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|Juhani Aho (1861-1921) - surname until 1907 Brofeldt, pen names Siltanen, J.S-n, Jussi|
Journalist and the first Finnish professional writer, best known Finnish author in Scandinavia in his own time, who specialized in short stories called "lastuja" (splinters). Although Aho chose his subjects from Finnish folk life, his works were far from provincial. They reflected consciously modern literary movements, especially realism, which is seen in his first novel Rautatie from the year 1884. Aho also translated such writers as Kielland, Daudet, Lagerlöf, Hugo, and Maeterlinck.
"The man had succeeded, however, in clearing out a little bit of the wilderness. A small strip of cornland of about a couple of acres in width and about half as much land dug up for sowing formed an opening in the forest. But at this point his powers seemed to have broken down. The birch-wood he had felled and the alder groves he had changed into meadows. But behind them stood the dark pine forest like an insurmountable wall. There he had been obliged to stop short." (in 'Pioneers')
Juhani Aho was born in Lapinlahti. The family moved to the parsonage of Vieremä in 1884, when his father, Th. Brofeldt, was appointed minister of Iisalmi. His mother, née Emma Snellman, came from a pietistic family. Later in his books Aho depicted remote and idyllic parsonages, among others in Papin rouva [The Clergyman's Wife]. From 1872 to 1880 Aho studied in Kuopio, where he fell in love with Mrs. Järnefelt, more than twenty-years his senior. During this period he started to write poems under the influence of J.L. Runeberg, and later translated his works into Finnish. He read also Heine and Schiller.
In 1880 Aho entered the University of Helsinki, where he studied the classic languages until 1884 without graduating. During this period, he befriended with the older writer Arvid Järnefelt and his family. Järnefelt wrote in 1930 that he had never met anybody, who was more enthusiastic and passionate about his work than Aho.
"People don't dare to live now as Nature bids them. It is an eternal avoiding opportunities and balancing chances. Not one in a hundred years is really loyal at heart. Now look at those people there! Their life is something different. They know nothing about the silly prejudices of educated people. They all enjoy life in its fullness, the women as well as the educated men. That is why they all are so fresh, gay, and lively. They know how to celebrate their midsummer fête, and rejoice in the feast of the sun." (in 'Loyal')
Aho began to work as a journalist, contributing in the following decades to a number of newspapers. His first book, Siihen aikaan kun isä lampun osti, was published in 1883. In this and subsequent short stories, Aho showed his skill in registering small, but profound changes in everyday life and material culture in the rapidly modernizing country. In the title tale, 'When Father Brought Home the Lamp' a farmer buys an oil lamp and its light an optimistic symbol of progress, perhaps astonishes his family and his neighbors. "It was known all over the parish that our house was the first, after the parsonage, where the lamp had been used. After we had set the example, the magistrate bought a lamp like ours, but as he had never learned to light it, he was glad to sell it to the innkeeper, and the innkeeper has it still."
In 1884 appeared Aho's first major work, Rautatie [Railway], a humorous story of a country couple Matti and Liisa, who embark on their first railway journey. When Minna Canth read the manuscript, she got so enthusiastic that she compared Aho to Gogol and Zola. In 1921 Rautatie had become the bestselling work of fiction after Kalevala and Vänrikki Stoolin tarinat. Papin tytär (1885) and Papin rouva (1893) consider the aspirations and ultimate disappointments of the intellectually gifted and emotionally thwarted Elli. In both of these novels Aho developed his philosophy of freedom, and expressed his longing to escape from the confinements of dull everyday obligations. As a journalist he advocated new ideas and attacked conservatism of the clergy.
In 1886 Aho edited in Jyväskylä with his brother Pekka Brofeldt the newspaper Keski-Suomi, from 1887 to 1889 he worked in Kuopio for the newspaper Savo, and in 1889 he joined the founders of Päivälehti, the mouthpiece for Young Finland. In his novel Helsinkiin (1889) Aho drew a portrait of a young student who moves from a small town to a metropol and is swept into the joys of the city life. "When Antti had taken a few sips from his glass, he began to feel a charm he had never felt before. It was as if he had wings, a blissful feeling. For the first time he was realizing what a student's life was, what Helsinki was and what freedom and independence were! He began to feel freer and happier. His courage grew, he was already chattering fearlessly, telling all sorts of tales and making others laugh. The general friendliness seemed to be growing. Clearly, he was the unanimous centre of attention at his table, just as Kalle was his." (transl. by Herbert Lomas, in Helsinki: a literary companion, 2000)
Aho lived in Paris from autumn 1889 to summer 1890 as a correspondent and reported on the World Fair Paris 1889. Movements in French literature, realism and naturalism, left traces in Aho's work. Especially his short stories, collections of lastuja "shavings" or "splinters" showed the influence of Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897), whose Letters from My Windmill (1869) wasn't translated into Finnish until 1907.
While in Paris, Aho wrote the melancholic short story 'Yksin' (1890), which shocked Finnish readers. The protagonist spends a night with a prostitute, and this scene caused much controversy. Yksin spoiled also the Christmas of the composer Jean Sibelius, who read it in Vienna and recognized in the character of Anna his fiancée Aino Järnefelt; Anna is the love of the narrator. After 111 years, the story is due to appear in French, translated by Bénédicte Villain.
In 1891 Aho married the artist Venny Soldan-Brofeldt (1863-1945), with whom he went to Russian Carelia and Italy. Aho had two children with Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, Antti and Heikki. From his relationship with Matilda (Tilly) Soldan (1873-1931), Venny's sister, he had a son, Björn. When the sisters agreed the share him, Aho adjusted himself to their needs. Basically Aho was a conservative, and a melancholic, who felt nostalgia for the past.
The turn in Aho's work occurred with his neoromantic novel Panu (1897), set in Russian Karelia where he had made his own pilgrimage in 1892. Aho studied folklore and knew both the practice of magic by the old shamans. The eponymous hero is a shaman, the last champion of paganism in the 17th-century Karelia. His antagonist is the local parson, whose triumphant Christianity is not without corrupt shadows. Panu's uncle Jorma preserves his pantheism and withdraws from the new era ever farther into the forest.
In 1897 the Ahos moved to Tuusula. In the 1900s, the Tuusula lake shore attracted many artist, writers, and prominent personalities in Finnish cultural life, among others J.H. Erkko, Pekka Halonen, Eero Järnefelt (see also: Arvid Järnefelt), and Jean Sibelius. Aho liked to outdoor activities, long walks, mountain climbing, ski trips, and fishing, a pastime which he connected with spiritual values like Izaak Walton, whose classic book The Compleat Angler was familiar to him. Although Aho also was a hunter, he expressed his disgust in one of his short stories at senseless slaughtering of the animals.
From 1893 to 1903 Aho was a staff member of Uusi Kuvalehti. Besides biographies and memoirs, his later works include novels, such as Juha (1911), about adultery and suicide, Omatunto (1914), written while he was a member of the Board of Tustees of the Finnish National Theater, and Rauhan erakko (1916), about a man who lives in protest as a hermit in the Tyrolian Alps. Kevät ja takatalvi (1906) was an allegorically national awakening in the 1840s, and the political regression that followed it. In Juha an honest, hardworking settler, who is burdened by an ugly appearance and a lame leg, loses his young wife, Marja, to a Russian Karelian peddler, Shemeikka. Marja finds herself in Shemeikka's harem, and goes back with Juha when he comes to fetch her. When it becomes clear that Marja followed Shemeikka more than willingly, Juha lets his boat drift into the rapids, to suicide.
Aho continued to write for another ten years or so, but he never again achieved the intensity of Juha. As a writer Aho was highly respected and influential Finnish politicians suggested him as the Finnish candidate for the Nobel Prize in literature. He traveled in Italy and Switzerland and published from this journeys travel books. Aho's later work depart from his realistic beginnings. During the Finnish Civil War (1917-18) he read Roman Rolland's Jean Christophe and recorded his thought in Hajamieteitä kapinaviikoilta (1918-19). "Tulee kulumaan miespolvi, ennenkuin vuodatetun veren muisto häpyy ja haudoilta molemmin puolin voidaan kukkia poimia. Ellei joku yhteinen vaara ja sen torjumine sulata kansaa yhteen?" After the war he became more introspective and pacifistic in views.
A humanist Aho, tried to find the middle way between the Reds, who were beaten, and the victorious Whites with their conservative culture politics. He could not tolerate Bolshevism but as a liberal he understood Socialists who advocated important reforms. Aho's last work was a lyrical, impressionistic novel, Muistatko -? (1920), in which the main character tries to overcome the feeling of depression by returning to childhood memories and fantasy. Aho died in Helsinki on August 8, 1921. Rautatie, Juha, and short "shavings" remained highly popular for decades after his death. Aho was considered mostly as a 'portrayer of people' and humorist, but the significance of his work dealing with the educated class has been recognized since 1980s. For a modern reader Aho's language doesn't appear too old-fashioned. In 1999 the film director Aki Kaurismäki adapted Juha to the screen it was the fourth adaptation and exceptionally a silent film. The television drama Venny (2003), directed by Pekka Ruohoranta and written by Liisa Urpelainen, was based om the triangle drama of Aho, Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, and Tilly Soldan.
For further reading: Juhani Ahon sanataide by Kaarlo Nieminen (1934); Voices from Finland, ed. Elli Tompuri (1947); Juhani Aho by Antti J. Aho (1951); Kymmenen tutkielmaa Juhani Ahosta by Rafael Koskimies (1975); Juhani Aho by Juhani Niemi (1985); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. George C. Schoolfield (1998); Kuvassa oikealla Juhani Aho by Tarja-Liisa Hypén (1999); Neiti Soldan by Tuula Levo (2000 - note: a novel); Aika Pariisissa. Juhani Ahon ranskalainen kausi 1889-1890 by Jyrki Nummi (2002); Naisten mies ja aatteiden. Juhani Ahon elämäntaide by Panu Rajala (2011) - See: Kauppis-Heikki - See also: Juhani Ahon Seura