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literature

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Jansson, Tove (1914-2001)  
 
page: 1  2  

The transition from children's literature to fantasy literature derived largely from the psychological development of the characters. Along with the central figure, Moomintroll, "the rest of the family also became more clearly defined, and they do not always harmonize with each other, . . . and that," concludes Warburton, "is Tove Jansson's message, never obvious but always present in her Moomin stories: show consideration for your fellow beings and understanding for those who are different."

For her contributions to literature, Jansson won many honors, including the Stockholm Award for best children's book (1952), the Selma Lagerlöf Medal (1953), the Hans Christian Andersen Award (1966), the Swedish Academy Prize (1972), the Pro Finlandia Medal (1976), and the Finnish state prize for literature (1963, 1971, and 1982).

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Jansson's Moomin books, originally published in Swedish, have been translated in more than thirty languages. They were so popular in Japan that they spawned a television series that ran to fifty-two episodes. The Moomins have also appeared on postage stamps and Finnair planes, among other things.

"I made designs for wallpapers, paper dolls, ceramics, chocolates, candles, cloths, curtains, towels, pens, records, jewelry, postcards, and I don't know what all," stated Jansson.

The Moomin Museum opened in Tampere in 1987 and has become a leading tourist attraction in Finland.

Jansson ended her Moomin series with Sent I november (1970; Moominland in November). "I couldn't go back and find that happy Moominvalley again," she said of her decision not to continue the saga.

By that time Jansson had already begun writing for adults with her semi-autobiographical collection of stories, Bildhuggarens dotter (Sculptor's Daughter), published in 1968. The stories are an appreciation of her parents' commitment to art and to the expression of personal freedom. That Jansson chose to fictionalize some aspects of a largely autobiographical work is a tribute to her parents' encouragement of her creativity.

She followed this work with Sommarboken (1972; The Summer Book), the remembrance of a woman who had spent the summers of her girlhood with her grandmother on an island in the Finnish archipelago. Critic Peter F. Neumeyer remarks that this "pastoral idyll is both undermined and sharpened extraordinarily by Jansson's shrewd and astringently unsentimental glance at the loneliness and encumbrances that attend old age."

Aging was also a theme in Jansson's Sun City (1974), which Neumeyer calls "a wry, sharp, wise, funny, macabre tale set in an old-age home in, of all places, St. Petersburg, Florida."

The location is not as improbable as it might seem. Jansson and Pietilä spent time in St. Petersburg in 1972 when, on the way home from a trip to Japan, they made an eight-month tour of the United States, traveling by Greyhound bus.

The treatment of homosexuality in Sun City is subtle and the longing unrequited but undeniably present in the relationship of an older man and a younger one who is heterosexual and thus ultimately unattainable.

Rent spel (1989; Fair Play) addresses both questions of sexuality and literary form.

"Is it a novel? Is it stories? It's both; it breaks the boundaries of both forms in a series of linked vignettes about two women who live and work side by side," concludes critic Ali Smith.

Like Sculptor's Daughter, Fair Play is autobiographical without being an autobiography.

"It's a novel with a profound sense of discretion at its core," writes Smith, "but the flip side of silence is voice, and the flip side of nothing much happening, as always with Jansson, is that absolutely everything is happening . . . . This novel . . . is very much about how to shake off old ways of seeing, how to see things differently, get rid of what's 'hopelessly conventional' and replace it with something more hopeful."

A love story about two women in their seventies, Fair Play is, observes reviewer Andreas Campeonar, "a portrayal of the most intimate of human relationships," adding that "Jansson is unconcerned with conventional plot devices, content to let the narrative almost disappear into what Hegel called the 'prose of the world'; the beauty of the day-to-day. It is here, in between episodes of action, in the incidental detail, that we find the true meaning of the novel."

Lesbian themes can also be found in Jansson's short stories, including "Den stora resan" ("The Great Journey") in the 1978 collection Dockskåpet och andra berättelser (The Dolls' House and Other Stories). The tale, while eventually hopeful and healing, movingly represents the difficulties that people of that time and place had in publicly expressing their homosexual love.

Throughout her life Jansson was an artist as well as a writer. She provided the illustrations for a Finnish edition of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland (1966). In addition to producing numerous works of fine art displayed in galleries, she also undertook public projects, including frescoes in the Helsinki city hall (1947), murals in a vocational school in Kotka (1951), the town hall in Hamina (1952), and a kindergarten in Pori (1954), as well as an altarpiece for a church in Teuva (1954).

Touchingly, Jansson collaborated with Pietilä and both of their mothers to create a series of tableaux of the Moomins that is now in the Moomin Museum in Tampere.

Jansson, considered a national treasure in Finland, died on June 27, 2001 in Helsinski.

Linda Rapp

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    Bibliography
   

Burr, Ty. "Moomin Struck: Tove Jansson: 1914-2001." Entertainment Weekly 606 (July 27, 2001): 66.

Campeonar, Andres. "Gone Fishing." Times Literary Supplement (July 20, 2007): 21.

Colebatch, Hal G. P. "Tove Jansson, 1914-2001." Quadrant Magazine 45.11 (November 2001): http://quadrant.org.au/php/article_view.php?article_id=1820.

Coward, Ros. "Tove Jansson: Gifted Creator of the Moomins, a Fantasy Family for Children and Adults Alike." The Guardian (London) (June 30, 2001): http://books.guardian.co.uk/news/articles/0,6109,514869,00.html.

Jansson, Sophia. "Tove Jansson and Her Lovable Moomins." Scandinavian Review 94.2 (Autumn 2006): 6-11.

Jansson, Tove. Moominsummer Madness. Thomas Warburton, trans. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1955.

McLoughlin, Kate, and Malin Lidström Brock, eds. Tove Jansson Rediscovered. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

Neumeyer, Peter F. "Tove Jansson at Eighty." The Horn Book Magazine 70.5 (September/October 1994): 555-562.

Pace, Eric. "Tove Jansson, Who Created Universe of Trolls, Dies at 86." New York Times (July 9, 2001): B6.

Smith, Ali. "The Magician of the Mundane." The Times (London) (May 26, 2007): Features, 6.

Warburton, Thomas. "The Moomin World and Its Creator." Virtual Finland (November 20, 2001): http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/showarticles.asp?intNWSAID=27031.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Jansson, Tove  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated February 25, 2011  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/jannson_tove_lit.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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