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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

Writer and professor

Karl Enckell, professor of agricultural economics, and his wife, gymnastics teacher Vesta Charlotta Edgren, could perhaps never have guessed that of their four sons, Olof, Torger (1901-1991) and Rabbe (1903-1974) would have a visible influence on the cultural life of the young Republic of Finland in the fields of literature and painting.

Olof Enckell’s life coincided with a tumultuous period in Finnish political history, which encompassed Russification, independence, the Civil War, World War II and the Cold War. It is clear that political events pinfluenced Enckell’s patriotism, which was particularly visible in his literary works. Enckell’s youth, on the other hand, coincided with what history was later to call the revolution of modern art and literature. Olof Enckell was initially suspicious of modernism, but his brother Rabbe Enckell, the writer and artist, managed to persuade him to join the movement.

Swedish-speaking Finnish writers in the 1930s. From right to left: Elmer Diktonius, Harald Hornborg, Olof Enckell, Rabbe Enckell, Gunnar Björling. Picture: Wikimedia Commons

Nevertheless, as a writer Olof Enckell was not a modernist but a (National) Romantic. His first novel, Ett Klosteräventyr, was set on Lake Ladoga, in the Valaam Monastery, and the novel projects a strong sense of the author’s attraction to the exoticism of Karelian Orthodoxy. His novel Vårt hjärta and its sequel Guldkedjan are also set in the Karelian Isthmus. Enckell represented what was known as Karenialism in Finland Swedish literature and he was unusual for writing in Swedish about Fenno-Russian folk life in the interior of the country. The natural world was also an important source of inspiration for Enckell. His connection with nature is visible not only in his works of fiction but also in his travelogues, which he wrote from the Pyrenees, Ireland and Corsica.

Enkkell wrote in Swedish, but his works were also translated into Finnish. All of his novels from the war years were translated into Finnish shortly after their publication. Enckell also translated into Swedish the works of Ilmari Kianto and Olavi Paavolainen.

An interest in youth runs through Enckell’s writings on literary history. His best-known studies focus on the young Elmer Diktonius, Edith Södergran and Hagar Olsson. In particular, Enckell is considered the father of Diktonius scholarship, but also his interpretations of the poetry of Edith Södergran enjoyed great popularity. Every Saturday throughout one semester in the 1950s, Enckell read Edith Södergran’s poems to a packed university auditorium, and students from all faculties were in attendance.


Valtiala, Nalle. Enckell, Olof. Elmer kirjailijatietokanta. Accessed October 6, 2015.
Wrede, Johan. Enckell, Olof. National Biography online publication. Accessed October 6, 2015.

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