Maria Jotuni (née Haggren, from 1911 Jotuni-Tarkiainen)
Born April 9, 1880, Kuopio. Died September 30, 1943, Helsinki
Studied history, art history and literature, Imperial Alexander University
Photo: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura
Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by John Calton
Brave female writer
Maria Jotuni was born into an ordinary family in Kuopio in 1880. Her interest in literature was awakened in primary school and continued throughout her school days. Indeed she was granted special dispension to take the matriculation examination, exceptional for a woman at the time. Back then, passing the matriculation examination meant automatic admission to university. Thus it was that Maria Jotuni began her studies at the Imperial Alexander University in 1900. At first, Maria threw herself into student ‘nation’ activities. At the time, many future literary greats, including Viljo Tarkiainen, Otto Manninen and Edvard Gylling, were members of the Savo-Karelian student nation.
Jotuni wrote her first pieces during her time as a student, although she did not rate them too highly. Her collection of texts called Suhteita ('Relationships') was published in 1905. The novel Arkielämää ('Daily life'), far more provocative than its predecessor, was published a couple of years later to mixed reviews. The work received some critical acclaim as an artistic achievement, but the actual content was subject to criticism.
For some reason, studying at the University did not sit well with Jotuni; she never graduated, dropping out in 1906. The same year she joined in the Fennoman movement, changing her surname from Haggren to Jotuni, as part of the Finnicising of Swedish surnames.
In the 1910s, Maria Jotuni's professional attention began to shift towards playwriting. Her first play, Vanha koti ('The old home'), opened at the Finnish National Theatre. The play Miehen kylkiluu ('Man's rib') was published four years later and was later made into a film.
During the following decade, Jotuni wrote other plays as well, but they varied in terms of popularity and sometimes only gained admiration years later. The play Tohvelisankarin rouva ('The wimp’s wife', 1924) in particular was subject to much debate about the morality of theatre, a debate which even reached the Finnish Parliament. According to an article by Pirjo Lyytikäinen, the play's opening night at the Finnish National Theatre was a failure as a production, which may have had an impact on its reception.
Short stories and plays make up the core of Jotuni's oeuvre. To most, she is best known for these works in particular. However, she also managed to write a novel before she passed away. Mysteriously, the novel only saw the light of day a couple of decades after the author's death. Before it was published, however, the book took part in a competition organised by the publishing house Otava in 1935. Jotuni had written a prefatory note to the novel, claiming that the book was only in competition for the first prize, which it did not win. This goes some way to explaining the delay in publication.
The central themes in Jotuni's works are women and their status in society. Lyytikäinen notes that Jotuni also brought up themes and facts that were common knowledge to people at the time, but which were never publicly addressed. In Lyytikäinen's opinion, Jotuni wraps up all of these themes in her own brand of dark humour.
The publishing house Otava is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year and releasing a large collection of Finnish literary classics as ebooks. Included in the back catalogue is Maria Jotuni's Arkielämää.