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Annamari Sarajas

Born October 12, 1923, Nivala. Died January 3, 1985, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1948, Licentiate 1956, PhD 1957, University of Helsinki
Docent in literary history 1957–66

Editorial secretary 1949–50, Näköala
Publication officer 1948–56, Werner Söderström Oy
Editor in chief 1963–64, editorial board member 1965–68, Valvoja
Arts editor 1957–61, head of culture 1965–66, Uusi Suomi
Senior research fellow 1962–64, National Research Council of the Humanities
Research associate in aesthetics and modern literature 1956–60, Professor extraordinary 1967–68, professor of Finnish literature 1968–85, University of Helsinki

Board member 1946, Student Union of the University of Helsinki
Board member 1947–48, National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL)
Board member, vice chairman 1973–80, literature committee chairman 1980–, Finnish Literature Society
Member 1968–77, Supervisory Board of the Finnish Cultural Foundation
Member 1974–, Finnish Academy of Science and Letters

Suomen kansanrunouden tuntemus 1500–1700 -lukujen kirjallisuudessa (‘Knowledge of Finnish folk poetry in 16th to 17th century literature,’ doctoral dissertation, 1956).
Elämän meri (‘The sea of life,’ 1961)
Viimeiset romantikot (‘The last romantics,’ 1962)
Pohjoisen Suomen kuvaajia (‘Depicters of northern Finland’) in the book Suomen kirjallisuus V (‘Finnish literature V,’ 1965)
Suomalaista proosaa Lehtosesta Sillanpäähän (‘Finnish prose from Lehtonen to Sillanpää,’ 1966)
Tunnuskuvia: Suomen ja Venäjän kirjallisen realismin kosketuskohtia (‘Symbols: points of contact between Finnish and Russian literary realism,’ 1968)
Lumituisku - venäläinen aihelma (‘The blizzard – a Russian motif,’ 1970)
Orfeus nukkuu (‘Orpheus sleeps,’ 1980)

Photo: SKS
Written by Tiia Niemelä
Translated by Matthew Billington

University career

Annamari Sarajas was appointed professor of Finnish literature by President Urho Kekkonen on June 28, 1968. At the time of her appointment, Sarajas already had experience of the duties of a professor; she had worked as professor extraordinary of literary history for the past year, before which she had substituted for professorial posts in both aesthetics and modern literature and Finnish literature for many years. Thus, this woman of the press already had a rather imposing academic career behind her.

The academic Matti Kuusi praised Sarajas 1956 doctoral dissertation, Suomen kansanrunouden tuntemus 1500–1700 -lukujen kirjallisuudessa (Knowledge of Finnish folk poetry in the literature of the 1500–1700s’) as an “incredible performance, one of the corner stones of our history of science and learning during the Swedish period,” which was also “lightly and elegantly” written. In her work, Saraja attempted to combine factual information with a reader-friendly mode of presentation. As a professor, she also saw it part of her task to maintain contacts with writers and the reading public, nor, in contrast to her colleagues, was she interested in the collection of academic accolades. Sarajas lived and breathed for literature; it was no mere subject of research.

Sarajas was demanding both of herself and her students. Her former students journalist and scholar Pekka Tarkka and editor-in-chief of Yliopilaslehti Yrjö Larmola remember Sarajas above all as a perceptive and inspiring lecturer. Nevertheless, Larmola remarked that to follow Saraja’s lectures the listener needed to have a good prior knowledge of literature. Thus, it seems Sarajas was little inclined to give her students an easy ride.

Festschrift published in 1983 in honour of Professor Annamari Sarajas’s 60th birthday. Pekka Tarkka and Yrjö Larmola were among the contributors to the book.

According to Sarajas, “history is the faithful sibling of the literary scholar.” In her works she always strove to place the individuals she studied in their historical context and describe the word in which they lived. For example, in the book Elämän meri (‘The sea of life,’ 1961), she traced reflections of French symbolism in the poetry of Eino Leino and Otto Manninen, and Viimeiset romantikot (‘The last romantics,’ 1962) explored a “key national turning point” in the works of Maria Jotuni, F.E. Sillanpää and Joel Lehtonen.

President Urho Kekkonen was among the admirers of Sarajs’s work. Her book Tunnuskuvia (‘Symbols’) connected with the historical research tradition belonging to Kekkonen’s Soviet policy, which focused on Finland’s position vis-à-vis Russia. After Sarajas’s professorial appointment, she and Kekkonen corresponded. Kekkonen praised Sarajas’s work as fascinating and wrote: “it is encouraging to read about the lack of prejudice with which 19th century and turn-of-the-century Finnish writers approached works of Russian high literary fiction.”

When entering the 1970s, it nevertheless seems that Sarajas suffered a case of burnout, and throughout the entire 1970s she failed to publish more than one work, Lumituisku (Blizzard, 1970), which also dealt with Russian literature. Orfeus nukkuu(‘Orpheus sleeps,’ 1980) remained her last work, as she died in a fire at her home at the beginning of 1985. Professor Emeritus Matti Klinge, who witnessed the fire, observed in his memoires that although the final years of Sarajas’s career were overshadowed with problems, she was “nevertheless an important figure in the mid-20th century.”

Annamari Sarajas at the end of the 1970s. Photo: Helsinki University Museum.

Kortti, Jukka. Ylioppilaslehden vuosisata (‘One hundred years of Ylioppilaslehti) Gaudeamus. Tallinn 2013
Tarkka, Pekka. Sarajas, Annamari (1923-1985). National Biography online publication. Accessed November 23, 2015.
Annamari Sarajaksen virkaanastujaisluentokutsu (‘Invitation to the inaugural lecture of Professor Annamari Sarajas’). Helsinki 1968
Matti Klinge julkaisi värikkäät muistelmat: Kekkonen vetäytyi myöhemmin yöllä lemmiskelemään (‘Matti Klinge publishes colourful memoires: later in the night Kekkonen retired to canoodle’. Ilta-Sanomat September 19, 2014. Accessed November 23, 2015.
Urho Kekkonen to Annamari Sarajas (letter) February 8, 1968

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