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||Maila Talvio (1871-1951) - pseudonym for Maria Mikkola - original surname Winter|
Prolific Finnish writer and translator, who admired simple values of life, represented by idealized, unspoiled peasants. Talvio's novels often registered ongoing cultural and historical currents and events – opposition to Russian policy in Finland, fennicisation ideology of the 1920s, and conservative suspicion about the leftist movements. Nowadays her fame rests on her historical novels, especially on the "Daughter of the Baltic" trilogy, for which she found material from the past generations of her own family. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Maila Talvio was along with V.A. Koskeniemi a highly visible advocate for German cultural influence in Finland.
"Ja nyt yhtäkkiä kunniallinen ja hyvän sivistyksen saanut, arvossapidetyn helsinkiläisen kauppamiehen tytär väittää niin rakastavansa venäläistä, että karkaa kotoaan, jolleivät vanhemmat anna suostumustaan avioliittoon! Koko kaupunki joutui kauhun valtaan. Ei milloinkaan vielä sivistynyt ruotsalainen tyttö ollut mennyt ryssälle!" (from Linnoituksen iloiset rouvat, 1941)
Maila Talvio was born Maria Winter in Hartola, the seventh child of a village parson. Her father, Adolf Magnus Winter, came from a family with long traditions in clerical professions. Also her mother, Julia Malvina Bonsdorff, was a daughter of a Lutheran minister. After the death of his father, Maila spent her early childhood in a rural setting, where the family lived rather ascetically. The children had only a few toys, but they used imagination and created all kinds of plays for themselves. Talvio's father died she she was nine, and the family moved to a remote estate in Nipuli. During this period she learned about the life of tenant farmers, who worked for the estate. Later, in her books, Talvio demanded reform of the tenant farm system.
Talvio studied in Helsinki at the Finnish School for Girls, finishing her studies there at the age of 16. She then returned home to teach her siblings. At home there was a piano, but lacking a good music teacher, she chose writing as a way of self expression. In 1890 she met the linguist J.J. Mikkola (1866-1946) – later professor at the University of Helsinki – and married him three years later. Mikkola opened her doors to Helsinki's literary circles – he knew the poet Kasimir Leino and writers around the newspaper Päivälehti and the poet Eino Leino. At that time, about 50 percent of Helsinki's inhabitants was Swedish-speaking, but Talvio, an ardent fighter for the Finnish cause, pretented not to know Swedish, and declated that she won't pay taxes unless her receipt were in Finnish. In the play Maan parhaat (1911), Eino Leino described her as of "the country's best," but not without a hint of humor.
Talvio published her first writings at Päivälehti and the magazine Suomen Kuvalehti. In protest against increasing Russian suppression – Finland was a Grand Duchy under Russian rule – Talvio joined other Finnish artists and politicians, making speeches, writing patriotic articles, and directed a literary club for students. Once she dressed herself as the Goddess of Liberty. Among her translation works was the religious study Ajatuksia ja kysymyksiä Ihmisen Pojan edessä (1894, Thoughts and Questions before the Son of Man) by the Swedish philosopher Potus Wikner (1837-1888). In his Confessions, not published until 1971, Wikner revealed that he was a homosexual. This was not known during Wikner's lifetime. The book was recommended to Talvio by Rev. Elias Bergroth.
With her husband Talvio traveled in East and Central Europe, and published travel essays under the pseudonym M.M. Especially the Baltic countries under oppression became close to her. Talvio's numerous journeys inspired her to study languages and she learned among other Polish, translating several works of Henryk Sienkiewicz into Finnish. At her home she created a salon, which became an important meeting place and was frequented by many prominent writers, including Ilmari Kianto, Otto Manninen and L. Onerva. Among the foreign guests were the Russian writers Maxim Gorky and Aleksander Kuprin, and a number of Baltic intellectuals. In the 1920s and 1930s her salon attracted German and Italian cultural figures, too.
As a writer Talvio became known by the Finnish version of her family name. Her career started with Haapaniemen keinu (1985, The Swing of Haapaniemi), a collection of short stories. It was followed by Nähtyä ja tunnettua (1896), Aili (1897), about an idealistic young woman, and Kaksi rakkautta (1898, Two Loves), her first novel set in urban milieu. In the story a married woman, Elina, falls in love with a Lithuanian scholar, who is visiting Helsinki. However, after being widowed, she doesn't marry him but retreats to the country to work as a teacher.
Literary fame Talvio gained with her Pimeänpirtin hävitys (1901, The Destruction of Pimeäpirtti), a tragic family story which had connections with Selma Lagerlöf's romantic works. Although Talvio later contrasted the traditional Finnish countryside, healthy and pure, with the rottenness of the capital, in this incest drama her program was somewhat unclear. The tension between the Finnish-speaking tenant farmers and their Swedish-speaking landlords provided background for the story. Hanni doesn't know that she is the daughter of Otto von Holten, the owner of a rich estate. Otto visits once the small cottage of Hanni and her mother, Liena. Hanni feels attraction to the world of Otto, who seduces her without knowing her background. In the end of the story the reader meets Hanni again. She has become Jeannette, a dangerous temptress. Her life ends tragically, when her grandfather kills her. "Girl, you must die," he says and stabs her with a knife in the heart.
The 1910s was a very productive decade in Talvio's life. Unconscious powers and instincts started to explain much of the behavior of her characters. She adapted into the Finnish stage Maurice Maeterlinck's fantasy play L'Oiseau bleu and translated Hans Christian Andersen's autobiography. Niniven lapset (1915) indicated by its very title (Children of Ninive) what her argument was: Finns were corrupted by high living and Swedish associations. In the story a well-to-do family moves from the country to Helsinki, a city of cafés, restaurants, tango, and intrigues. One of the characters concludes: "The Nineveh of old is ashes and dust, and ashes and dust shall every new Niveneh be."
With the rise of the labor movement Talvio took some of her subjects from the life of the factory workers, but remained distrustful of socialism and communism. In the story 'Punaiset liput' (Red Flags'), about deer-stalking, Talvio compares the red flags to a magic charm which is used to capture a herd of cattle. Louhilinna (1906) presented Socialism in the character of a farmhad, who becomes an agitator, as a dangerous, violent movement, based on primitive instincts. Tähtien alla (1910, Under the Stars), a love story, portrayed Helsinki as a sinful city. Through the decision of a young couple Talvio wanted to show, that the so-called "new" sexual freedom is only illusory.
Silmä yössä (1917, The Eye in the Night), one of Talvio's major novels, depicts two families and the running of the hereditable traits in the life of the characters. The main character is a hermit, who observes the world trough his own philosophy of beauty. In her short stories Talvio studied the psychology of mass movements. Kurjet (1919, The Cranes) represented the right-wing view of the Civil War. In the center of the story Riikka Tuuna, who has highly moralistic views of life. She doesn't want to admit to herself, that she loves Arvo, whose sister Sylvi has "morally doubtful character" – Sylvi has an affair with an Russian soldier. Arvo joins the White Army and dies from a sniper's bullet. From 1918 to 1928 Talvio's books were more or less pessimistic – she suffered a bout of depression, but when her optimism had returned, she entered a new phase in her writing.
"Kuitenkin voi sanoa Maila Talvion konsipioivan teoksensa pikemmin idealistina kuin realistina. Hänen kirjansa kasvavat tavallisesti jonkin keskeisen idean ympärille. Hänen mieliteemojaan olivat aikaisemmassa vaiheessa yhteiskunnalliset kyysymykset, myöhemmin biologiset – etenkin perinnöllisyysoppi – ja psykologiset ongelmat. On kuin hänen mielikuvituksensa tarvitsisi jonkinlaisen aatteellisen ärsykkeen luovaa toimintaansa varten. Mutta hänen aatteensa ei suinkaan vieroita häntä todellisuudesta, vaan päinvastoin johtaa hänet siihen." (V.A. Koskenniemi in Maila Talvio, 1946)
Talvio was disappointed when the plan in 1918-19 to import Kaiser Wilhelm's brother-in-law as the 'king' of Finland collapsed. From the late 1920s she started to publish historically oriented books. The best-known is Helsinki-trilogy Itämeren tytär (1929-36, Dughter of the Baltic), which presents the city as throwing off its Swedish beginnings in order to fulfill a Finnish destiny. In the center of the novel is the Suthoff family, prosperous merchants. The other novels in the series were Hed-Ulla ja hänen kosijansa (1931, Hed-Ulla and Her Suitors), and Hopealaiva (1936, The Silver Ship). The trilogy was published in Germany in an abridged edition. Talvio's last novel, Linnoituksen iloiset rouvat (1941, The Merry Wives of the Fortress), was set in the sea-fortress Sveaborg in Helsinki harbor, and brought the story up to the war of 1808-09. The title of the novel, which was adapted from Shakespeare, indicate one of the factors, that the writer saw behind the surrender of Sveaborg. When a daughter of a respected merchant wants to marry a Russian the ladies are horrified. For the work Talvio spent much time researching archives and studying history. After a drunken man had hit her in the eye she had to stop her research work for a while.
"Kirjailija ei koskaan saisi pysäyttää kättänsä eikä aivojensa juoksua. Hän saa levätä, mutta vain niinkuin äiti nukahtaa rintalapsensa ääressä. Hänen kynänsä ei koskaan saa kuivua. On vaikea saada ajatusta löiikkeelle, jos se on päässyt pysähtymään." (from Opin sauna, 1923)
During her long career, Talvio became a public figure. She published over fifty books – novels, short stories, speeches, and non-fiction. Her plays never attracted much attention. In addition to H.C. Andersen, Maeterlinck, and Henryk Sienkiewitz , Talvio translated into Finnish works by Ludwig Anzenburger, Björnstjerne Björnson, Carl Blink, Ivan Cankar, Gustav Frenssen, Henrik Ibsen, Max Kretzer, Boleslaw Prus, Ivan Turgenev, and C. Wagner. Partly influenced by her husband, the Slavist J.J. Mikkola, she defended passionately Poland under Russian oppression and Baltic neighbours.
Talvio's salon, which was an exceptional phenomenon in the literary circles, made her the target of gossips. It was claimed that she only played with the feelings of her young protégées and promised more than she could deliver. Much of her time Talvio also devoted in the preservation of local arts and crafts. She helped to found a tuberculosis sanitarium and wrote a novel, Ne 45000 (1932), which dealt with the problem of the major killer at the time.
Like many conservatives, Talvio was sympathetic toward Nazi Germany, regarding Germany as a defender of Europe against Communism, and in 1942, she joined Joseph Goebbels' European Writers' Guild. Between 1941 and 1943 three of Talvio's books were translated into German, which made her one of the most translated Finnish writers in Germany during the war: Yölintu: ein finnischer Herrenhof-Roman (Yölintu) appeared in 1941, Der Verlobungsring (Kihlasormus) in 1942, and Pimeänpirtin hävitys in 1943, under the title Der Untergang von Pimeänpirtti. After Mika Waltari read in her salon an excerpt from his upcoming historical novel, The Egyptian, Talvio was appalled by the sexual liberalism expressed in the book, and tried to stop it being published.
When the city of Helsinki celebrated its 400th anniversary in 1950, Talvio was awarded a honorary doctorate by the University of Helsinki. In 1936 she received the State Literature Prize, and Aleksis Kivi Literary Prize in 1940. Talvio's books have been translated into Swedish and German. Her translated books earned her the Golden Wreath of the Polish Academy and the Heinrich Steffens Prize of Hamburg University. Talvio died in Helsinki January 6, 1951.
For further reading: Maila Talvio by V.A. Koskenniemi (1946); Maila Talvion vuosikymmenet I-II by Tyyni Tuulio (1963-65); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita 1500-luvulta nykypäiviin, ed. by R. Rintala (1994); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 29th Century, Vol. 4, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999); Suomen kirjallisuushistoria 2, ed. by Lea Rojola (1999) - Note: Film Ja alla oli tulinen järvi (1937), about alcoholism, was based on Maila Talvio's story, prod. Suomi-Filmi, dir. by Risto Orko, starring Hugo Hytönen, Ansa Ikonen, Joel Rinne, Sylvi Palo, Hanna Taini, Kaarlo Angerkoski