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
Minna Canth (born March 19, 1844, died May 12, 1897)
The works of the author Minna Canth attracted plenty of attention when they were first published. Even her first play Murtovarkaus ('The Burglary', 1882) won an award at the Finnish Literature Society's play contest, and she was quickly elevated to the status of the most important playwright in the emerging field of Finnish theatre, right up there with Aleksis Kivi. She was known as a reader and author who kept up with what was going on in the world, and in her articles did not hold back when it came to voicing her opinion, not only on literary matters, but also on various other subjects.
Unlike her male colleagues, Minna Canth never travelled abroad to experience European culture. She was kept back at home in Kuopio by her large family and successful draper’s store, which secured the family's livelihood following the death of her husband. Many of the authors and artists of the day, however, appreciated her as a conversationalist who could tell you all about the new developments in Western literature and science.
Canth was wealthy enough to order European literature and literary magazines to her home, which she systematically read in order to develop her thinking and draw influence from for her own literary works. Her way of describing her characters' fates, according to the ideals of French naturalism and tragic pathological tales of illness, such as those to be found in Hanna (1886), Salakari (1887), Kovan onnen lapset ('The Children of Misfortune', 1888) and Sylvi (1892), in which a character is destroyed after succumbing to their perverted passions, also faced strong opposition. The most ardent opponents, such as the conservative Agathon Meurman, believed Canth's works to be dangerous and objectionable.
At the time, people were very familiar with the European idea and ideals of literature on which Canth based her works. Literature, its purpose and mode of expression were all discussed at great length in the press, and more conservative readers were also encouraged to read naturalistic literature on its own terms.
However, the discussion subsided soon after Canth's death, and people began trying to fit her into the literary canon through the prism of her gender, as a female author, who, compared to her contemporary Juhani Aho, was seen as a feebler scribbler whose only goal was channels her rants about society’s problems through her works. Throughout the 1900s, Canth's works were read almost entirely through the lens of their social utility. It wasn’t until the early 21st century that the rich literary influences and consciously ambitious literary efforts so appreciated by her contemporaries, were brought to the fore through new research.