Frans Eemil Sillanpää’s writings are rooted in his home region, the area around Tampere. Its people—crofters and farmhands—its animals, its changing seasons, and its natural surroundings constitute his fictional world. Only seldom did Sillanpää depart from this milieu to depict city life and the higher social classes, and then frequently with satire. His characters are for the most part passive beings governed by their instincts who, without intellectual insight, yield to blind fate. These characters are analyzed either undramatically and with cool objectivity or with concern and compassion, framed by descriptions of nature showing superb poetic inspiration.
Together with this duality innarrative attitude, readers find, on the stylistic level, a fluctuation between harsh, realistic expression and suggestive, lyric sequences of the highest sophistication, almost imperceptibly following the rhythms of nature. Sillanpää did not regard life from a psychological or metaphysical standpoint; rather, he treated it as a totality that includes all living things—humans, animals, and nature. This biological monism elevates his humble and tragic characters above their sufferings, breaks the pattern of decay and catastrophe, and lends them a heroic stature either through resignation or through a realization of their affinity with an ever-revitalizing nature.
Elämä ja aurinko
Sillanpää’s first novel, Elämä ja aurinko (life and the sun), turned out to be very different from all previous Finnish fiction. Animated nature was described with a hitherto unseen precision, counterbalanced by evocative sensitivity, together reflecting the undercurrents of the human mind: The internal and the external, the self and surrounding nature, merged in a unique and refined pattern. Into the magic world of a few summer months—and of rather secondary importance—is placed a love story describing the short-lived affairs of a peasant student who has returned to his village, with both a young girl of his own social background and, at the same time, a mature, upperclass woman.
In Sillanpää’s next novel, Meek Heritage, the narrative structure has been tightened and the characters have been given firm and precise contours. Meek Heritage was written immediately after the Finnish Civil War and reflects the author’s discouraging experiences with both the communist and the anticommunist factions. It concentrates entirely on the destiny of the main character, containing few lyric descriptions of nature or philosophical reflections.
The novel is mainly about the life of Juha Toivola before the war. It tells of his childhood during the famine of the 1860’s as a penniless orphan and the abuses to which he is subjected by relatives and other people for whom he works. He marries almost unthinkingly, leases a small piece of...
(The entire section is 1198 words.)