The changeful Way of Estonian-Finnish Literature Relationships

Endel Mallene

“We are two different nations separated by the sea, divided by history and circumstances. Our languages are hardly understandable to each other and everyday problems of our lives are often quite different,” wrote a well-known Estonian author and promoter of Estonian-Finnish literature relationships Friedebert Tuglas in his congratulatory letter Greetings from behind the Gulf on the occasion of centenary of the Finnish Literature Association in 1931. But he continued, “And still, in the tensest situations of our national life we have felt ourselves to be closer to each other than to anybody else.”

Therefore it is obvious that also our contacts in literature have relatively long and remarkable history. We know, though, that not always were these contacts exactly as we would have desired. In some periods they almost vanished. This, however, happened for reasons beyond our reach.

The first Estonian book translated into Finnish is considered to be Eesti muinasjutte (“Estonian Fairy Tales”) translated by Pietari Hannikainen. It was published in 1847 in Mikkeli and contained three myths by Friedrich Robert Faehlmann and four Estonian fairy tales. The list of Finnish books translated into Estonian was opened by Novellad ehk uudisjutud (“Novellas or Short Stories”) by Kaarlo Suomalainen, published in 1881 in translation by Paul Undritz.

Whereas one hundred and fifty years is not a long period, it should be noted that our national literatures are not much older.

It is significant that already in the last century the first translation of Kalevala was available in Estonian, as well as the creation of Aleksis Kivi – both translated by Matthias Johann Eisen. Indeed, A. Kivi was initially represented only by his Öö ja päev (“The Night and Day”), staged the same year of 1884 at the Tartu theatre “Vanemuine”. Also the first prose anthology of a special kind Soome uudisjutud (“Finnish Novellas”) in three fascicles (1882 to 1885) was published. Altogether about three hundred and fifty pieces of Finnish literature, including those printed in periodicals, were published in the Estonian language in the last century.

The most remarkable translations from Estonian into Finnish in the same period were Lydia Koidula’s story Ojamölder ja temma minnia (“The Brookmiller and His Daughter-in-law”), Eduard Bornhöhe’s Tasuja (“The Avenger”), Lilli Suburg’s Liina (“Liina”) and Eesti Muinasjutud ja muistendid (“Estonian Fairy Tales and Myths”) complied by Kaarle Krohn. Even the first review of Estonian literature was published, written by August Ahlqvist and enclosed with a brief anthology of translation examples.

At the beginning of this century Juhani Aho and our “common author” Aino Kallas became the most translated Finnish authors in Estonia. Aino Kallas has remained the most translated Finnish author up until now. While Juhani Aho was published mostly until 1930s – by then 15 of his books were published and later just 6 books have been added – Aino Kallas’ works have been published until very recent times.

Translations of Minna Canth, Johannes Linnakoski and Eino Leino were also popular at the beginning of the century.

The beginning of this century marked the spread of Estonian literature of more virtu in the Finnish language. At first it was represented mostly by Eduard Vilde whose novels Koidu ajal (“At Dawn”), Mäeküla piimamees (“The Milkman of Mäeküla”) and Pisuhänd (“The Spark-Tail”) became popular in Finland, and Friedebert Tuglas with two collections of short stories: Vilkuv tuli (“The Winking Light”) and Saatus (“The Fate”). Among more remarkable publications of that period one must mention an anthology of short stories Inimese vari (“The Human Shadow”) compiled by Elsa Enäjärvi-Haavio and Aino Kallas’ collected essays Noor-Eesti (“The Young Estonia”).

Much more and quite advisedly Finnish literature was started to be published during Estonian independence in the 1920s and 1930s. During these two decades, about one hundred books of Finnish authors were published in Estonia. Mutual exchanges of official delegations of authors started to take place in these years. In 1930, seven members of the Estonian Writers’ Union visited their colleagues on invitation by the Finnish Writers’ Union. In return, an eight-member delegation of Finnish authors arrived the next spring, invited by Estonian Writers’ Union. Thus, the more or less occasional visits of writers of kindred nations were replaced with more organised contacts. Hitherto, the most impressive private visit to Estonia was undoubtedly Eino Leino’s visit to Tallinn and Tartu in spring 1921.

During the years of Estonian Republic, works of Juhani Aho and Aino Kalda, as well as Johannes Linnakoski, Minna Canth and Eino Leino, continued to be translated. This list was supplemented by Arvi Järnefelt, Johannes Lehtonen, Frans Eemil Sillanpää, Ilmari Kianto, Santeri Ivalo, Pentti Haanpää, Mika Waltari, Hilja Valtonen and, from earlier literature, by Aleksis Kivi’s Seitse venda (“The Seven Brothers”) and Nõmmekingsepad (“The Heath Shoemakers”) in the translation by Fridebert Tuglas. Besides, Seitse venda was first published in Estonian as a separate edition in 1924 when the novel had been published only in Swedish and German. It must be mentioned that this carefully made translation ran through about ten editions in different times and different years. Regrettably, some “tenth-rate works” were published among others, as it was pointed out in a critique of translation by August Annist, an outstanding developer of Estonian-Finnish relationships in literature and the author of the new masterly translation of Kalevala (1939).

During the same years, about ten Estonian belletristic works were translated into Finnish. It was the period when mutual translation of fiction was most evidently out of balance.

The most significant works of Estonian authors published at this time were probably A. H. Tammsaare’s Kõrboja peremees (“The Master of Kõrboja”) translated by Ida Grünthal, and Part I and V of Tõde ja õigus (“The Truth and Justice”) translated by Erkki Reijonen. Unfortunately, other volumes of the A. H. Tammsaare’s epopee have remained untranslated and thus only depiction of country-life, presented in this grand novel, reached the Finnish reader. Only a brief overview of the remaining volumes was presented in the foreword to the last volume.

Other noteworthy translations were a novel Ümera jõel (“In River Ümera”) by Mait Metsanurk, Karge meri (“The Hard Sea”) by August Gailit and Metsmees (“The Woodsman”) by Richard Janno. Still, the most remarkable edition of these years was the anthology Eesti runotar (“Estonian Poetry”) compiled by Elsa Enäjärvi-Haavio and provided with a thorough foreword (1940). Up until now, there is no equally comprehensive anthology of Finnish poetry in Estonian.

In 1940 Estonia was occupied and the literature contacts between Estonia and Finland practically ceased. Of Finnish literature, during the German occupation only a sequent reprint of Seitse venda was published. Some translations, though, were published in periodicals. For example, a short novel by Mika Waltari Antero ei tule enam tagasi (“Antero will not Return”) was published as a ruled-off by the daily Postimees. Under the Soviet occupation, publication of translations from Finnish literature was resumed only in 1955.

On the other hand, publication of translations from Estonian literature in Finland never stopped at the years of war. At that period, the list of Estonian books translated into Finnish increased with four Estonian novels: two by August Mälk, a novel by Albert Kivikas about the Independence War Nimed marmortahvlil (“Names on the Marble Slab”) and Toomas Nipernaadi (“Toomas Nipernaadi”) by August Gailit.

After the restoration of Soviet occupation, all these three authors became Estonian writers in exile. For nearly two decades, indeed, Finnish publishers brought out almost without exceptions works of Estonian authors in exile. In addition to those already mentioned, several novels and collected short stories were published from Karl Ristikivi, Ilmar Talve, Gert Helbemäe, but the most numerously from Valev Uibopuu – five books. Among the publications there was one collection of poems, namely Bernhard Kangro’s Leegitsev jälg (“The Flaming Track”). In the post-war years a brilliant translation by Helmer Winter of Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald’s Kalevipoeg, although in shortened version, reached the Finnish reader.

Estonian publishing houses in exile started bringing out Estonian translations of Finnish literature ten years earlier than those in Estonia. Especially praiseworthy was the activity of the publishing house “Orto” that first worked in Sweden and thereafter in Canada. Understandably, “Orto” started with publication of our common author Aino Kallas. Her works were soon followed by translations from Frans Emil Sillanpää, Juhani Aho, Jorma Korpela, Eva Kilpi, Pentti Holappa and Olavi Siippainen, Mauri Sariola and Hilja Valtonen. It was this publishing house that brought out the Estonian translation of Väinö Linna’s Tundmatu Sõdur (“The Unknown Soldier”) shortly after it was published in Finland. and just from Mika Waltari 18 books were published there. From Mika Waltari alone, “Orto” has published 18 books.

In fact, the beginning of post-war period in publishing translations of Finnish literature in Estonia can be fixed quite precisely. This new chapter began in 1957. The fourth print of The Seven Brothers two years earlier remained just a solitary “first swallow”. It was in 1957 that several new prints of previous translations were published, as well as a remarkable number of new translations including comprehensive prose selections from Maiju Lassila and Pentti Haanpää. With these two books, Harald Lepik made his debut as a translator from Finnish. Later, he became the most remarkable – and still remains the most productive – translator from the Finnish language into Estonian. Notwithstanding the fact that he never visited Finland. Those were the times.

Among the 26 books translated into Estonian by Harald Lepik, old as well as contemporary prose from quite different Finnish authors can be found. However, one can easily notice that, in one way or another, Lepik preferred depiction of life of ordinary people as well as books where humour – particularly the popular Finnish humour – played a significant role. Since he was initially the only translator from Finnish, such kind of books shaped the general picture of Estonian translations from Finnish during the first ten or fifteen years. After mid-sixties, however, when the Estonian literature had gone through several changes and transformations, selection of authors and works for translation by Harald Lepik grew wider. Thus, beside the prose works by Veikko Huovinen, Aapeli and Sakari Pälsi, Väinö Linna, Toivo Pekkanen and Sylvi Kekkonen, Olli and Martti Larni, translations appeared by Lepik from Veijo Meri, Antti Hyry, Paavo Haavikko and Volter Kilpi. By then, others started translating from Finnish, too, making their contribution to extending the range of the translated Finnish literature. First, they mediated Marja-Liisa Vartio, Anu Kaipainen, Pentti Holappa, Juha Mannerkorpi, Eva Tikka, Kerttu-Kaarina Suosalmi and, later on, many other Finnish authors.

After the Finnish President’s visit to Estonia in 1964, translating and publishing in Finland of exile Estonian authors stopped and even later the exile part of Estonian literature among Finnish translations remained negligible. In the 1960s and 1970s, only classics of Estonian literature like Friedebert Tuglas, A. H. Tammsaare and O. Luts were published, as well as works from recognised authors of Soviet Estonia of that period.

According to Kai Laitinen, a prominent scholar in literature and a researcher in Estonian-Finnish literature relationships, the decisive change in bringing out Estonian literature in Finland was marked by two anthologies. The first one, Soome lahe tagant (“From Behind the Gulf of Finland”, 1968), compiled by Eva Hyvärinen (Lille) and Endel Mallene, introduced three new authors who represented the new Estonian prose unknown to the Finnish public. These authors were Mati Unt, Arvo Valton and Enn Vetemaa. The other anthology was 20 nüüdiseesti luuletajat (“20 Poets of Contemporary Estonia”, 1969), edited by Arvo Turtiainen and Raili Kilpi, which continued the presentation of Estonian poetry from the point where Elsa Enäjärvi-Haavio’s Eesti runotar had stopped – that is, from Betti Alver and her generation – up to Paul-Eerik Rummo and Jaan Kaplinski. The latter edition is remarkable also in the respect that Estonian poets in exile and in the homeland were represented together.

Characteristically to the post-war period, mutual translation of poetry started to gain more attention. Before the war, just a handful of books of Finnish poetry was published in Estonia. After the war, a good number of them were brought out, thanks to Debora Vaarandi who is the most consistent translator of Finnish poetry into Estonian. Separate collections of poems were published from Aleksis Kivi, Aino Kalda and Eino Leino, Katri Vala, Edith Södergran, Arvo Turtiainen and Elvi Sinervo, Tuomas Anhava, Paavo Haavikko, Pentti Saarikoski and Hannu Mäkelä. A collection of poems by four authors – Paavo Haavikko, Väinö Kirstinä, Eeva-Liisa Manner and Pentti Saarikoski – was brought out in 1967 in translation by Paul-Eerik Rummo and Ly Seppel. However, the biggest and the most embracing of published anthologies is Kümme nüüdissoome luuletajat (“Ten Poets of Contemporary Finland”) compiled by Joel Sang and brought out in 1991.

Whereas, in terms of prose, Estonians have translated Finnish authors continually and in a much greater number than Estonian authors were translated in Finland, in terms of poetry there are still no such comprehensive anthologies of Finnish poetry in Estonia as there are several of Estonian poetry in Finland. In addition to Eesti runotar and 20 nüüdiseesti luuletajat, a new comprehensive collection of Estonian poetry Uute sulgede kasvamine (“Growing of New Feathers”), compiled by Pirkko Huurto and Paul-Eerik Rummo, was published in 1984. Selections of poetry from Marie Under, Debora Vaarandi, Ellen Niit, Jaan Kaplinski, Hando Runnel and Juhan Viiding were published in separate issues.

During the last thirty years, at least four to five – and sometimes even more – works of Finnish authors have been published in Estonia annually, and there is a dozen of people who are more or less continuously engaged in translating Finnish literature. In the most recent times Eeva Joenpelto, Paavo Rintala, Helvi Hämäläinen, Antti Tuuri, Hannu Salama, Eino Säisä, Erno and Arto Paasilinna, Olli Jalonen, Danil Katz, Leena Krohn, Annika Idström, Juhani Salokannel, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu and others have been introduced to the Estonian readers. These authors belong to quite different trends and generations of Finnish literature.

Particularly since 1980s and after the official visit to Estonia in 1988 by a ten-member delegation of the Union of Swedish Writers in Finland, our publishers and translators have become more and more attracted by Swedish literature in Finland. Next to Edith Södergran, the Estonian reader has now a collection of poems and aphorisms by Elmar Diktonius, as well as Lars Huldén’s selected poems and prose work by Hagar Olsson, Ralf Nordgren, Christer Kihlman, Bo Carpelan, Märta Tikkanen and Johan Bargum.

The 1980s have become the most remarkable years in publishing Estonian literature in Finland. Hitherto, Finnish literature was translated into Estonian usually in much greater volume than Estonian literature into Finnish. Mutual translation has now become balanced; there were even years when Finns translated more Estonian literature than vice versa. The favourite Estonian prose author to Finnish readers is indisputably Jaan Kross, most of whose work has been translated into Finnish. He is followed by Viivi Luik, Lennart Meri, Mati Unt and Jaan Kaplinski, as well as Mats Traat, Raimond Kaugver, Juhan Peegel, Arvo Valton, Enn Vetemaa, Ülo Tuulik, Emil Tode and others. It is natural as well that particularly during the last ten or fifteen years the circle of translators from Estonian into Finnish has visibly grown.

Today, we look forward with excitement, eager to see what will be the future shape of our mutual literary relations – under the once again changed conditions.