Juhani “Jussi” Aho (Johannes Brofeldt until 1907)
Born September 11, 1861, Lapinlahti. Died August 8, 1921, Helsinki.
Doctor of Philosophy honoris causa 1907, Imperial Alexander University
Author, journalist and translator
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by Olli Silvennoinen
The first artist by Lake Tuusula
Johannes Brofeldt, who was later known as Juhani Aho, was born in Lapinlahti in 1861 to a family that leaned towards the Lutheran Awakening movement. His studies took him first to lyceum in Kuopio and then to the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki, where he studied the Finnish language, literature and history.
Alongside his studies, he was beginning his writing career. Finland in the 1880s was home to a burgeoning newspaper culture that offered Aho the chance to work while still a student as well as a good opportunity to publish drafts of his texts and thus get feedback on them. The press was also the scene for many political battles, which suited the young and radical Aho well. His involvement with journalism continued throughout his life, not only as a writer but also as a founder of newspapers. The best-known paper that he helped found was Päivälehti, the predecessor of Helsingin Sanomat.
Juhani Aho never finished his degree, having given up his studies in 1884 to become a freelance writer. This is the era that saw the publication of his most famous and critically acclaimed works such as Rautatie (Railroad, Norvik Press, 2012), Papintytär (‘The priest’s daughter’) and Papinrouva (‘The priest’s wife’).
After a trip to Paris in the early 1890s, it was time for Aho to start a family and make a life for himself on a more secure basis. He got married to the artist Venny Soldan in 1891 and towards the end of the century they moved to the shore of Lake Tuusula in southern Finland. Later the area drew other major figures of Finnish art as well, including Eero Järnefelt and Jean Sibelius.
The turn of the century was marked by the Russian empire’s attempts at a Russification of Finland, and Aho became politically active again. After he made a radical stand on the issues, Aho and his family had to leave Finland for a year, which they spent in Austria and Italy. The exile resulted in several texts ranging from travel diaries to fiction.
The trip and the works that it produced marked a new phase in Juhani Aho’s life. He became a member of the board of Finnish National Theatre, and he was also appointed to several other positions of trust in the Union of Finnish Writers and the Society for Finnish Literature, among others. This enabled him to have an influence on the funding of publishing, and he is credited with helping to establish the practice of translating Finnish literature into foreign languages. In 1907 Aho was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Imperial Alexander University. Along with Paavo Cajander, who got the accolade at the same time, Aho was the first author to receive an honorary doctorate from the university. In the same year, he also changed his name from the Swedish-sounding Johannes Brofeldt to the Finnish name by which he is known.
By the time he turned 50, Aho had reached the status of a nationally significant figure and his birthday was a national holiday. Aho himself chose not to take part in the celebrations in Helsinki, opting to fish in Huopana near Viitasaari in Central Finland. Fishing had become an important holiday pastime for Aho and it remained so until the 1920s. He had been preparing a book on fishing but was not able to finish it during his lifetime. It was published posthumously in 1921.
Juhani Niemi, ‘Aho, Juhani’. National Biography of Finland online. Accessed March 27, 2015.