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Olof Enckell

Olof Wilhelm Toussaint Enckell
Born March 12, 1900, Kurkijoki. Died June 11, 1989, Kaunianen

Baccalaureate 1917, Swedish Normal Lyceum; Master of Arts 1923, Licentiate 1949, PhD 1958, University of Helsinki

Amanuensis of Helsinki University Library 1921–23
Literary critic 1924–32, culture editor 1951–26, Hufvudstadsbladet
Professor of Swedish Literature 1950–67, University of Helsinki

Inspector (supervisor) of the student nation Östra Finlands Nation
Chairman of the Society of Swedish Authors in Finland 1938–43
Board member 1950–65, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland (SLS)
Chairman, National Council for Literature 1953
Member of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters 1957–89

Awards and honours:
Tollander award 1973
The Swedish Academy’s Finland Prize 1974


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tiia Niemelä
Translated by Matthew Billington

A longing for Karelia

During the Winter War and the War of Continuance, Olof Enckell served in the state intelligence service and worked as a war correspondent for the newspaper Huvudstadsbladet. Enckell was already familiar with Finland’s border areas, as in 1938 he had hiked in the Karelian wilderness and had made the acquaintance of the border guards. On the basis of his experiences, he wrote the work Vakt i Östen (‘Guard in the East’). After the end of the Winter War he wrote the sequel, Kringaren och bonden (‘The peasant and the soldier’), in which he depicted his experiences as a correspondent. The book does not describe military events but rather Finns’ silent, sacrificial and laconic attitude to the war and the resultant hardships. The novel also describes lively and hospitable Karelians who calmly remained in their war-ravaged villages. Enckell was interested in the culture and people of the Karelian border lands more than political disputes over the area.

Next to the spruce there grew a pine. We lay pressed to the ground and we saw that a piece of bark had been cut from it just above the root. Someone – probably some ranger at his guard post – had scraped on the resinous wood the words:

Oh Europe! Where are your men?

We stand at the border alone.

The bitter truth expressed by the words had now changed. We knew that German columns were encamped by the roads leading to Joensuu. We no longer stood at the border alone. Men had arrived from Europe.

Olof Enckell, from the work Viesti erämaastsa (Report from the wilderness’), 1943.

Enckell wanted to reinforce the sense of unity between the Karelians of the border lands and Finns in the interior of the country. He criticised, for instance, the Academic Karelia Society for failing to ingrain a realistic sense of patriotism in the border lands, instead being content with superficial signs of patriotism, the most glaring example being a prayer room painted blue and white. Enckell had been inspired by the example of National Romantic visitors to Karelia such as Eino Leino, and he wanted the Karelian border to be actively settled and local conditions to be improved, which would simultaneously create a feeling of unity.

The station of Rajajoki in Teerijoki, Finnish Karelia in 1939. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

In his Karelianism, Enckell differed from other Swedish-speaking Finnish writers. When his work on wartime Karelia Rapport från ödemarken (‘Report from the wilderness’) appeared, its romantic depiction of Karelia received both praise and criticism. In a review in the publication Svenska Pressen, Ragnar Ölander called Enckell a “born-again journalist with rose-coloured dreams of the future of a reshaped, greater-Finland.”

Both Enckell’s works dealing with Karelia and his Jägarnas historia (‘History of the Jaegers’) were translated into Finnish soon after their release. In the first half of the 20th century, there was great interest in Karelia, so there was a ready audience for Enckell’s works. Although he was Swedish-speaking, Enckell had a positive attitude to the Finnish language. The language dispute between Finnish and Swedish speakers was still raging in the 1930s, which Enckell felt was a regrettable circumstance. He emphasised the coexistence of Finnish and Swedish, as speakers of each language were nevertheless united by the same fatherland.

Enckell’s strong sense of patriotism and his National Romantic influences make him a fascinating and unique modernist.


Enckell, Emelie. Olof Enckells liv i centrum av en kulturepok. Schildts & Söderströms. Helsinki 2015.
Wrede, Johan. Enckell, Olof. National Biography online publication. Accessed October 6, 2015.

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