Finnish Literature

By | September 10, 2021

Finnish literature, term for the Finnish-language literature and oral traditions to which a significant proportion of Finnish literature is ascribed.

The tradition of songs, ballads, magic spells, legends, sagas and fairy tales, some of which stretched over a millennium and which remained alive into the 20th century, and their forms and motifs still strongly influence today’s literature.

A romantic-national, later scientific collecting zeal brought the oral tradition to print or to the archives during the 19th and 20th centuries. The epic “Kalevala” (1835, final version 1849), which E. Lönnrot put together from the old epic, lyrical and magical songs, achieved world literary status. Old Finnish folk poetry appeared in the Kanteletar collection (1840).


The written literature first became tangible in the 16th century with M. Agricola’s translations of religious, edifying and worship books and the New Testament. In the midst of simple, mostly translated instructional literature and some legal texts, the printed Finnish word persisted in the centuries that followed. On the whole, however, the Finnish culture was overlaid with Swedish. E. Lönnrot’s work, however, meant a renewal of the written Finnish language. A. Kivi became a classic in Finnish literature with works (dramas and prose) trained on Shakespeare, Cervantes and L. Holberg.

European influences from the late 19th century

Towards the end of the 19th century, European literary currents reached Finland, albeit with some delay. M. Canth fought for the rights of women in her socially critical dramas and short stories. During this “time of ideas” the (early) realist J. Aho, the Tolstoy student A. Järnefelt and J. Linnankoski wrote their first short stories. V. Kilpi, the social critic J. Lehtonen as well as A. Kallas and M. Jotuni (also playwright) belong to the circle of neo-romantic and impressionistic storytellers at the beginning of the 20th century. I. Kianto, M. Lassila and M. Talvio described everyday life in their novels with psychological realism, often with humor. F. E. Sillanpää described the nature and soul of the people of his western Finnish homeland. Visit for Finland travel information.

The romanticism of the years around 1890 was expressed by v. a. also in the lyric. In the poems of E. Leino, the late Romantic symbolism, which was in interaction with the other arts, such as music (J. Sibelius) and painting (A. Gallen-Kallela), reached its climax. Also E. Leinos translations (Goethe, Schiller, Dante) and the poet O. Manninen made a significant contribution to the further development of the Finnish literary language. An important poet of thought was V. A. Koskenniemi.

New impulses from 1917

The Finnish independence (1917) marked a turning point in literature as well. Liberals and conservatives appeared with their own programs. In the 1920s, the liberal authors known as “Tulenkantajat” (fire bearers) experimented with Expressionism, such as Uuno Kailas (* 1901, † 1933). The political left united in 1936 in the re-establishment of the »Feuerträger« magazine (especially Katri Vala, (* 1901, † 1944) and in the group »Kiila« (The Wedge) (including Arvo Turtiainen, * 1904, † 1980) The novel remained on the whole realistic in the first half of the 20th century; themes that are frequently taken up are the life and fate of peasant figures or clans, often ironic or socially critical (J. Lehtonen, P. Haanpää, L. Viita). With T. Pekkanen, the workers’ literature had its say at an early stage; her strongest narrative talent was V. Linna. War was a central theme for V. Linna (“The Unknown Soldier”, 1954) and for the authors of modern prose after the Second World War (V. Meri , P. Rintala,E. Joenpelto and E. Kilpi ). Here v. a. the Finnish literary language was expanded to include the expressions of the colloquial language that was previously avoided. Irony and skepticism also pervade the deep structure of the globally successful novels (»Sinuhe der Egyptter«, 1945) by M. T. Waltari. Other important storytellers are Veikko Huovinen (* 1927, † 2009), A. Hyry and Juha Mannerkorpi (* 1915, † 1980).

The drama is limited to the middle of the 20th century BC. a. on folk plays with a socially critical tendency, which are played on many amateur stages in the country. According to the theoretically interested symbolist Lauri Haarla (* 1890, † 1944) it was v. a. H. Wuolijoki , employee of B. Brecht, who represented the end of a feudal era in the Finnish landlord world. Arvo Salo (* 1932, † 2011) met with a great response with the revolutionary piece “Lapua Opera” (1966). In the 1970s and 80s there was a considerable production of radio plays and dramas for radio and television; Mention should be made here in particular of P. Haavikko.

The poets experimented with almost all forms and expressive gestures in modern European poetry. The transition to modernity was formed by A. A. Hellaakoski and P. Mustapää – still standing in the literary tradition of the »fire bearers«; the development of the 1950s shaped E.-L. Manner, P. Haavikko, Marja-Liisa Vartio (* 1924, † 1966) and A. Tynni . The most important representatives of recent Finnish literature include: the poets P. Saarikoski, M. Rekola , Väinö Kirstinä (* 1936, † 2007), L. Nummi and V. Kajava as well as the prose writers Hannu Salama (* 1936), Erno Paasilinna (* 1935, † 2000) and A. Tuuri.

Finnish Literature