Aleksis Kivi’s only novel, Seitsemän veljestä (1870; Seven Brothers, 1929, revised 1973), is a cornerstone of literature in Finnish; his lyric production, although small and long regarded as subsidiary to his novel and his dramas, also forms part of the classical corpus of Finland’s letters.
When Finland, since the twelfth century a part of Sweden’s Baltic empire, passed into Russian hands in 1808-1809, its theatrical history consisted essentially of a few student plays, based partly on neo-Latin originals, performed in Swedish at Abo Academy (in Turku) in the middle of the seventeenth century, and, subsequently, the sporadic appearances of strolling players from Sweden and Germany. The opening of theaters in Helsinki (1827), Viipuri (1832), and Turku (1838) gave evidence of a stronger dramatic consciousness, but it was not until mid-century that texts by native playwrights were produced. These plays were still in Swedish, however, the language of education, culture, and commerce in Finland at the time, and it was not until May 10, 1869, when Aleksis Kivi’s Lea premiered at Helsinki’s New Theater, that the modern Finnish drama was born. The main role had been memorized by an actress who knew no Finnish, Hedvig Charlotte Raa; like other members of the professional company at the New Theater, she had been imported from Sweden.
Unhappily, Kivi’s own increasing emotional difficulties kept him from attending the first performance of Lea; indeed, it is doubtful that he ever saw any of his plays performed. By the time Kivi’s friend Kaarlo Bergbom, a member of the Helsinki upper class and a sometime playwright, had organized his Finnish Theater, Kivi was far gone in madness. The first appearance of Bergbom’s troupe took...
Ahokas, Jaakko. A History of Finnish Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973. Presents a broad overview of Finnish literature, touching on Kivi’s fiction and drama. Bibliography.
James, Anthony. Introducing Kivi: Poems and Translations. Swansea, England: Karhu, 1994. Although this work focuses on Kivi’s poems, it includes an introduction that looks at the life and works of the Finnish author.
Vähämäki, Börje. “Aleksis Kivi’s Kullervo: A Historical Drama of Ideas.” Scandinavian Studies 50 (1978): 269-291. This essay examines Kivi’s best-known play, Kullervo, from a historical perspective.