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Zacharias Topelius (1818 - 1898)

 

Prolific Swedish speaking writer, journalist, professor of history, whose historical novels became part of the national awakening in Finland from the 1850s. Zacharias Topelius had three major roles: he was a superb story teller for children, he described Finland and her landscape, and he was the founder of the Finnish historic novel. Topelius's works have been translated into some 20 languages.

"I will have air!
I will have light!
My destiny
That I wish to create my own course."

(from 'Islossningen i Uleå elf,' The Breakup of the ice in Uleå River, 1856)

Zacharias Topelius was born in a modest house at Kuddnäs, in the province of Ostrobothnia – also Johan Vilhelm Snellman  (1806-1881), and J.L. Runeberg  (1804-1877) were born in the same province. Both of his parenst came from the educated classes, Katarina Sofia Calamnius, the daughter of a merchant, and Zachrias Topelius (1781-1831), a physician. Among his forefathers was Mikael Toppelius (1734-1821), a famous artist, who decorated several churches. The young Topelius was a voracious reader. His favorites were Franzén and Runeberg. At home he learned folk poetry and adopted a deep moral and religious world view.

In 1829 Topelius was sent to a school in Uleåborg, where he learned Finnish – unlike Runeberg he knew Finnish fairly well. From 1831 he studied in Helsinki, where he boarded for some time with the Runebergs. While traveling between Helsinki and Nykarleby, he met at Alavo Greta Mattsdotter (Matintytär), with whom he had a romance. In an unpublished poem he expressed his longing for her, the embrace of her arms: "hit i dina armars fängsel, / i din ljuva famn, o flicka, / vill jag fly och intill döden – / fast förblifva".  After graduating, Topelius started his career as a journalist, working in the profession for 19 years, from 1841 to 1860. During this period he also wrote several collection of poems, novels and plays. In 1845 he married Maria Emilia Lindqvist; they had six children.

Topelius received in 1847 his Ph.D. from the University of Helsinki. His thesis was on the old marriage customs in Finland. Topelius was appointed professor at the University of Helsinki in 1854 – the decision was criticized – and later (1875-78) he became its vice-chancellor. Topelius died on March 12, 1898 in Sipoo.

"One folk! One land! One tongue! One song and one wise learning!
From sea to sea and breast to breast the words proceeding."

(Topelius in 1844)

Most of Topelius's novels appeared first in the newspapers, and were then collected into books. Between the years 1841 and 1860 he edited the Swedish-language daily Helsingfors Tidningar. Helsinki was changing from its humble beginnings to a small metropolis, and its inhabitants eagerly read news from other parts of Europe. From the French newspapers he adapted the practice to publish novels in serialized form. Some of the insider information on cultural issues he received from the members of Lauantaiseura (The Saturday Society), which had been established in 1830. At its heyday, this small and informal group brought together such prominent figures as Runeberg, J.V. Snellman, Frederik Cygnaeus, J.J. Nordström, and M.A. Castrénfor discussions on literature and topical issues. Topelius became the youngest member of the group.

As a journalist Topelius had a great skill to enrich his text by lively details, as in the novella Vincent Vågbrytare, set in a summer evening on June 1835. It paints a vivid portrait of a small, rapidly developing but idyllic town, where everybody still knew each other: "The young men went marching off into that glorious June evening. They made their way out on to Unionsgatan street through the Botanic Gardens with their clipped avenues, where acacias had just opened their tender leaves, while oaks and maples were unfolding their first yellow leaf buds and the first narcissi beginning to waft their fragrance along the pathways. The walkers greeted the veteran Professor Sahlberg, who in his short garden coat was giving orders for the insertion of the windows to the new hothouse, so that aloe, fog and sugar cane might be made indigenous to Finland." (translated by David McDuff, from Helsinki: A Literary Companion, 2000)

Under Topelius Helsingfor Tidningar became the most important modern newspaper. Its only noteworthy rival in the public debate of contemporary topics was J.V. Snellman's Saima (1844-1846), which often attacked Topelius's views. Topelius's advocated energetically patriotic and liberal ideals, but he also saw, that peaceful progress under the Emperor would be benefit for the nation. "And this nation Lord has settled down on the edge of the world to turn stones up and around – oh – how much I love this nation and its calm strength, such as nature and wilderness have done it; rough old tree growing in a stony soil." Especially Topelius's vision of one nation with two languages led him to a collision course with Snellman, a Hegelian philosopher and statesman, who was a central figure in the national awakening.

In the Revolution year of 1848 Topelius tried to balance between the Russian authorities and national movement – his ambiguous attitude has been open to many interpretations. When he wrote about the breakup of the ice in Oulu River (Islossningen i Uleå elf, 1856), his reader understood in their own way the hidden meaning in the phrase "the breakup of ice." Topelius welcomed the revolution with the words "he comes, he comes, the mighty storm" (from 'Våren' 1848), but he also lamented the passing of the despotic Nicholas I.

During the Crimean War Topelius sided against England and France. August Schauman followed in the 1860s Topelius at Helsingfors Tidningar – his line was more in tune with the readers, who already considered Topelius at that time a conservative. However, his journalism was not always smooth. Inspired by Victor Hugo's works, Topelius also reported on social issues, such as the lack of decent housing facilities for poor people live ('Kuinka köyhät asuvat Helsingissä'). He was one of the first to take up the women's question in Finland and at the university he fought for women's entitlement to advanced study.

Topelius's first collection of poems, Ljungblommor (Heather flowers), came out in 1845. His poetry is known through several songs, such as 'Sylvia's Song,' popularized by the music of Karl Collán, 'På Roines strand' (On Roine's bank), and 'En sommardag i Kangasala' (A Summer Day at Kangasala), set to music by Selim Gabriel Linsén in 1864. The hymn 'Julvisa' (En etsi valtaa loistoa / Christmas Song), set to music by Jean Sibelius,  has remained hugely popular: "Give me no splendor, no gold, / no pomp / at blessed Christmastime; / give me God's glory and angel hosts / and peace o'er earth so wide!"

As a poet Topelius is generally regarded more sentimental and superficial than Runeberg, and his character is often contrasted with that of Runeberg. Mostly he is remembered as a gentle friend of children, who remained true to his Christian ideology. In Sweden Topelius enjoyed a wide popularity. He was nearly 20 years the best selling author of Bonniers Publications. In this position Topelius tried to prevent the publication of some of August Strindberg's works, which he considered obscene. Topelius's own writing-style was dominated by romantic idealism and moralism, and as he grew older, religious themes began to take first place. Some of his hymns are still among the all-time favorites. With the theology professor Arthur Hjelt (1868-1931), Topelius founded in Finland a branch of Young Men's Christian Association.

"- Jag trår fast vid den evangeliska lära jag bekänneroch för vilken jag är beredd at, om Gud så behagar, dö. Men jag aktar en kristens tro, även om den i ett eller annat skiljet sig från min, och jag vet att Guds barmhärighet är i stånd att föra ett hjärta till saligheten, även om vägen är höljd ac villor och vädor. Gå, fröken von Emmeritz, jag fårlåter er att ni, förvillad av munkars fanatiska läror, vill vända Herrens kämpe från hans kamp för ljuset..." (from Fältskärns Berättelser)

Topelius's major historical novel is Fältskärns berättelser (Tales of a field surgeon), a large family history, depicting the conflict between different classes from the 17th century, from the Gustav II Adolf victory at Breitenfeld, to the 18th century, when the age of Gustav III began. The story appeared between 1851 and 1866 in Helsingfors Tidningar and was later collected into a multi-volume book. In the saga Topelius follows the fates of two families, the Bertelskölds and the Larssons. Fictional characters are mixed with historical characters, such as Charles XII and Arvid Horn. Father Hieronymys, who keeps a stiletto concealed in his crucifix, the most memorable villain. He persuades a young Catholic woman, Regina von Emmeritz, to kill Gustav Adolf, but the plan fails when Regina fall in love with the king. Later Topelius made a play from the story.

In addition to his novels, Topelius published a great deal of children's literature, including the eight-part series Läsning för barn (1865-1898, Reading for children) and Sagor (1847-1852, Fairy tales), a collection of stories. Many generations read in primary schools Boken om vårt land (The book of our land), an illustrated  excursion into Finland's history, people, countryside and geography – it was read even after WWII. whether he had read or was otherwise familiar with the work of Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), Topelius's ideas about nation, history, language, and great men had much in common with those of Herder.

Under the influence of H.C. Andersen, Topelius wrote educational fairy tales of good and bad and the ultimate triumph of goodness. His most popular tales include 'Koivu ja tähti' (1852, The birch and the star) and 'Prinsessa Ruusunen' (1870, Sleeping Beauty, a film adaptation in 1949 from Topelius's and the Grimm Brothers' tale, directed by Edvin Laine, starring Tuula Usva and Martti Katajisto)."There are two forces to move mountains: a fairytale and the faith."  Planeternas skyddslingar (1886, The royal children of the stars) portrayed three persons, who have the same horoscope: Queen Christina of Sweden and a poor boy and girl from Finland, Hagar ja Benoni; the children have adventures all over Europe. The heroine is Hagar, the daughter of a Jewish mother and a Catholic father, who is orphaned and raised as a Lutheran in Finland. She is married to Mohammed IV, and in his harem she becomes a Muslim.

Although Topelius published almost all of his literary work in Swedish, he also produced the libretto for the first Finnish-language opera, Kaarle Kuninkaan metsästys (King Charles's hunt), which was composed by Frederik Pacius (1809-1891). In the story the young king goes to hunt elk and a young girl saves his life. Among Topelius's plays are Regina von Emmeritz (1853), set in the times of the Thirty Years' War, and Prinsessan af Cypern (1869, The Princess of Cyprus), a fairy-tale play partly based on Kalevala's characters. It became the libretto of Pacius's opera, too. The protagonist is Lemminkäinen, who falls in love with Chryseis at the island of Venus, Cyprus.

For further reading: Z. Topelius by E.G. Palmen (1898); Sakari Topelius by Eliel Vest (1906); Zacharias Topelius ihmisenä ja runoilijana by Valfrid Vasenius (6 vols, 1912-33); Zachris Topelius by Selma Lagerlöf (1920); Zachris Topelius' kärlekslyrik by Martin Graner (1946); Topelius saturunoilijana by Kaarina Laurent (1947); Z. Topelius by Paul Nyberg (2 vols., 1950); Kaitselmusaate Topeliuksen historianfilosofiassa by Mauri Noro (1968); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Kukkia kevään sylissä by Aarre Kantola (1979); Runoilija ja Kanervankukka by Aarre Kantola (1981); Harmaakiven maa by Allan Titta (1994); Finland: a cultural encyclopedia, ed. by Olli Alho (1997); A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Idylli ja uhka by Matti Klinge (1998); Finlands svenska literaturhistoria 1, ed. by Johan Wrede (1999); Topeliaaninen usko: kirjailija Sakari Topelius uskontokasvattajana by Pasi Jaakkola (2011) - Topeliuksen teosten suomentajista mainittakoon mm. Juhani AhoRomantic historical novel, see Walter Scott;  see also: Selma Lagerlöf

Selected works:

  • Äger Finska Folket en Historie?,1845
    - Onko Suomen kansalla historiaa?
  • Finland framstäldt i teckningar, 1845-52
    - Vanha kaunis Suomi (suom. Aarne Valpola, 1978)
  • Ljungblommor I-III, 1845-54
    - Kanervankukkia (suom.)
  • Sagor, 1847-52 (4 vols.)
  • Efter femtio år: skådespel i tre akter med prolog, 1851
    - 50 vuotta myöhemmin (suom. Kasimir Leino, 1899)
  • Fältskärns berättelser 1-4, 1853-1864
    - Välskärin juttuja. 3 jakso (suom. N. H-n [Hauvonen], 1873) / Välskärin juttuja. 1 jakso, Kuninkaan sormus; 2: Miekka ja aura (suom. K. G. Levander, 1875) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 1 jakso, Kuninkaan sormus: Miekka ja aura: Tuli ja vesi (suom. R. Mellin, 1878) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 2 jakso, Onneaan vastaan kapinoitseva: Noita-akka: Mainiemen linna (suom. R. Mellin, 1878) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 3 jakso, Siniset: Pakolainen: Erään nimen varjo (suom. R. Mellin, 1879) / Välskäärin kertomuksia. 4 jakso, Erämaiden kevät; Porvaris-kuningas; Waasan prinsessa (suom. R. Mellin, 1880) / Välskäärin kertomuksia. 5 jakso, Vapaa-uskoja; Illan myrskyt; Aamun valkeneminen (suom. K. Kramsu, 1882) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 2 jakso, Kapinassa omaa onneaan vastaan; Noita-akka; Mainiemen linna (seitsemännestä ruotsinkielisestä pain. suom. Juhani Aho; kuvat piirtäneet Albert Edelfelt ja Carl Larsson, 1896) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 3 jakso, Siniset; Pakolainen; Erään nimen varjo (seitsemännestä ruotsinkielisestä pain. suom. Juhani Aho; kuvat piirtäneet Albert Edelfelt ja Carl Larsson, 1896) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 4 jakso, 1 osa, Erämaiden kevät; Porvarikuningas (seitsemännestä ruotsinkielisestä pain. suom. Juhani Aho; kuvat piirtäneet Albert Edelfelt ja Carl Larsson, 1897) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 4 jakso, 2 osa, Waasan prinsessa (neljännestä ruotsinkielisestä pain. suom. Juhani Aho; kuvat piirtäneet Albert Edelfelt ja Carl Larsson, 1897) / Välskärin kertomuksia. 5 jakso, Vapaa-ajattelija; Ilta-myrskyjä; Aamun valkeneminen (neljännestä ruotsinkielisestä pain. suom. Juhani Aho; kuvat piirtäneet Albert Edelfelt ja Carl Larsson, 1897-1898) / Välskärin kertomuksia 1-5 (suom. Juhani Aho, 1917-1923) - Surgeon's Stories: Gustave Adolf, and the Thirty Year's War: An Historical Novel (tr. Selma Borg and Marie Brown, 1872) / Surgeon's Stories: A Series of Swedish Historical Romances, in Six Cycles, 1-6 (transl. 1883-1884) / Surgeon's Stories. 2, Times of Battle and of Rest (tr.1891) / King's Ring: Being a Romance of the Days of Gustavus Adolphus and the Thirty Year's War (translated from the Swedish by Sophie Öhrwall and Herbert Arnold, 1901) / Surgeon's Stories. 3-6 (tr. 1901)
  • Kung Karls jakt, 1852
    - Kaarle-kuninkaan metsästys (teoksessa Kootut teokset. 8 osa, Draamalliset teokset, suom. Toivo Lyy, Otto Manninen, 1930; libretto suom. Jalmari Finne)
  • Regina von Emmeritz, 1854
    - Regina von Emmeritz: näytelmä viidessä näytöksessä (suom. Eino Leino, 1899)
  • Naturens bok, 1856
    - Luonnon kirja (suom. 1860; 13. korj. p. 1903) / Luonnonkirja ala-alkeiskouluin tarpeeksi (ed. Allan Tiitta, 2009)
  • Gröna kammarn på Linnais gård, 1859
    - Viheriä kammari Linnaisten kartanossa (suom. Aatto S., 1881) / Linnaisten kartanon viheriä kamari (suom. Ilmari Jäämaa, 1928) - film 1945, dir. Valentin Vaala, starring Rauli Tuomi, Regina Linnanheimo, Kaija Rahola, Paavo Jännes
  • Tarinoita, 1861 (suom. A.KI. Weänänen)
  • Läsning för barn, 1865-1896
    - Lukemisia lapsille (17 vihkoa, suom. Aatto Suppanen, 1886-1891) / Lukemisia lapsille 1-6 (suom. Aatto Suppanen, 1893) / Lukemisia lapsille. 7-8 osa / (suom. Alli Nissinen, Kaarlo Forsman, 1894-1897) / Lukemisia lapsille. Edellinen osa, 16-20 vihko (suom. V. Tarkiainen ja Valter Juva, 1906) / Lukemisia lapsille. Jälkimäinen osa, 21-39 vihko (suom. V. Tarkiainen ja Valter Juva, 1907)
  • Brita Skrifvars, 1867
    - Briitta Skrifvars (teoksessa Kootut teokset. 8 osa, Draamalliset teokset, suom. Toivo Lyy, Otto Manninen, 1930)
  • Hangös öga, 1867
    - Hangon silmä (teoksessa Kootut teokset. 8 osa, Draamalliset teokset, suom. Toivo Lyy, Otto Manninen, 1930)
  • En resa i Finland, 1873
    - Matkustus Suomessa (suom. Julius Krohn, 1873; näköispainos toim. Aarni Krohn, 1984)
  • Boken om vårt land, 1875
    - Maamme-kirja (suom. 1875; Joh. Bäckvall, 2. p. 1878; kymmenennen, tekijän kuoleman jälkeen korjatun painoksen mukaan suom. P. Cajander, 1905; )
  • Vinterkvällar I-III, 1880-97
    - Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 1, Kuninkaan hansikka (suom. Aatto S., 1881) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 2, Viheriä kammari Linnaisten kartanossa (suom. Aatto S., 1881) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 3, Vinsentti Aallon halkasija (suom. Aatto S., 1881) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 4, Pastorin vaali Aulangossa (suom. Aatto S. , 1882) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 5, Mirabeau täti (suom. Aatto S., 1882) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 1 jakso, 6, Kulta-aave (suom. Aatto S., 1882) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 2 jakso, 1, Suomen herttuatar (suom. Aatto S., 1885) /Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 2 jakso, 3-4, Vernan ruusut; Kuningatar Sofia Magdalenan korvarenkaat (suom. Aatto S., 1885) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 2 jakso, 2, Nuoruuden unelmia (suom. Samuli S., 1886) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita: kertomuksia ja kuvaelmia. 2 jakso, 5, Utu-tarinoita (suom. Aatto S., 1886) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita. 3 nidos, Suomen herttuatar; Kulta-aave (suomentaneet Aatto S., Samuli S. ja Ilmari Jäämaa, 1910) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita. 4 nidos, Nuoruuden unelmia; Vernan ruusut (suom. Aatto S., Samuli S. ja Ilmari Jäämaa, 1911) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita. 5 nidos, Sumutarinoita / Z. Topelius ; suom. Aatto S., Samuli S. ja Ilmari Jäämaa, 1911) / Talvi-iltain tarinoita (suom. Ilmari Jäänmaa, 1931)
  • Princessan av Cypern, 1881
    - Kypron prinsessa: 4-näytöksinen satunäytelmä (suom. Eino Leino, 1901)
  • Anteckningar från det Helsingfors, som gått, 1885
    - Muistiinpanoja vanhasta Helsingistä (teoksessa Kootut teokset. 12, 1932; toim.: Rolf Martinsen, 1986)
  • Planeternas skyddslingar. Del 1-3 / Stjärnornas kungabarn, 1886-87
    - Tähtien turvatit: aika- ja luonnekuvaus kuningatar Kristiinan ajoilta. 1 osa, 1-8 vihko (suom. Th. Hahnsson, 1890-1892) / Tähtien turvatit: ajan- ja luonteenkuvaus kuningatar Kristiinan ajoilta (suom. Aune Brotherus, 1933)
  • Samlade skrifter, 1889-1907 (34 vols.)
  • Blad ur min tankebok, 1889
    - Lehtisiä mietekirjastani (suom. Juhani Aho, 1898)
  • Fairy Tales from Finland, 1896 (translated from the Swedish by Ella R. Christie; illustrated by Ada Holland)
  • Draamalliset teokset 1-4, 1898-1899 (suom. Eino Leino et al.)
  • Stolen Princess: a Fairy Tale from Persia, 1899 (translated from the Swedish by Edith Frodsham; with Original Illustrations by Brinsley le Fanu)
  • Matkahavaintoja puoli vuosisataa sitten, 1903-1904 (suom. Wihtori Peltonen)
  • Dagböcker 1-4, 1918-24 (utgifna af Paul Nyberg)
    - Päiväkirjoja 1837-1840 (teoksessa Kootut teokset. 13, toim. Paul Nyberg, 1932)
  • Självbiografiska anteckningar, 1922 (utgivna av Paul Nyberg)
    - Elämäkerrallisia muistiinpanoja (suom. Helmi Krohn, 1923)
  • Sweden's Best Stories: An Introduction to Swedish Fiction: A Selection of Short Stories by Topelius (etc), 1928 (edited by Hanna Astrup Larsen; translated by Charles Wharton Stock)
  • Kootu teokset I-XIII, 1930-32 (suom. V. Tarkiainen, et al.)
  • Two Times Two is Four, 1931 (adapted ... by Vera C. Himes; illustrated by Katharine Dewey)
  • Fästmansbrev, 1948 (edited by Paul Nyberg)
    - Sulhaskirjeitä (suom. Lauri Hirvensalo, 1948)
  • Valitut teokset I-IX, 1949-50 (9 osaa)
  • Canute Whistlewinks and Other Stories, 1959 (reissue; translated from the Swedish by C. W. Fors; selected and edited by Frances Jenkins Olcott; illustrated by Frank McIntosh)
  • Under rönn och syren: ett urval dikter och bilder, 1989 (edited by Christer och Stephanie Topelius)
  • I gröna björkens skugga: med Topelius på Kuddnäs och i Nykarleby, 1997 (edited by Ulla-Britt Gustafsson-Pensar)
  • Den finlandssvenska dikten. 2, Zacharias Topelius, 2001 (edited by Bo Carpelan)
  • Leopoldinerbrev: correspondance från Helsingfors, 2003 (edited by Clas Zilliacus)
  • Finlands krönika 1860–1878, 2004 (edited by Rainer Knapas)
  • Sydän on hyvä: Zachris Topeliuksen kirjoituksia Helsingistä, 2003 (edited and translanslated by Rolf Martinsen)
  • Helsinki Zachris Topeliuksen silmin: kertomuksia 1830- ja 1840-lukujen Helsingin elämästä, 2006 (edited by Rolf Martinsen)
  • Ephemerer. Zacharias Topelius första tidning 1834–1835, 2006 (edited by Carola Herberts och Laura Mattsson)
  • Ljungblommor, 2010 (edited by Carola Herberts and Clas Zilliacus)
  • Adalminas pärla, 2011 (illustrated by Lena Frölander-Ulf)
    - Adalmiinan helmi (suom. Asko Sahlberg, 2012)
  • Noveller, 2012 (edited by Pia Forssell)


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