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Maila Talvio

Maila Talvio (Maria Mikkola, née Winter)
Born October 17, Hartola. Died January 6, Helsinki

Writer, public speaker, student nation activist

Haapaniemen keinu (‘The Haapaniemi swing,’ 1890)
Tähtien alla (‘Under the stars,’ 1910)
Hämähäkki ja muita kertomuksia, (‘The spider and other stories,’ 1912)
Silmä yössä, (‘The eye in the night,’1917)
Itämeren tytär (‘Daughter of the Baltic Sea,’1929–1936): Kaukaa tullut (‘Come from afar,’ 1929), Hed-ulla ja hänen kosijansa (‘Hed-Ulla and her suitor,’ 1931), Hopealaiva (‘The silver ship,’ 1936)

Golden Academic Wreath of the Polish Academy of Literature1936
Henrik Steffens prize 1940
Honorary PhD, University of Helsinki, 1950

Photo: Museovirasto/Salon Strinberg
Written by Olli Siitonen
Translated by Matthew Billington

Portrayer of death and pioneer of the historical novel

Maila Talvio’s literary production began at the end of the 19th century with the publication, in various newspapers, of her travelogues. She travelled with her husband, J. J. Mikkola, an avid Slavic philologist, on his work and research trips, which were mainly to Eastern and Central Europe. Talvio’s literary consciousness is said to have awoken part way through a trip to Lithuania. She became proficient in Polish and decided to translate several works of the author Henryk Sienkiewicz into Finnish.

Photo: F. A. V. Hjertzellin/ Kootut teokset 1, WSOY

In Talvio’s writing the world appears a melancholy, even sinful place, and her works depict, in addition to death, various psychological problems. In the writer’s works from the early 20th century, various social problems are depicted, including the position of tenant farmers and the aristocracy’s indifference to plight of the nation. In addition to societal themes, her writing of the time dealt with love and eroticism. In Tähtien alla (‘Under the stars,’ 1910), Talvio contributed to the then current debate on the relationship between eroticism and marriage.

In the 1910s, Talvio’s style of writing changed in the direction of fairy tales, and she translated, among others, the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen into Finnish. Simultaneously, the tone of her writing became darker when she dealt with themes such as sleep and death. These themes appear, for example, her 1917 novel Silmä yössä (‘The eye in the night’), which is stylistically close to early 20th century European death poetry.

At the turn of the 1930s, Talvio was in the vanguard of the development of the Finnish historical novel. Our capital, Helsinki, features in her trilogy Itämeren tytär (‘Daughter of the Baltic Sea,’ 1929–36), which portrays the consequences of the wars of the 18th century.

1950 saw the 400th anniversary of the founding of Helsinki. In the same year, Talvio was awarded an honorary PhD in the first conferment ceremony arranged after the war.


  • Huhtala, Liisi, Talvio Maila. National Biography online publication, SKS (Accessed September 28, 2015).
  • Klinge, Matti, Maan sydän ja isänmaan toivo, in Helsingin yliopisto 1640–1990. 2. osa Keisarillinen Aleksanterin yliopisto 1808–1917 (Klinge Matti ed.) Otava, Helsinki 1989.
  • Maila Talvio, Wikipedia (Accessed September28, 2015).
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