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Finnish Literature  

Finnish literature generally has been regarded as closely reflecting the Finnish national character of independence and self-sufficiency. The history of modern Finnish-language literature is relatively brief.

The cornerstone of modern Finnish literature is Seven Brothers (Seitsemän veljestä [1870]) by Aleksis Kivi (1834-1872). Since Kivi's day, Finnish literature has been largely realistic in nature, and the canonical literary history contains no extensive references to overt same-sex behavior before the sexual revolution of the 1960s. However, the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland pioneered a more openly lesbian and gay literature in the 1970s.

Interestingly, a recent film adaptation of Kivi's Seven Brothers (directed by Jouko Turkka) interprets Simeoni, the only brother who remains unmarried, as an early representation of a Finnish gay man. With the gradual emergence of Finnish gay and lesbian literary criticism during the past few years, the scope of Finnish gay and lesbian literature has been widened and the myth of Finland as an isolated "straight" nation has been deconstructed.

Gay and lesbian literary criticism has operated on two levels: previously overlooked writers--especially those who traveled widely and had close ties to continental artists and writers--have been rediscovered, and "closeted" writers have been reassessed by gay and lesbian critics.

An example of the first trend is the rediscovery of the widely traveled novelist and activist Aino Malmberg (1865-1933), whose early short story "Friendship" ("Ystävyyttä" [1903]) has recently been reissued in Finland and also translated into English. This ironic story revolves around two unmarried female teachers and their "perverted" relationship.

Examples of the second approach may be seen in the recent reassessments of the works of the Finnish-Swedish poet Edith Södergran (1892-1923) and novelist-playwright Hagar Olsson (1893-1978). The lesbian currents of their work have been previously misrepresented as merely depictions of beauty and friendship, but are now being more honestly discussed.

Male writers whose homosexual themes are ripe for revaluation include the Romantic poets Kaarlo Sarkia (1902-1945) and Uuno Kailas (1901-1933). Kailas's poem "On the Baseball Field" ("Pallokentällä" [1928]), for example, involves a crippled boy who is unable to participate in a baseball game. A gay reading of this poem would emphasize its themes of "otherness" and difference.

One of the first Finnish authors to write openly about homosexuality is the Swedish-speaking novelist Christer Kihlman (b. 1930). His semiautobiographical novel The Man Who Collapsed (Människan som skalv [1971]) triggered a public discussion of homosexual relationships, which were not decriminalized in Finland until 1972.

Homosexuality is also a major theme in Kihlman's novels The Blue Mother (Den blå modern [1963]) and The Downfall of Gerdt Bladh (Gerdt Bladhs undergång [1987]). The latter novel is also one of the first Finnish works to deal with AIDS, which, here, metaphorically destroys the old world and its values.

Pentti Holappa (b. 1927) also deals with formerly taboo subjects. His novel Portrait of a Friend (Ystävän muotokuva [1988]), for example, includes highly graphic homosexual scenes and openly depicts an incestuous relationship.

Lesbian and gay themes are prominent in the novels and plays of Pirkko Saisio (b. 1949). Her novel The Daughter of Cain (Kainin tytäar [1994]) is an important milestone in Finnish lesbian literature.

Another author who includes lesbian themes in her fiction is the creator of the internationally acclaimed Moomin characters, Tove Jansson (1914-2001). In Fair Play (Rent spel [1989]), for example, Jansson depicts two elderly ladies who share their lives.

Although Finnish literature--whether written in Finnish or in Swedish--has remained largely unknown and untranslated into major languages, nevertheless the work of one Finnish gay man has had an enormous influence on gay culture: artist and cartoonist Touko Laaksonen (1920-1991), also known as Tom of Finland. His depictions of exceptionally well-endowed male figures with exaggeratedly muscular physiques have become iconic images, familiar around the world.

Lasse Kekki


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   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Finland

Like other Nordic countries, Finland is liberal in regards to gay rights, though it has been slower than its neighbors to assure glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Helsinki

Helsinki, Finland's capital and largest city, is the hub of Finnish gay and lesbian life and the center of the country's glbtq political rights movement.

literature >> Overview:  Swedish Literature

Same-sex love in Swedish literature is largely a nineteenth- and twentieth-century phenomenon, and recently gay and lesbian publications have appeared in significant numbers.

literature >> Jansson, Tove

Best known for her series of children's books about the Moomin family of trolls, Tove Jansson, considered a national treasure in Finland, also wrote fiction for adults and was an accomplished artist and illustrator.

arts >> Tom of Finland (Touko Laaksonen)

Defiantly rejecting the invisibility, homophobia, and indignities of pre-Stonewall life, the men in Tom of Finland's drawings reflect a hyper-masculine, working-class version of homosexual manhood that proved important to the emerging gay rights movement.


Hooven, F. W., III. Tom of Finland: His Life and Times. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993.

Kekki, Lasse. "Kihlman, Christer." Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian Culture: 1945 to Today. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds. London: Routledge, 2000. 227-228.

Lahti, Martti. "Dressing up in Power: Tom of Finland and Gay Male Body Politics." Scandinavian Homosexualities: Essays on Gay and Lesbian Studies. Jan Löfström, ed. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1998. 185-205.

Mustola, Kati. "Malmberg, Aino." Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian Culture: From Antiquity to the Second World War. Robert Aldrich and Garry Wotherspoon, eds. London: Routledge, 2000. 289-290.

Pakkanen, Johanna. "Hänen ruusuiset käsivartensa-missä Suomen lesbokirjallisuuden rajat?" Uusin silmin. Lesbinen katse kulttuuriin. Pia Livia Hekanaho, et al., eds. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 1996. 38-65.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kekki, Lasse  
    Entry Title: Finnish Literature  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated November 3, 2003  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, New England Publishing Associates  


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