärtan: anteckningar 1953-1956, 1956
  • Fönster: noveller i urval 1932-1955, 1956
  • Glädjes möte, 1957
  • Nu och alltid: studier i ortodox kristendom, 1958
  • Vår helige faders Johannes Chrysostomos gudomliga liturgi, 1958
  • Vi som är kvar, 1959
  • Med öppna händer, 1960
  • På en trappa: dikter 1941-1961, 1961
  • Bevarat, 1964
    - Lapsuuteni huvilat (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1967)
  • Vidare, 1967
    - Nuoruuden sillat (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1970)
  • Givet, 1968
    - Kahdet kasvot (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1971)
  • Gripen, 1968
    - Aarnikotka (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1968)
  • Vaka, 1969
    - Kohtaaminen (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1972)
  • Nära, 1971
    - Lähellä (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1973)
  • Måltid, 1973
    - Ateria (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1975)
  • Nya Valamo, 1974 (with Pertti Hietanen)
  • Niille, jotka haluavat osallistua jumalanpalvelusyhteyteen , 1975
  • Ihmisen ääni, 1977 (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • Motiv, 1977
  • Början, 1979
    - Alku (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1969)
  • Sju sagor, 1981 (illustrated by  Kati Bondestam)
    - Seitsemän satua (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1981)
  • Blick: ett urval uppsatser och föredrag om religion 1960-1980, 1981
    - Uskosta: valikoima kirjoituksia ja esitelmiä 1960-1980, 1982 (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • Ikkuna: novelleja, 1984 (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • Sanat ja hiljaisuus, 1988 (toim. Harri Saukkomaa; suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, Raija Jänicke)
  • Luostarin kirkossa, 1992 (2nd, rev. ed.)


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