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||Eila Pennanen (1916 - 1994)|
Prolific translator and one of the most significant female novelists in Finland after World War II. During her long career, Eila Pennanen dealt with religious movements, historical incidents, the female soul, and the rise of the Finnish working and middle class. Especially in her later novels, Pennanen paid attention to marginalized people, dominated by stronger persons. Her major work in the 1970s was the Tampere trilogy, Himmun rakkaudet (1971), Koreuden tähden (1972), and Ruusuköynnös (1973), which partly drew on her own family history.
Thank you for these illusions,
Eila Pennanen was born in Tampere, the youngest daughter of the factory director Hugo Pennanen and Hilma (Enegren) Pennanen. In her youth she read widely from detective novels to Shakespeare and Ibsen, and became enthusiastic about philosophy, Nietzsche, Brandes, Freud – but Marx was out of the question. Pennanen's cousin was the future writer Jarno Pennanen, who later in his diary recalled playing children's games with her; she was five and Jarno was fifteen. Her elder brother Leo became a clergyman; his book on graphology, Käsiala kertoo (1944), has been reprinted several times.
At the age of sixteen, Pennanen had a female crush on a girl called Lappe. With Jarno, who wanted to seduce her, she discussed her homoerotic attachment. (Oidipus oli mies: psykohistoriallinen elämäkerta Eila Pennasesta vuoteen 1952 saakka by Saara Kesävuori, 2003, pp. 211-214, 294-296) After graduating from a secondary school in 1936, Pennanen entered the University of Helsinki, receiving her M.A. in 1940. To support herself, Pennanen worked as a private tutor. In 1947 she completed her examination in librarianship.
In 1940 Pennanen joined the Lotta Svärd organization. During
Winter War (1939) and the Continuation War (1941-44), Pennanen was for
a short time in labor service in Leppävirta and in the northern
Karelia. From 1943 to 1948 she worked as an archivist at the
publishing company WSOY, her own publisher, and then at an advertising
Between 1952 and 1957 Pennanen was the subeditor of the literature magazine Parnasso, a mouthpiece of modernism, which had been established in 1951. Pennanen avoided taking clear a side in the cultural debates, but when she participated under the pseudonym Mrs Writer in the discussion book Toiset pidot tornissa (1954), she critized elitism and self-satisfaction of educated middle-class people. At the University of Helsinki she taught from 1967 to 1978.
Pennanen wrote her first book, Ennen sotaa oli nuoruus (1942), rapidly after returning from Karelia. Its title, 'Berofe the war there was youth,' summarized the experience of her generation. Partly the book drew on her experiences at the university. With this work Pennanen began her career as a writer which spanned fifty years. Her early works, Kaadetut pihlajat (1944), a return to childhood, Proomu lähtee yöllä (1945), and Pilvet vyöryvät (1947), a marriage novel, showed influenced by the Finnish literature of the thirties, but her style reflected the changes in contemporary life. The protagonist of Pilvet vyöryvät is Onni Oinaala, who has got syphilis during the war, and has contracted his wife Anni too. Onni's mistress commits suicide after having an abortion. Following a period of heavy drinking, Onni shoots himelf. The novel was dismissed by the influential critic and poet V.A. Koskenniemi as superfluous. Pennanen's short story collections, Tornitalo (1952), Pasianssi (1957), and Pientä rakkautta (1969) examined the relationship of an individual and the society.
"Uskonto, seksuaalisuus, taide ovat kaikki ihmisen yksilöllisiä ilmaisuprosesseja. Uskonnonvapaus, seksualiteetin vapaus ja taiteen vapaus ovat individualistisia oikeuksia, ja näitten oikeuksien puute synnytti sellaisen kirjailijan, joka minä olin vuonna 1942." (from Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, 1969)
In the 1950s Pennanen published historical novels. With with the support of a stipend, she travelled in 1951 in France, Italy, and England, collecting material for these works. Pyhä Birgitta (1954) depicted the medieval Swedish mystic Saint Birgitta, a widow and mother of eight children, who tries to persuade the pope to return to Rome from Avignon. Largely based on dialogue, it broke with the tradition of Finnish historical novels which center around adventures rather than individuals. Valon lapset (1958) focused on the birth of Quaker movement in the 17th-century England.
Pennanen followed social changes and currents through the experience of her insecure, bewildered characters. In the 1960s and '70s Pennanen dealt with restrained critic contemporary issues, often using the art of understatement. Mongolit (1966) took its subject from the bewilderment of the pre-war generation facing changes in their lives. The satirical Naisen kunnia (1975) was set in the narrow literary circles, and the double novel Kapakoitten maa (1977) and Lapsuuden lupaus (1979) portrayed the decline of a business family and its alcoholozed younger members. The theme of alcoholism was also central in her radio play Äiti ja poika (1979, Mother and Son).
Pennanen's most important work from the 1970s was the Tampere trilogy. It portrayed lower middle-class life from the late 19th-century to the to stormy social changes of the General Strike of 1905 and to parliamentary reform. The story, set in the rapidly developing town of Tampere, included among its characters actual historical figures and well as a number of the author's relatives. Her historical family story continued in Santalahden aika (1986), and Kulmatalon perhe (1988), bringing the events on the early independende years.
"Poems are written out of spontaneous emotions. Writing poetry is liberation self, is happiness, even if it originates in tragedy, is victory. Poems are music and joy, convey the strenght of peace, give new strenght of life." (Eila Pennanen in Thank You for These Illusions, 1970)
As a multifaceted and productive writer, Eila Pennanen wrote also essays, plays, and radio dramas. She wrote about Finnish classics, such Finnish authors of popular fiction as Mauri Sariola, and her favorite English-language writers E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, William Golding. Her first radio playe were Kauan sitten (1956), based on a novel, and Kylmät kasvot (1960), which she regarded as a failure. In the 1970s her radio dramas were directed by Marja Rankkala, beginning from Kultaiset leijonankäpälät (1971); the cast included Marita Nordberg, Seela Sella and Rauno Ketonen. Pennanen once said that she is not an "audio personality" and writing for the ear was not natural for her. However, she received the Radio Play Award of the Blind for Kultaiset leijonankäpälät and the Nordic Prize for Radio Drama for Mies ja hänen kolme vaimoaan (1978).
Between the years 1952 and 1980 Pennanen published five expertly written collections of short stories. In the role of a translator she was omnivorous – moving easily from Agatha Christie's mystery novels to modern African literature. When the poet and translator Pentti Saarikoski tried to participate in her seminar on translating, she said: "This is not for a genius like you, Pentti." (Pentti Saarikoski: vuodet 1964-1983 by Pekka Tarkka, 2004, p. 312) Pennanen's later, acclaimed translations, include the first two volumes Tolkien's trilogy Taru sormusten herrasta (Lord of the Rings); the third, Taru Sormusten herrasta 3: Kuninkaan paluu, was translated by Kersti Juva. 1975 Pennanen was a member of the National Council for Literature (1966-1970, 1974-76). She received several literary awards from her own works and translations, among them Aleksis Kivi Award in 1965. Pennanen died on January 23, 1994.
Pennanen was married twice, first to the actor Alpo Vammelvuo, who was seven years her junior. They had two sons. After divorce in 1953 she married in 1961 Juhani Jaskari; they divorced in 1973. Vammelvuo was bisexual, he killed himself in 1963, at the age of 40. With her second husband, Pennanen translated into Finnish several works by Vladimir Nabokov.
For further reading: Hitaasti kudotut nopeat hetket: kirjoittamisen assosiaatiosta 1900-luvun suomalaisessa proosassa by Olli Jalonen (2006); Oidipus oli mies: psykohistoriallinen elämäkerta Eila Pennasesta vuoteen 1952 saakka by Saara Kesävuori (2003); 'Pennanen' by Markku Envall, in A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); 'Eila Pennanen,' in Miten kuunnelmani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Matti Savolainen (1983); 'Eila Pennanen - Reality versus Morality' by Pekka Tarkka, in Books from Finland (3/1982); 'Eila Pennanen,' in A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Tervetultua tervemenoa by Jarno Pennanen (1970); Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Ritva Rainio (1969)