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Eila Pennanen

Säde Eila Talvikki Pennanen
Born February 8, 1916, Tampere. Died January 23, 1994, Tampere.

Master of Arts, University of Helsinki, 1940
Librarian diploma, 1947

Writer, critic, translator
Archivist, advertiser, librarian, WSOY Publishing house, 1943–1952
Editorial secretary, Parnasso journal, 1952–1957
Lectured on literary translation to Finnish students at the University of Helsinki in the 1960s and 1970s.


Väinö Linna Prize, 1990
The Union of Finnish Writers’ Award for Merit, 1990
Kiitos Kirjasta ('Thanks for the Book') medal, 1969
Pro Finlandia literary award, 1968
Aleksis Kivi Award, 1965
Mikael Agricola Award, 1962, 1971
City of Tampere Writer’s Prize, 1954, 1971, 1973, 1980, 1986, 1988
State Prize for Literature, 1946, 1949, 1955, 1962, 1964
Kalevi Jäntti Prize, 1945

Photo: WikimediaCommons
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by
John Calton

An astute critic and a prolific translator

Eila Pennanen became the editorial secretary of the Finnish literary magazine Parnasso in 1952. This enabled her to acquaint herself with the newest currents in European literature. Pennanen also took it upon herself to bring them to the Finnish reading public as a critic and a translator.

According to Pekka Tarkka, Pennanen was a ‘stern and capricious’ critic. She took a stand on a wide range of works and made it crystal clear whether she thought they were good or bad. In 1957, she quit her job at Parnasso, becoming a freelance writer, critic and translator. She became the central figure of Finnish literary criticism, one who engendered reverence, even fear. Her career as a critic continued until the 1990s.

Pennanen distinguished herself not only as a writer and a critic but also as a translator. Her first translation, of Edith Unnerstad’s Snäckhuset (in Finnish, Näkinkenkätalo or ‘The snack bar’), came out in 1950. In a career spanning over four decades, she translated Jane Austen, George Orwell and Tove Jansson, among others. Her translations had a huge variety of different genres, ranging from novels to radio plays and literary theory.

With over one hundred works to her name, Pennanen was one of the most prolific translators of her time. However, she did not restrict herself to her own translation work but also taught literary translation at the University of Helsinki and in various seminars. She also encouraged budding translators and helped them get started in their careers. For instance, she translated one of her most famous works, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, together with Kersti Juva, who was then a student of hers.

Pennanen broke new ground as both critic and translator, being one of the most visible characters in her field at the time. She also took part in research on both topics, for example by contributing to a volume on Finnish literature (Suomen kirjallisuus, 1970). In addition, she made a sustained effort to pass on her knowledge and skills to the next generation. Her role in bringing the world literature of her time to Finland can hardly be exaggerated.

Eila Pennanen and Kersti Juva in the summer seminar of the publishing house WSOY in the early 1980s.​
Eila Pennanen and Kersti Juva in the summer seminar of the publishing house WSOY in the early 1980s.​


  • Kaarina Sala, ’Pennanen, Eila (1916–1994)’, National Biography of Finland online. Accessed April 23, 2015, via NELLI.
  • Olli Mäkelä, ’Eila Pennanen’, Näytelmät.fi writers’ profiles website, Suomen Näytelmäkirjailijat ja Käsikirjoittajat ry (’Finnish playwrights and screenwriters association’). Accessed April 23, 2015.
  • Pekka Tarkka, ’Eila Pennanen’, Helsingin Sanomat newspaper obituary. Accessed April 23, 2015.
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