Awards and special achievements
Shortlisted for the Tieto Finlandia prize for non-fiction, 2014
Winner of the Blogistanian Tieto prize for non-fiction blogs, 2014
Photo: Anni Kössi, Otava
Written by Minna Maijala (Riitta-Ilona Hurmerinta, ed.)
Translated by John Calton
A scholar of Minna Canth
Minna Maijala started out as a student of Theoretical Philosophy, and her interest in philosophical views on the human condition, particularly passions, was sparked already in her first year during Vesa Oittinen’s lectures on rationalism. After beginning her subsidiary subject studies in Finnish Literature, Maijala encountered the same themes of suffering and the uncontrollability of human passions in the works of Minna Canth. This previously unexplored topic proved so intriguing that she ended up writing her doctoral dissertation on it.
In 2008, Maijala defended her dissertation on the scientific view of the human condition in Minna Canth’s works and how it relates to literary ideals and debates in the Europe of her day (Finnish Literature Society, 2008).
Her work on Canth did not end with the thesis: she had been invited to write a new biography of the author during her research. At first glance, she thought the idea of a fourth biography of Canth unnecessary, especially since she had tried to distance herself from the biographical approach that had dominated previous scholarship on the author. However, in the course of her research, Maijala had formed a picture of Canth as a person and a writer that was very different from the one promulgated in the earlier biographies.
– It felt it was so important to underline the extent of Canth’s ambition and immense learning that writing a new biography was an entirely legitimate exercise.
In the end, the writing process became a journey of its own, one during which Maijala had two children. This allowed her to reach an even deeper understanding of Canth and her life. The product of a long gestation period, the biography entitled Herkkä, hellä, hehkuvainen Minna Canth, ‘Minna Canth. Responsive, ravishing and radiant’, Otava, 2014) portrays Canth in a very different light from the one in which she has normally been seen.
– Instead of the aggressive amazon, Canth is a person characterised by her sensitivity, which, together with her unbridled enthusiasm, conjures up an image of an ambitious yet insecure writer who never took success for granted.
During her doctoral research, Maijala had already encountered the extensive archival collections on Canth, the bulk of which are held by the Kuopio City Library, and this led her to an interest in manuscript studies. After obtaining her PhD, Maijala spent a year at Edith, a unit within the Finnish Literature Society, working on critical editions of Aleksis Kivi, Finland’s national writer. During this time, Maijala got increasingly interested in the various manuscript versions and writing processes from a textual criticism angle.
At Maijala’s initiative, Kuopio City Library undertook a major project supported by the National Board of Education, in which the Canth archives were put online via an open access web portal called Minnan Salonki(‘Minna’s salon’). With regard to manuscripts and particularly the writing processes of Canth’s plays, there remain many interesting avenues of research, to which Maijala will probably return later.
– If we compare her with one of her contemporaries, Juhani Aho, Canth has been studied relatively little, so there is still plenty to do, says Maijala.