Nationality, belonging and acceptance of national border transgressions. The example of Aino Kallas and Hella Wuolijoki

Katarina Leppänen

Abstract


How do we understand identity historically? How do theories of identity depict historical change? Has our conception of who we are changed rapidly in the last century? Was there ever a time when identities were simple? This paper investigates representation and articulation of national identity in the works of two writers, Aino Kallas (nee Krohn, 1878-1956) and Hella Wuolijoki (nee Ella Murrik, 1886-1954). Aino Kallas was born in Finland and married the Estonian Oscar Kallas. In literary introductions and surveys she is described alternately as a Finnish and an Estonian author. Kallas wrote primarily in Finnish, but also in Estonian, in dialect and in archaic language. Her style can be placed in the realistic and neo-romantic literary tradition. Kallas was active in the Noor-Eesti movement [Young Estonia], a literary group that sought to formulate a modern Estonian identity, often through historical themes. Hella Wuolijoki, in contrast, was born in the Estonian town of Helme and received her education in Tartu, in an elite school in St. Petersburg, and at the University of Helsinki. She married the Finnish lawyer, journalist and social democratic politician Sulo Vuolijoki (divorced in 1923) and settled in Finland, where she made a career as a businesswoman, political activist, literary author and playwright. In the 1920s­­ and 1930s Hella Wuolijoki hosted a political and cultural salon in Helsinki, which was frequented by many prominent artists, politicians, diplomats and international traders from both the eastern and the western block. Wuolijoki's leftist sympathies were a hindrance for her career and at first she was played mainly at workers theatres and initially she wrote under the male alias Juhani Tervapää. The cinema adaptations of her series on the women of the Niskavuori estate and its fate, has reached cult status in Finland, and a contributing factor to her popularity was her ability to capture (what was perceived as) the genuinely Finnish national characteristics. Clearly, nationality and nationalism, had meaning for Kallas and Wuolijoki. The paper takes a closer look at how the authors' nationality influences the interpretation of their aesthetic works in their new home countries, in situations of political and nationalist conflict.

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