Literature of Finland

The history of written literature in Finland begins with the Reformation in the 16th century. The folk poetry, which had lived as an oral tradition, already had a long history behind it.

Poetry on so-called calalameters dates back over 2000 years. A central theme of the epic poems is heroic stories, as well as stories of the creation of the world and the creation of fire. The collection and record of folk poetry has been thorough in Finland. The work culminated in 1849 with the completion of the epic Kalevala (Norwegian translation in 1967), which was composed by Elias Lönnrot(1802 to 1884). Kalevala is Finland’s national post, and its influence on the later culture is extensive. The epic has been translated into 59 languages. The influence of national poetry on national identity, literature and culture in general has been very great. The Finnish archive for folk poetry is the largest of its kind worldwide.

Literature of Finland

The earliest period of written literature

Finnish literature has always been published in two languages: Finnish and Swedish. The development of the literature is closely related to the three main periods in Finland’s history: the Swedish era until 1809, the period under Russian rule or the autonomy period 1809–1917 and the independence period from 1917.

The first book printed for Finland is the trade book Missale Aboense (1488) in Latin. This is regarded as the start of Finland’s literary publication. It was Mikael Agricola (c. 1510–1557), priest and later bishop of Turku, who published the first Finnish-language books. ABCkiria (ABC book) was published around 1537–1543, a Finnish translation of the New Testament in 1548. Agricola himself developed an orthography for the Finnish language and created hundreds of new words. The whole Bible was published in Finnish in 1642.

In 1809 Sweden lost Finland to Russia. Cultural life in Finland also changed abruptly. The relationship with Sweden became weaker, and the Finnish cultural workers set themselves the main goal of creating a Finnish culture. In the 1820s and 1830s, associations and newspapers emerged that promoted the subtlety case. Creating their own national culture was among others Adolf Ivar Arwidsson ‘s (1791-1858) and Carl Axel Gottlund ‘s (1796-1875) life work. The Finnish Literary Society (Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura ) was founded in 1831. Today, it is one of the country’s largest cultural institutions.

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804-1877) began his romantic depiction of the epic poems Elgskyttarne (1832) and Julqvällen (1841). Runeberg’s main work, the epic poem about the Finnish war and its personal gallery, Fänrik Stål’s saga (two parts published in 1848 and 1860), gave him a position as national call.

The release of Kalevala in 1849 increased the Finns’ national self-esteem and gave credence to the language’s potential. Johan Vilhelm Snellman (1806–1881) created a national philosophy and emphasized the value of the vernacular and tradition. In 1863, Finnish official language became in line with Swedish. Zacharias Topelius (1818–1898) wrote popular adventures and historical novels.

The emergence of Finnish-language literature

Until 1860, a censorship regulation prohibited the publication of literature in Finnish other than literature of a religious or economic nature. Aleksis Kivi (1834–1872) published the first Finnish-language novel in 1870. Seven brothers (original title: Seitsemän veljestä. Norwegian translations in 1939, 1960 and 1997) are still one of Finland’s greatest classics. The novel tells in a colorful and humorous way about seven brothers who moved as settlers into the wilderness; about their philosophy of life, how they managed and their return to society. Kivi also wrote plays and poems. Kivi was recognized only after his early, tragic death.

Realism in the 1880s and 1890s

Industrialization, urbanization and new social ideas, such as the labor movement, demands for equality and the women’s issue, made new demands on the literature. Minna Canth (1844–1997) wrote short stories and plays about the woman’s weak position and the difference between the poor and the rich. For example, the plays Työmiehen vaimo (1885, The Worker’s Wife) and Kovan onnen lapsia (1888, The Child of Hard Fate) contain sharp criticisms of money power and women’s oppression. Juhani Aho (1861-1921) portrays people in the countryside with warmth and humor, but criticizes the rulers. Aho also portrays the formed class and life of the bourgeois women in their novels Papin tytär(1885, Priesthood) and Papin rouva (1893, Priesthood). Teuvo Pakkala ‘s (1862–1925) environment is poor in a small town in the north. In the novels Vaaralla (1891, Åstoppen) and Elsa (1894, Elsa), the theme is especially the heavy life children and women had. Arvid Järnefelt (1861-1932) concentrates on portraying the ideas and spiritual conflicts of the time. In the novel Isänmaa (1893, Fatherland), a young student from the country looks for his place in life.

The National Kidney Romance

Towards the end of the 1890s, romance begins to gain a foothold in literature, especially so-called Karelianism, an idealistic interest directed at Karelia. Eino Leino ‘s (1878–1926) expressive, melodic and rhythmic poetry addresses strong classical themes: love, pain over loss, death, joy and comfort found in nature. Leino also uses folk poetry themes and calamity. He is Finland’s most widely read and beloved poet of all time and has also written novels, stories and criticisms of literature.

The time of the great folk

Ilmari Kianto ‘s (1874-1970) novels Punainen viiva (1909, The Red Line) and Ryysyrannan Jooseppi (1924, Jooseppi from Ryysyranta) are major Finnish classics depicting life among poor people in the countryside. These books unite realism and humor, as in Joel Lehtonen’s (1881–1934) Putkinotko (1919–1920, In Putkinotko). Maiju Lassila’s (really Algoth Untola, 1868-1918) prose is characterized by popular situational comics. Johannes Linnankoskis (1869–1913) The song about the fiery red flower, published 1905 (original title: Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta,1938), was the first Finnish bestseller. The novel tells of a young man’s love adventure and the victory of idealistic love. Volter Kilpi (1874–1939) wrote detailed depictions of the archipelago. His main work is Alastalon salissa (1933, In Alastalo’s storeroom). Maria Jotuni (1880–1943) is a distinctive Impressionist, a master novelist, who in her scarce style depicts women’s living conditions. Jotuni is also a popular playwright. Aino Kallas (1878–1956) moved to Estonia as a young man, writing mythical and realistic short stories and novels about Estonian folk life. Frans Eemil Sillanpääs(1888-1964) prose describes the unity between man and nature, the meaning of biology for life. In his novels and short stories, he portrays man as subject to the laws of nature, but also emphasizes the importance of society to the individual. Sillanpää was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1939.


The need for a renewal of the form of expression led from the 1920s to a break in both the Finnish-language and the Swedish-language lyric. Free rhythm and free verse, abundant use of metaphors and the use of spoken language in the poetry began with the Swedish-language Edith Södergran ‘s (1892–1923) production. Elmer Diktonius (1896–1961), Rabbe Enckell (1903–1974) and Hagar Olsson (1893–1978) are the group’s most well-known names.

From the Finnish-speaking team, the author group, the Torchbearers, with their slogan “The windows open to Europe” expressed an urban, international and free view of life. Some of the best known poets were Uuno Kailas (1901-1933), Katri Vala (1901-1944), Elina Vaara (1903-1980) and Lauri Viljanen (1900-1984). Other important poets of this time are Aaro Hellaakoski (1893–1952), P. Mustapää; pseudonym for Martti Haavio (1899–1973) and Kaarlo Sarkia (1902–1945). The most famous prose torch bearer is the versatile Mika Waltari (1908-1979), who wrote popular novels and short stories. Waltari’s Philosophical NovelSinuhe, Egypt Egypt (1945; in Norwegian Egypt Sinuhe, 1948), whose action has been added to the ancient world, was translated into 30 languages ​​and achieved world fame.

1930s and 1940s prose

Key themes of Pentti Haanpää (1905–1955) and Toivo Pekkanen (1902–1957) are a just society. Haanpää is an ironic and an accomplished master of language, Pekkanen a classic in the work literature. Iris Uurto (1905–1994) and Helvi Hämäläinen (1907–1998) use a psychological narrative approach in their human portrayals. The playwright Hella Wuolijoki’s (1886–1954) Niskavuori series (1936–1953) gained great popularity, which has continued in theaters and cinemas to this day.

Literature in the post-war period

Eila Pennanen ‘s (1916–1994) long author career is centered on the portrayal of women’s everyday lives and their close history. Lauri Viita (1916-1965) is a language virtuoso who renews the genealogy tradition with her novel Moreeni (1950, Morenen). Marja-Liisa Vartio (1924–1966) develops the expressions of the prose in an impressionistic direction and depicts the great significance of emotions in everyday life. Veikko Huovinen (1927–2009) is a great humorist. His rural people are philosophizing about the great world events.

Väinö Linna (1920–1992) is the most prominent author in Finnish literature. Unknown Soldier ( Tuntematon sotilas, 1954, Norwegian translation 1956), is a realistic war book that had an outstanding success. It tells of the life of a machine gun company during Finland’s recent war against Russia (1941-1944); about men’s humor, courage and fear. The trilogy Täällä Pohjantähden alla (1959–1962, also translated into Norwegian) depicts the close story throughout the life of the Koskela family. The history covers, among other things, the Civil War in 1918 and World War II. A literary discussion of these themes was something new in Linnaeus’ time and something that seemed outrageous to people’s emotions. The many film formations of the books have increased Lina’s popularity.

Veijo Meri (1928–2015) writes about the meaninglessness of war and about the absurd twists and turns that life can take. Paavo Rintala (1930–1999) is a realist and ethicist, a master of the collage novel. Eeva Joenpelto’s (1921–2004) Lohja series portrays the close story from a women’s perspective, as does Eeva Kilpi’s (born 1928) production.

In the lyrics, Pentti Saarikoski (1937–1983) emerged as a central figure in the new poetry. In parallel with him, among others, Matti Rossi (1934–2017), Aulikki Oksanen (born 1944) and Pentti Saaritsa (born 1941) wrote social-critical lyric, including lyrics.

The latest prose

Hannu Salama (born 1936) continues the epic work literature tradition, as does Alpo Ruuth (1943–2002) and Lassi Sinkkonen (1937–1976). Antti Tuuris (born 1944) and Orvokki Autios (born 1941) depictions of people and mentality are concentrated on Österbotten, while Heikki Turunen ‘s (born 1945) depiction is linked to North Karelia. Anu Kaipainen (1933–2009) unites in his prose myths and everyday realism. Kalle Päätalos (1919–2000) great romance series from the forestry community in Kainuu became a sales success. Laila Hietamies (born 1938), Kaari Utrio (born 1942) and Leena Lander(born 1955) writes popular historical novels. Timo K. Mukka (1944–1973) depicts the life of a village in the north characterized by religion and myths.

Erno Paasilinna (1935–2000) specialized in satirical and humorous short prose and social analysis. Olli Jalonen (born 1954) discusses the ethical issues of everyday life, Joni Skiftesvik (born 1948) relies in his short stories on an oral storytelling tradition. Arto Paasilinnas (born 1942) humorous and eventful novels ended up on top of sales statistics, some of which have been translated into over 20 languages.

Rosa Liksom (born 1958) uses dialect and slang in her short stories, which have a touch of absurd humor. Annika Idström (1947–2011) gets stuck in the shadowy aspects of human relationships and in the power relations within the family. Anja Snellman ( born Kauranen 1954) presents a rebellious, sexually liberated woman. Leena Lehtolainen ‘s (born 1964) crime novels highlight the female detective novel.

Kari Hotakainen ‘s (born 1957) humorous and poignant storytelling brought him, among other things, the Nordic Council Literature Prize in 2004 for the novel On the Home Front, published 2002 (original title: Juoksuhaudantie. Norwegian translation 2004). Jari Tervos’s (born 1959) fabulous humor and Pirjo Hassinen ‘s (born 1957) sensual and symbolic novels are also among the most visible literature at the beginning of the 2000s.

The crime novel is valued as a genre; key representatives in addition to Leena Lehtolainen (born 1964) are Pentti Kirstilä (born 1948), Matti Yrjänä Joensuu (1948–2011), Harri Nykänen (born 1953), Ilkka Remes (born 1962) and Markku Ropponen (born 1955).

Finnish-Swedish literature

The first known author of Finnish literature is the monk Jöns Budde (1437–1491), whose works are of particular interest as linguistic documents. The most prominent name of the Reformation era is the astrologer Sigfrid Aron Forsius (c. 1550–1624) and historian Johannes Messenius (1580–1636). After Åbo Akademi was founded in 1640, this became the centerpiece of the country’s literary culture, and in the same city was the first Finnish printing house founded in 1642.

Literary life started slowly. Certain school dramas and poetry collections – apart from some scholars, especially theological works in Latin – were the only ones this century produced. The two most important poets of liberty, Jacob Frese (1690–1729) and Gustaf Philip Creutz (1731–1785), both worked in Sweden.

During the Enlightenment, scientific thinking is starting to take hold in Finland as well. A most strange practical-economic writer is the priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803), a far-sighted advocate for freedom of business, religion and printing. Pioneering and schooling for Finnish historical research was the fruitful and versatile collector and critic Henrik Gabriel Porthan (1739-1804). The Gustavian era ushered in a flourishing of Swedish poetry in Finland. The highlight was reached with Frans Michael Franzén (1772-1847).

Johan Ludvig Runeberg (1804–1877) – Finland’s national call – became the first Swedish-language poet to reach a large audience across the country in Finnish translations. He wrote pure national romanticism with idyllic folk and nature depictions, and his melodic and powerfully sounding poetry form has appealed to readers for several generations. In the main work, the epic poem cycle Fänrik Ståls saggner (published in two parts in 1848 and 1860), among other things, gives a beautiful expression of the love of the Finnish people’s fatherland.

Zacharias Topelius ‘ (1818–1898) overflowing productivity manifests itself in all genres of poetry. Alongside them was in this golden age Fredrik Cygnaus (1807–1881), a creative lyrical and dramatic writer. Josef Julius Wecksell (1838-1907) bestowed on Swedish-Finnish literature its most outstanding drama, Daniel Hjort. Among the most prominent writers of the 19th century, Johan Vilhelm Snellman (1806–1881) is a significant thinker, statesman and publicist.

The pioneer of modern realism was Karl August Tavaststjerna (1860–1898), whose novels and short stories signify a breakthrough. Prominent lyricists are Hjalmar Procopé (1868-1927), Arvid Mörne (1876-1946) and Bertel Gripenberg (1878-1947). One of the most significant Swedish-Finnish literature was the lyricist and playwright Runar Schildt (1888–1925).

With Edith Södergran’s (1892–1923) lyric, early modernism gained its voice in Finnish literature. Contemporary Hagar Olsson (1893–1978) programmed modernism. Elmer Diktonius (1896–1961) unites in his lyric revolutionary pathos with discerning will, Rabbe Enckell (1903–1974) is influenced by symbolism, Solveig von Schoultz (1907–1996) is one of the finest female voices in contemporary lyric and Gunnar Björling (1887-1960) experiments with language.

With the modernist school began a poetic flowering period that is not yet over. Of recent names should be highlighted Bo Carpelan (1926–2011), Christer Kihlman (born 1930) and Lars Huldén (1926–2016). After a vigorous debate about the Finnish lyric in 1965, the so-called FBT group was formed around a separate journal. The main characters here are the psychiatrist Claes Andersson (born 1937), Mauritz Nylund (1925–2012) and Tom Sandell (born 1936), who all represent a strong social commitment. Anni Blomqvist’s (1909-1990) popular romance series about the fishing wife Stormskärs-Maja describes the hard and poor life in Ålandin the 1800’s. In the lyrics, Gösta Ågren (born 1936) stands out with his ethnic awareness and lush language.

Tito Colliander (1904–1989) in his novels combines religious mysticism with violent naturalism; Olof Enckell (1900–1989) is simultaneously analytically and lyrically sensitive. Also introspective is Miriam Tuominen (1913-1967) with his self-analytical short stories. On the traditional grounds, on the other hand, is the proletarian painter Anna Bondestam (1907–1995) and the minimalist and popular epic Sally Salminen (1906–1976), with her very popular Åland novel Katrina (1936).

Recent significant prose artists include Kerstin Söderholm (1897–1943), Barbro Mörne (1903–1987), Henry Parland (1908–1930), Walentin Chorell (1912–1983) and Marianne Alopaeus (1918–2014). Bo Carpelan (1926–2011) was also an excellent prosaist; the novel Urwind (1993) became a bestseller. In addition, European fame has got Tove Jansson (1914-2001) with his books on the Mummy Trolls and their world. Christer Kihlman (born 1930), Jörn Donner (born 1933), Johan Bargum (born 1943), Ulla-Lena Lundberg (born 1947), Ralf Nordgren (1936–2014),Henrik Tikkanen (1924–1984) and Märta Tikkanen (born 1935) have become the most prominent contemporary writers in Finnish literature.

Merete Mazzarella (born 1945) is a literary scholar and essayist, and in her fictional works she uses autobiographical material from her upbringing as a diplomatic daughter in many parts of the world. Humor and satire characterize her cultivated storytelling style. Pirkko Lindberg (born 1942) writes a lot about being ecologically conscious and socially fair. The novel Byte (1989) was followed by the travelogue Tramp (1993). Lars Sund (born 1953) is known for his lush prose – in the novel Colorado Avenue (1991) he uses the emigration from Ostrobothnia to America as literary material.

Kjell Westö (born 1961) writes sharply analytically about modern lifestyles. He got his breakthrough with Drakarna across Helsinki (1996), the first of his four Helsinki novels, and later gained wide and wide recognition for several novels from 20th century Finnish history. For Fraud 1938 (2014) he was awarded the Nordic Council Literature Prize.

Monika Fagerholm (born 1961) made her breakthrough with the novel Wonderful Women on the Water (1994; filmed 1998) and later consolidated her position as an intense and imaginative portrayal of recent decades, including with the novel The American Girl (2004).