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Viljo Tarkiainen

Viljam (Viljo) Tarkiainen
Born 18 April, 1879, Juva. Died 20 May, 1951, Helsinki

Master of Arts 1903 (incl. Finnish Language and Literature, Aesthetics and Contemporary Literature), Licentiate of Philosophy 1911 (Comparative Literature) and Doctor of Philosophy 1917 (Comparative Literature), the Imperial Alexander University

Acting Professor of Finnish and Comparative Literature (1916–17 and 1919–24) and Professor of Finnish Literature (1924–46), University of Helsinki
Docent 1913–24, University of Helsinki

Other occupations:
Director and teacher at The Finnish National Theatre (1905–09)
Literary editor, Helsingin Sanomat (1911–15 and 1918–20)
Literary editor Uusi Suometar (1916–17) and Finnish language teacher at large
Board member of The Finnish National Theatre (1919-33)
Chancellor of the Civic College (1947–51)
President of The Union of Finnish Writers (1920–22)
Vice-chairman (1922-34) and Chairman of The Finnish Literature Society (1934-46)
Chairman of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters (1945–46)

Written by Tero Juutilainen
Translated by Johanna Spoof
Revised by John Calton

The Acerbic Critic

After receiving his doctoral degree, Viljo Tarkiainen turned his attention to his work as a critic. Indeed, he had been writing reviews for various newspapers and magazines since his graduation from university. In particular, the journal Valvoja ('The sentinel') came to be the main forum for Tarkiainen's literary reviews.

In addition to book reviews, Tarkiainen's repertoire consisted of various short texts and poems. He had already got to move in the theatrical circles through his student ‘nation’ and had worked as a Finnish language teacher at The Finnish National Theatre in the early 1900s. Between 1905 and 1908, he wrote biannual reviews for the Finnish National Theatre.

At this point, Tarkiainen’s literary criticism began to catch the attention of the general public. There were many embittered figures who had fallen short of his high expectations and acerbic style, including popular authors of the day, like Pietari Päivärinta and Marja Salmela. Every now and then, Tarkiainen got a taste of his own medicine, including, on one occasion, from Eino Leino, although the two did become friends later. In his reviews of foreign literature, Tarkiainen concentrated on France and Russia.

In addition to book reviews, Viljo Tarkiainen was also a prolific theatre critic. Thanks to him, the theatre-going public could read fresh reviews of the previous night’s theatre performances, as well as other matters concerning the world of theatre. This world was familiar to him in part through his wife, Maria Jotuni, but he also had a profound interest in the field himself. He paid particular attention to the playscripts, but broadened his professional understanding of theatre, taking account of other performance elements.

Tarkiainen also worked for the daily broadsheet Helsingin Sanomat, but in the 1920s gradually gave up working as a critic to engage in more academic tasks and pure research. He never forgot about theatre entirely however: he briefly worked as a dramaturgist for the Finnish National Theatre, until he was forced to resign following the scandal caused by the 1924 play Tohvelisankarin rouva ('The wimp’s wife’), written by his wife.


  • Kari Tarkiainen, Viljo Tarkiainen. Suomalainen humanisti ('Viljo Tarkiainen. A Finnish Humanist'). Mäntän kirjapaino Oy: Mänttä, 1987 (In Finnish)
  • Kari Tarkiainen, ‘Tarkiainen, ViljoFinnish National Bibliography online. Accessed 1.12.2014 (In Finnish)
  • Wikipedia, ’Viljo Tarkiainen’ Wikipedia. Accessed 1.12.2014. (In Finnish)
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