Go Back

Volter Kilpi

Volter Adalbert Kilpi (until 1885 Ericsson)
Born December 12, 1874 Kustavi, Turku archipelago. Died June 13, 1939, Turku.

Master of Arts (Art History), 1900, Imperial Alexander University

Head Librarian, 1921-39, University of Turku Library
Librarian, 1920/1, University of Turku
Librarian, 1919/20, Turku City Library
Assistant Librarian, 1912-18, Helsinki City Library
Librarian, 1906-11, Undergraduate Library
Amanuensis extraordinarius, 1898-1918, Imperial Alexander University Library

Volter Kilpi Literary Festival (since 1999)
Volter Kilpi Seura (society) established, 1988
Memorial plaque, Turku, 1974
Finnish State Prize for Literature, 1901, 1934, 1938

Photo: Volter Kilven seura
Written by Tomas Sjöblom
Translated by John Calton

Of Knights, the Finnish Civil War and Home

Volter Kilpi is known today first and foremost as an author. While at university, he wrote for a student paper about poetry and what it means to be a Finn. His first piece of fiction was published in 1897, in a handwritten journal called Riento. 

Kilpi’s literary work can be divided into three phases based on his central themes. 

In his first literary phase in the early 1900s, Kilpi explored the foundations of European culture: the Bible, chivalric romance and antiquity. Kilpi was awarded the Finnish State Prize for Literature for his first novel, Bathseba: Davidin puheluja itsensä kanssa (‘Bathsheba: David’s Inner Monologues’, 1900). However, he was not satisfied with his novel Antinous, published in 1903, and he abandoned literary works for a long time.

The first edition of Volter Kilpi's second novel, 'Parsifal. Kertomus Graalin ritarista' (Parsifal. A Tale of a Knight of the Grail), 1902. Cover by Hugo Simberg.​
The first edition of Volter Kilpi's second novel, 'Parsifal. Kertomus Graalin ritarista' (Parsifal. A Tale of a Knight of the Grail), 1902. Cover by Hugo Simberg.​

The second phase of Kilpi’s work can be dated to the years of Finland’s declaration of independence and the Civil War. After a long break, he published two books on political themes. The first of these, Kansallista itsetutkistelua. Suomalaisia Kulttuuri-ääriviivoja (‘National self-reflection: The outlines of Finnish culture’ 1917), examines Finnish identity and the political position of Finland.

After the Civil War, Kilpi published a work called Tulevaisuuden edessä. Poliittisia ja yhteiskunta-eetillisiä ääriviivoja. Kansallista itsetutkistelua II (’Facing the future: The outlines of politics and socio-ethics. National self-reflection II’, 1918), where he presents his opinions on how Finland should be rebuilt after the conflict.

Kilpi said this about the effects of the Civil War:

From the ashes of this struggle, a healthier, tougher, more real Finland will rise. Our society before the attempt at revolution by the Reds was poisoned by so many public lies and prisoner to so many  false beliefs, its foundation was built on such fragile illusions and suppositions that it would have been utterly incapable of facing both the internal and external impediments to its precarious independence.

After a break of twenty years, in the third phase of his career, Kilpi astonished his audience by returning to fiction. Kilpi’s most famous work Alastalon salissa (‘In the Parlour at Alastalo’, 1933) was published around this time. The book was the first of the Archipelago trilogy’, which describe the area he grew up in.

Alastalon salissa is a novel of over 900 pages, and is set in the Alastalo area in southwest Finland in the 1860s. The main plot of the book covers a six-hour period and the events are set in their entirety in the grand parlour at Alastalo. However, the story achieves more depth through flashbacks and through the characters’ interior monologues.

In the Parlour at Alastalo has been the subject of many academic studies, including Pirjo Lyytikäinen’s 1992 doctoral thesis. Over the years the novel has received a lot of attention. Kilpi was awarded the state prize for literature, and in 1992 a panel for the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat judged it to be the best work of literature in the post-Independence period.

Volter Kilpi immersed in writing in 1903. Photo: Volter Kilven seura.​
Volter Kilpi immersed in writing in 1903. Photo: Volter Kilven seura.​

Translated as coursework by Sara Jormakka, Saana Kallioinen, Tanja Koski, Suvi Lehikoinen, Tuomas Mäenpää, Emilia Mäkinen, Emma Niemi, Eerika Norja, Anu Piippo, Riina Vepsä & Saara Viitanen.

Revised by Nely Keinänen & John Calton

Go Back