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Eila Pennanen (1916 - 1994)


Prolific translator and one of the most significant female novelists in Finland after World War II. During her long career, Pennanen dealt with religious movements, historical incidents, the female soul, and the rise of the Finnish working and middle class. Especially in her later novels, Pennanen paid attention to marginalized people, dominated by stronger persons. Her major work in the 1970s was the Tampere trilogy, Himmun rakkaudet (1971), Koreuden tähden (1972), and Ruusuköynnös (1973), which partly drew on her own family history.

Thank you for these illusions,
thank you for fragile fancies,
this side up, handle with care.
Touch of reality,
now gentle, now unkind,
the true-life knocks and kicks
can never harm

(from Thank You for These Illusions, 1970, transl. by Anne Fried)

Eila Pennanen was born in Tampere, the youngest daughter of the factory director Hugo Pennanen and Hilma (Enegren) Pennanen. In her youth she read widely from detective novels to Shakespeare and Ibsen, and became enthusiastic about philosophy, Nietzsche, Brandes, Freud – but Marx was out of the question. Pennanen's cousin was the future writer Jarno Pennanen, who later in his diary recalled playing children's games with her; she was five and Jarno was fifteen. Her elder brother Leo became a clergyman, whose book on graphology, Käsiala kertoo (1944), has been reprinted several times.

At the age of sixteen, Pennanen had a female crush on a girl called Lappe. With Jarno, who wanted to seduce her, she discussed her homoerotic attachment. (Oidipus oli mies: psykohistoriallinen elämäkerta Eila Pennasesta vuoteen 1952 saakka by Saara Kesävuori, 2003, pp. 211-214, 294-296) After graduating from a secondary school in 1936, Pennanen entered the University of Helsinki, receiving her M.A. in 1940. To support herself, Pennanen worked as a private tutor. In 1947 she completed her examination in librarianship.

In 1940 Pennanen joined the Lotta Svärd organization. During the Winter War (1939) and the Continuation War (1941-44), Pennanen was for a short time in labor service in Leppävirta and in the northern Karelia. From 1943 to 1948 she worked as an archivist at the publishing company WSOY, her own publisher, and then at an advertising agency (1949-1951). From 1952 to 1955 she was the editor of the literature magazine Parnasso. Pennanen avoided taking a side in the debate on modernism, but when she participated under the pseudonym Mrs Writer in the discussion book Toiset pidot tornissa (1954), she critized elitism and self-satisfaction of educated middle-class people. At the University of Helsinki she taught from 1967 to 1978.   

Pennanen wrote her first book, Ennen sotaa oli nuoruus (1942), rapidly after returning from Karelia. Its title, 'Berofe the war there was youth,' summarized the experience of her generation. Partly the book drew on her experiences at the university. With this work Pennanen began her career as a writer which spanned fifty years. Her early works, Kaadetut pihlajat (1944), a return to childhood, Proomu lähtee yöllä (1945), and Pilvet vyöryvät (1947), a marriage novel, showed influenced by the Finnish literature of the thirties, but her style altered to reflect to reflect the changes in modern life. The protagonist of  Pilvet vyöryvät is Onni Oinaala, who has got syphilis during the war, and has contracted his wife Anni too. Onni's mistress commits suicide after having an abortion. Following  a period of heavy drinking, Onni shoots himelf. The novel was dismissed by the influential critic and poet V.A. Koskenniemi as superfluous. Pennanen's short story collections, Tornitalo (1952), Pasianssi  (1957), and Pientä rakkautta (1969) examined the relationship of an individual and the society.

"Uskonto, seksuaalisuus, taide ovat kaikki ihmisen yksilöllisiä ilmaisuprosesseja. Uskonnonvapaus, seksualiteetin vapaus ja taiteen vapaus ovat individualistisia oikeuksia, ja näitten oikeuksien puute synnytti sellaisen kirjailijan, joka minä olin vuonna 1942." (from Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, 1969)

In the 1950s Pennanen published historical novels. With with the support of a stipend, she travelled in 1951 in France, Italy, and England, collecting material for these works. Pyhä Birgitta (1954) depicted the medieval Swedish mystic Saint Birgitta, a widow and mother of eight children, who tries to persuade the pope to return to Rome from Avignon. Largely based on dialogue, it broke with the tradition of Finnish historical novels which center around adventures rather than individuals. Valon lapset (1958) focused on the birth of Quaker movement in the 17th-century England.

Pennanen followed social changes and currents through the experience of her insecure, bewildered characters. In the 1960s and '70s Pennanen dealt with restrained critic contemporary issues, often using the art of understatement. Mongolit (1966) took its subject from the bewilderment of the pre-war generation facing changes in their lives. The satirical Naisen kunnia (1975) was set in the narrow literary circles, and the double novel  Kapakoitten maa (1977) and Lapsuuden lupaus (1979) portrayed the decline of a business family and its alcoholozed younger members. The theme of alcoholism was also central in her radio play Äiti ja poika (1979, Mother and Son).

Pennanen's most important work from the 1970s was the Tampere trilogy. It portrayed lower middle-class life from the late 19th-century to the to stormy social changes of the General Strike of 1905 and to parliamentary reform. The story, set in the rapidly developing town of Tampere, included among its characters actual historical figures and well as a number of the author's relatives. Her historical family story continued in Santalahden aika (1986), and Kulmatalon perhe (1988), bringing the events on the early independende years.

"Poems are written out of spontaneous emotions. Writing poetry is liberation self, is happiness, even if it originates in tragedy, is victory. Poems are music and joy, convey the strenght of peace, give new strenght of life." (Eila Pennanen in Thank You for These Illusions, 1970)

As a multifaceted and productive writer, Eila Pennanen wrote also essays, plays, and radio dramas. She wrote about Finnish classics, such Finnish authors of popular fiction as Mauri Sariola, and her favorite English-language writers E.M. Forster, Virginia Woolf, William Golding. Her first radio playe were Kauan sitten (1956), based on a novel, and Kylmät kasvot (1960), which she regarded as a failure. In the 1970s her radio dramas were directed by Marja Rankkala, beginning from Kultaiset leijonankäpälät (1971); the cast included Marita Nordberg, Seela Sella and Rauno Ketonen. Pennanen once said that she is not an "audio personality" and writing for the ear was not natural for her. However, she received the Radio Play Award of the Blind for Kultaiset leijonankäpälät and the Nordic Prize for Radio Drama for Mies ja hänen kolme vaimoaan  (1978).

Between the years 1952 and 1980 Pennanen published five expertly written collections of short stories. In the role of a translator she was 'omnivorous' – moving easily from Agatha Christie's mystery novels to modern African literature. Among her later, acclaimed works, were the first two volumes Tolkien's trilogy Taru sormusten herrasta (Lord of the Rings); the third, Taru Sormusten herrasta 3: Kuninkaan paluu, was translated by Kersti Juva. 1975 Pennanen was a member of the National Council for Literature (1966-1970, 1974-76). She received several literary awards from her own works and translations, among them Aleksis Kivi Award in 1965. Pennanen died on January 23, 1994.

Pennanen was married twice, first to the actor Alpo Vammelvuo, who was seven years her junior. They had two sons. After divorce in 1953 she married in 1961 Juhani Jaskari; they divorced in 1973. Vammelvuo was bisexual, he killed himself in 1963, at the age of 40. With her second husband,  Pennanen translated into Finnish several works by Vladimir Nabokov. 

For further reading: A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Oidipus oli mies: psykohistoriallinen elämäkerta Eila Pennasesta vuoteen 1952 saakka by Saara Kesävuori (2003); Hitaasti kudotut nopeat hetket: kirjoittamisen assosiaatiosta 1900-luvun suomalaisessa proosassa by Olli Jalonen (2006); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita Jöns Buddesta Hannu Ahoon by Lasse Koskela (1990); Suomalaisia nykykirjailijoita by Pekka Tarkka (1989); 'Eila Pennanen,' in Miten kuunnelmani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Matti Savolainen (1983); 'Eila Pennanen - Reality versus Morality' by Pekka Tarkka, in Books from Finland (3/1982); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Tervetultua tervemenoa by Jarno Pennanen (1970); Miten kirjani ovat syntyneet, ed. by Ritva Rainio (1969); 

Selected works:

  • Ennen sotaa oli nuoruus: ylioppilasromaani, 1942
  • Kaadetut pihlajat: romaani, 1944
  • Proomu lähtee yöllä, 1945
    - I natt drar hon bort (övers. 1946)
  • Pilvet vyöryvät: romaani mitättömistä ihmisistä, jotka tahtoivat hyvää, mutta epäonnistuivat, koska heillä ei ollut voimaa, 1947
  • Leda ja joutsen: romaani, 1948
  • Kattoparveke: romaani, 1950
  • Tornitalo: novelleja, 1952
  • Pyhä Birgitta: romaani, 1954
    - Birgitta sierskan (övers. av Margaretha Holmqvist, 1957)
    - "Romaani kertoo merkillisen ruotsalaisen pyhimuksen, 1300-luvulla eläneen näkyjennäkijän Birgitan elämäntarinan. Päähenkilön luonnekuva on ansiokas: terävästipiirretty, ristiriitaisuudessaanja monipuolisuudessaan ajatuksia askarruttava, hämmästyttävän objesktiivisesti nähty... Jotain innotonta ja väsyttävää tässä romaanissa on, onnistuneesta loppuratkaisusta huolimatta." (Kai Laitinen in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 3/1955)
  • Tunnussana ystävyys, 1956
  • Kauan sitten, 1956 (radio play)
  • Pasianssi: novelleja, 1957
  • Valon lapset: historiallinen romaani Englannin kveekareista, 1958
  • Kylmät kasvot, 1960 (radio play)
  • Kaksin: novelleja, 1961
  • Mutta: romaani, 1963
  • Tunnustelua: kirjallisuusesseitä, 1965
  • Aurinkomatka: koominen moraliteetti, 1966 (play)
  • Mongolit, 1966
    - "Suurisuuntainen ja lähes onnistunut yritys kirjoittaa suomalaisen 'sivistyneistön' kuvaus, joka olisi mahdollisimman nykyaikainen." (Hannu Mäkelä in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo 1/1967)
  • Tilapää: rakkausromaani, 1968
  • Pientä rakkautta: novelleja, 1969
    - "Eila Pennanen on harvinainen esimerkki koko ajan muuttuvasta ja monipuolistuvasta kirjailijasta, jolle aseman vakiintuminen ei merkitse jarrua: 'Pientä rakkautta' on syksyn parhaita kirjoja, samalla kertaa hellä, ironinenja oivaltava." (Risto Hannula in Arvosteleva kirjaluettelo, 1/1970)
  • Kauan sitten, 1970
  • Kiitos harhaluuloista, 1970
    - Thank You for These Illusions: Poems by Finnish Women Writers (transl. and ed. by Anne Fried, 1981)
  • Tilapää, 1970 (TV play)
  • Suomentamisen aakkoset, 1971
  • Himmun rakkaudet, 1971
  • Kultaiset leijonankäpälät, 1971 (radio play)
    - De förgyllda lejontassarna (övers. av Karin Mandelstam, 1972)
  • Koreuden tähden, 1972
  • Ruusuköynnös, 1973
  • Valitut novellit, 1973
    - Saladus (soome keelest tõlk. Luule Sirp, 1976)
  • Ruusuköynnös, 1974-1975 (drama)
  • Naisen kunnia, 1975
    - Cest' ženšciny: roman, rasskazy (per. s finskogo V. al., 1977)
    - Sievietes gods: romans; Stasti (sastadijusi un no somu valodas tulkojusi Anna Žigure, 1982)
  • Yhdessä, 1975 (radio play)
    - Tillsammans (övers. av Agneta Ara)
  • Mustan katin rakkaus, 1976 (radio play)
  • Ministeri murhataan, 1976-77
  • Kapakoitten maa, 1977
  • Äiti ja poika, 1977 (Äiti ja poika, Mies ja hänen kolme vaimoaan, Pettäjät; radio plays)
    - Mor och son (övers. av Tove Idström, 1978)
    - Mannen och hans tre hustrur: hörspel (övers.: Karin Mandelstam, 1979)
  • Pettäjät: kuunnelma, 1978 (radio play)
  • Mutta; Mongolit; Valitut novellit, 1978
  • Lapsuuden lupaus: romaani, 1979
  • Äiti ja poika ja muita kuunnelmia, 1979 (radio plays)
  • Se pieni ääni: novelleja, 1980
    - Novelle (koostanud ja tõlkinud Luule Sirp, 1987)
  • Yö meren rannalla, 1981 (screenplay, with Pirjo Hokkanen, Erkko Kivikoski; film prod. by Filmiauer, dir. by Erkko Kivikoski, starring Pertti Palo, Sirkku Grahyn, Pauli Virtanen, Eeva Eloranta)
  • Tyttö joka rakasti rauhaa, 1982 (radio play)
  • Kirjailijatar ja hänen miehensä: sekä muita esseitä, 1982 
  • Naivistit, 1982
  • Tyttö ja rumpu: kuunnelma, 1983 (radio play)
  • Tito Colliander, Ikkuna, 1984 (editor; translated by Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • Kukkalapsi: novelli, 1985 (radio play)
  • Santalahden aika, 1986
  • Kulmatalon perhe, 1988
  • Luettua, läheistä: juttuja kirjoista, 1990
  • Kirjan kannet auki: johdatus lukemiseen, 1990 (with Helvi Ollikainen)
  • Tyttölapsi, 1992
  • Edith Unnerstadt, Näkinkenkätalo, 1950
  • Truman Capote, Ruohojen harppu, 1952
  • Jane Austen, Neito vanhassa linnassa, 1953
  • Agatha Christie, Lordin kuolema, 1953
  • E.M. Forster, Talo jalavan varjossa, 1953
  • Agatha Christue, Murha maalaiskylässä, 1954
  • George Mikes, Über alles: "Tutkimusretki" Saksaan, 1954
  • Mazo de la Roche, Kosijoita Jalnassa, 1955
  • Anne Frank, Nuoren tytön päiväkirja, 1955
  • Olivia Manning, Rakkauden koulu, 1955
  • Agatha Christie, Salaperäiset rukiinjyvät, 1956
  • Margaret Kennedy, Oraakkelit, 1956
  • Alec Waugh, Aurinkosaari, 1956
  • Agatha Christie, Neiti Lemon erehtyy, 1957
  • Lisa Tezner, ... mitä järvellä tapahtui, 1957
  • Alfred Hayes, Rakastunut, 1958 (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Mazo de la Roche, Juhlat Jalnassa, 1958
  • Gustave Flaubert & Barbara Bray, Yksinkertainen sydän, 1959 (radio play)
  • J. Christopher Herold, Aikakautensa valtiatar, 1959
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita, 1959 (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Jane Austen & A.A. Milne, Ylpeys ja ennakkoluulo, 1960 (radio play)
  • Mazo de la Roche, Jalnan synty, 1960
  • Elaine Dundy, Neitsyt Pariisissa, 1960
  • Pär Lagervist, Ahasveruksen kuolema, 1960
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Sebastian Knightin todellinen elämä, 1960 (with Juhani Jaskari):
  • Graham Greene: Loppuun palanut, 1961
  • Gunnar E. Sandgren, Kirkastusvuori, 1961
  • Anton Tšehov & David Tutajev, Mies joka myi vaimonsa, 1961 (radio play)
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Nabokovin tusina, 1961 (with Juhanin Jaskari)
  • Stephen Crane & H.A.L. Craig, Punainen kunniamerkki, 1962 (radio play)
  • Mazo de la Roche, Jalnan aamu, 1962
  • Pär Lagerkvist, Pyhiinvaeltaja merellä, 1962
  • Lin Jutang, Ymmärtämisen taito, 1962 (with Pertti Nieminen)
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Naurua pimeässä, 1962  (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Elizabeth Spencer, Myöhäinen vieras, 1962  (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Iris Murdoch, Epävirallinen ruusu, 1963
  • Dagny Staaf-Busch, Nuoriso-ongelma ja ongelmanuoriso, 1963
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Nikolai Gogol, 1963  (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Irving Stone, Michelangelo, 1963 (with Juhani Jaskari)
  • Annette Garrett, Haastattelun periaatteet ja menetelmät, 1964
  • Marlen Haushofer, Seinä, 1964
  • Iris Murdoch, Yksisarvinen, 1964
  • Hans Ruin, Avoin ja suljettu käsi, 1964
  • Pär Lagerkvist, Pyhä maa, 1965
  • Editha Morris, Hirošiman kylvö, 1965
  • Asko Rysä & Gunnar Mårtenson & Paul Nyberg, Vanha Porvoo, 1965
  • Mary Mccarthy, Lumottu elämä, 1965 (with Aale Tynni)
  • Rudyard Kipling, Viidakkokirjat, 1965 (with Juhani Jaskari and Mikko Kilpi)
  • Kingsley Amis & Robert Conquest, Herrasmieskerho, 1966 (with Kirsi Kunnas)
  • Brendan Behan, Kuolemaantuomittu, 1966 (with Tuula Saarikoski; radio play)
  • Robert van Gulik, Kummitusluostari, 1966
  • Iris Murdoch, Italialaistyttö, 1966
  • George Orwell, Eläinten farmi, 1966 (radio play)
  • Oliver Goldsmith, Hyväluontoinen mies, 1967 (radio play)
  • Aidan Higgins, Suku sammuu, 1967
  • John Megahern, Pimeä, 1967
  • Rex Stout, Ovikello soi, 1967
  • Ted Willis, Kuuman kesän ilta, 1967 (radio play)
  • Bertrand Russel, Elämäni 1: 1872-1914, 1967 (with Kirsi Kunnas)
  • Chinua Achebe, Kansan mies, 1969
  • Iris Murdoch, Enkelten aika, 1969
  • John Whiting, Paholaiset, 1969 (play)
  • Peter Luke, Hadrianus seitsemäs, 1969-70 (play)
  • Saul Bellow, Mr Sammlerin planeetta, 1970
  • Oliver Goldsmith, Yhden yön erheet, 1970-71 (play)
  • Graham Hough, Kirjallisuus ja tutkimus, 1971
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Taru sormusten herrasta 1: Sormuksen ritarit, 1974 (with Kersti Juva and Panu Pekkanen)
  • J.R.R. Tolkien, Taru sormusten herrasta 2: Kaksi tornia, 1974 (with Kersti Juva and Panu Pekkanen)
  • Patricia Highsmith, Syvissä vesissä, 1974 (with Riitta Hakulinen, Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Mary Westmacott, Kaksi rakkautta, 1976 (with Riitta Hakulinen)
  • Sven Fagerberg, Pesäyö, 1976
  • Catherine Aird, Henrietta kuka lienetkin, 1976 (with others)
  • Märta Tikkanen, Vuosisadan rakkaustarina, 1978
  • Moa Martinson, Äiti menee naimisiin, 1978
  • Rex Stout, Liian monta kokkia, 1979
  • Tove Jansson, Nukkekaappi ja muita kertomuksia, 1980
  • Saul Bellow, Sadekuningas, 1980
  • Margaret Millar, Kysykää minua huomenna, 1980 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Rex Stout, Oikeus kuolla, 1980 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Märta Tikkanen, Pimeä ilon syvyys, 1981
  • William Golding, Merimatka, 1981 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Bernard Malamud, Dubinin elämät, 1981
  • Märta Tikkanen & Katarina Michelsson, Sofian oma kirja, 1982
  • Mary McMullen, Voi Nellie-kulta, 1983 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Agatha Christie, Kolmetoista, 1983  (with others)
  • William Boyd, Kelpo mies Afrikassa, 1983 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • William Boyd, Jäätelösota, 1984
  • Bernard Malamud, Jumalan armo, 1984
  • William Golding, Perilliset, 1985
  • Märta Tikkanen, Punahilkka, 1986
  • Nadine Gordimer, Perjantain jalanjälki, 1986
  • Peter Nilsson, Naulatkin kultaa, 1987
  • William Golding, Laskusilta, 1990 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Tove Jansson, Seuraleikki, 1991
  • William Golding, Laiva tulessa, 1991 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)
  • Lars Huldén, Kun kuningatar Silvia itki ja muita kertomuksia, 1991 (with Satu Mattila)
  • Emily Brontë, Humiseva harju, 1991
  • Rex Stout, Yli kuolleen ruumiini, 1992
  • Rex Stout, Missä on testamentti, 1993
  • Rex Stout, Toinen tunnustus, 1994 (with Hanno Vammelvuo)

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