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|Hella Maria Wuolijoki (1886-1954) - original surname Murrik - wrote also as Juhani Tervapää|
Estonian-born Finnish writer, prominent playwright, and Marxist, who had a successful career in business. Outside Finland Wuolijoki is known because of her association with Bertolt Brecht. Her famous literary friends also included Maxim Gorky. Wuolijoki was a personality of many contradictions, a mild feminist but radical in politics, a cosmopolitan intellectual who had a pronounced admiration for old-fashioned country people. After Aleksis Kivi and William Shakespeare she has been Finland's most often performed dramatic writer.
"LOVIISA: Mutta minä tiedän mitä rakkaus on. Rakkaus on sitä, ettei ajattele omaa elämäänsä, vaan ainoastaan toisen onnea." (from Niskavuoren nuori emäntä, 1940)
Hella Wuolijoki was born Ella Murrik in Valga, Estonia. Her father, Ernst Murrik, worked as a teacher and run also a bookshop. Kadri Kogamägi, Wuolijoki's mother, was a farmer's daughter. At home the family spoke German, but in the wake of national awakening Estonian was used in conversation. Wuolijoki received secondary education in Tartu and continued her studies at the University of Helsinki, receiving her M.A. in 1908. While still at school she published writings in Estonian periodicals. In 1907 she married Sulo Wuolijoki (1881-1957), a member of parliament, and took Finnish nationality. Their marriage was officially dissolved in 1924. For a period Wuolijoki planned to marry Commodore Harold Grenfell, with whom she had started an affair in 1917.
At the university she considered an academic career but the general strike of 1905 awaked her political consciousness and turned her into a socialist. In her autobiography Yliopistovuoden Helsingissä (1945) she wrote: "We did not know what was to come, but it could only be something better, because the entire basis and rulers of life were changing. The people had taken power into their own hands – and surely it would know what to do with it and how to proceed after all humanity had had to suffer. I stood with Hannes on Observatory Hill, and we looked down at the city and the harbour, where the weak light of a candle flickered here and there, and the masts and chimneys were outlined against the sky. And we believed in life and in the power of the people." (translated by David McDuff, from Helsinki: A Literary C ompanion, 2000)
In the 1910s Wuolijoki established herself as a businesswoman. She worked as the director of Carelia Timber co, and Aunuksen puuliike from 1923 to 1931. After the Finnish Civil War (1917-18) Wuolijoki's apartment and estate at Marlebäck in southern Finland was a meeting place for leftist intellectuals and politicians. From 1931 to 1938 she was chairman of the board of Suomen Nafta, an oil company.
Wuolijoki's first play, Talulapsed (1912, The Children of the House), written in Estonian, was accepted by theatres in both Estonia and Finland, but the performances were forbidden by czarist authorities. At the age of 45 she devoted herself to writing and published her works in Finnish. In the 1930s she wrote several plays, among them Ministeri ja kommunisti (1933) and Laki ja järjestys (1933, Law and Order), set in Helsinki during the 1918 Civil War. The male lead of Law and Order asked to be released from his role. He did not accept the main idea of the play, as he saw it, that the Reds entered the war because of ideology, whereas the whites were required by the law to do so.
"SENATOR (Putting the last papers into his briefcase): I presume that we are the last White woman and White man in this building.
Wuolijoki had remained neutral during the war, but both of these early plays provoked polemic in the right-wing press for their leftist sympathies. To continue with dramas she took a pseudonym, Juhani Tervapää, and began a series of plays about a rural family, the people of Niskavuori, which gained a huge popularity.
When the German writer Bertolt Brecht's arrived in Finland in 1940, he settled as a guest at Marlebäck, Wuolijoki's mansion. From Finland Brecht continued to Moscow and to the United States. Wuolijoki co-authored with him the play Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti in 1940, which Brecht continued to develop. The play premiered in Zürich in 1948; in Finland it was seen first time in 1965. Partly the character of Puntila was inspired by the cousin of Wuolijoki's husband and his bumblings and stumblings during the prohibition era. Puntila is a rich farmer, who is generous and kind when drunk, and selfish when sober. Puntila tries to arrange a marriage between his daughter Eva and a diplomat. The plan fails and Puntila then deices that his chauffeur and drinking companion Matti marries Eva. Matti is not happy about the idea and when Eva fails his test, Matti leaves Puntila and joins his working-class comrades. Wuolijoki had written in the 1930s another play and a film script from the same material, Sahanpuruprinsessa, but Brecht 's work is considered superior to it. Brecht summarized the plot, "... adventures of a finnish landowner and his chauffeur. He is only human when he is drunk..." Wuolijoki also worked with Brecht on Judith von Shimoda, based on Yozo Yamamoto's play Okichi.
During WW II Wuolijoki was involved in secret, unofficial diplomatic negotiations for peace with the Soviet Union after a visit from a Russian parachutist, Kerttu Nuorteva. She was arrested, charged with treason, and condemned to death – a sentence later commuted to life imprisonment. Before she was released, Wuolijoki spent the time productively and wrote parts of her memoirs. Wuolijoki had good personal connections in European left-wing circles – her sister was the wife of Palme Dutt, the British Communist leader. She was a confidante of Boris Yartsev, a Soviet diplomat, and she also knew Mme Alexandra Kollontay, one of the legendary figures of the Bolshevik Revolution. Wuolijoki met Kollontay during the Winter War (1939-40) in Stockholm's Grand Hotel and helped to start Finnish-Soviet peace negotiations. "If Hella Wuolijoki in those days was taking part in real life in a plot more exciting and complex than any she had devised for her plays, she was also playing opposite a character more original and colorful than any of the feminist heroines she had created for the stage." (Max Jakobson in Finland Survived, 1984) Decades later the film director Matti Kassila planned to make a film about Wuolijoki and the Russian spy, but the author's daughter, Vappu Tuomioja, an influential politician, did not approve the idea. Instead Kassila made the sixth Niskavuori movie.
After the war years Wuolijoki joined the Finnish Communist Party and was elected in 1946 to the parliament. As a member of a Finnish delegation to the Sovien Union, she met Stalin in 1946, and wrote admiringly of him in a letter: "Good God, he is the greatest person in the world!" Between the years 1945 and 1949 Wuolijoki was the director of the Finnish Broadcasting Company; she was dismissed from the post in June 1949. During the period, called "the years of danger" because of the fear of a Communist takeover, Wuolijoki opened doors to leftist journalists and also started radio's political discussion programs. However, in general the broadcast policy did not undergo a radical change from conservative to radical. Especially close to Wuolijoki's heart was concert music. Acting against the tastes of the general public, she banned Hiski Salomaa's most popular song, the rowdy 'Lännen lokari.' Works by Gogol, Ibsen, O'Neill, Gorky, and Brech were adapted for the radio. Wuolijoki herself composed 29 episodes of the series The Workman's Family, created as a counterpoint to the bourgeois The Suominen Family.
Wuolijoki wrote 16 plays. Of these Juurakon Hulda (1937), which came out under the pseudonym Juhani Tervapää, was the basis for the Oscar-winning romantic comedy The Farmer's Daughter (1947). The story told of a frank maid (Loretta Young) who upsets the life of a ambitious politician (Joseph Cotten). In the television series, produced by Screen Gems (1963-66), Inger Stevens played the title role. The Finish film version, directed by Valentin Vaala and starring Tauno Palo and Irma Seikkula, was premiered in 1937. Paramount bought the rights of the play in the same year.
Wuolijoki's best known work is the family saga Niskavuori. It includes five plays under the titles Niskavuoren naiset, Niskavuoren leipä, Niskavuoren nuori emäntä, Niskavuoren Heta ja Entäs nyt, Niskavuori? The series depicts the country house Niskavuori and its struggle of power between old, strong women and the new generations, from the 1880s to the 1940s. Loviisa, one of the central characters, is a strong-minded woman, who controls Niskavuori. Her son Aarne has left his wife Martta for a schoolteacher, Ilona, but returns then to take care of the farm. However, Niskavuori's fate rests on the power of its wise women.
"VANHAEMÄNTÄ: Kuule nyt, näillä työväen palkoilla on mahdotonta pitää Niskavuorta koossa.
Hella Wuolijoki died on February 2, 1954, in Helsinki. Her Niskavuori plays have remained popular in Finnish theatres, and were successfully adapted into screen. The first play in the series, Niskavuoren naiset, was staged in London in 1937 under the title Women of Property (known also as The Women of Niskavuori). The production ran only a few performances. When the play opened in 1938 in Hamburg in Germany, its themes of Blut und Boden (Blood and Soil) weighted more than Wuolijoki's political beliefs. Die Frauen auf Niskavuori was closed after fourteen performances. Nowadays, in the English speaking world, The Women of Niskavuori is considered a minor play by a largely forgotten playwright.
For further reading: Playing "Nordic": The Women of Niskavuori, Agri/Culture, and Imagining Finland on the Third Reich Stage by Hana Worthen (2007); Häivähdys punaista by Erkki Tuomioja (2006); Kaikessa mukana: Hella Wuolijoki ja hänen näytelmänsä by Pirkko Koski (2000); Finland: A Cultural Encyclopedia, ed. by Olli Alho (1997); Portraits of Courage; Plays by Finnish Women, ed. by S.E. Wilmer (1997); Sulo, Hella ja Vappuli by Vappu Tuomioja (1997); Kansallisgalleria: suuret suomalaiset, Vol. 3, ed. by Allan Tiitta et al. (1996), Teatterista valkokankaalle by Jukka Ammondt (1986); McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, Vol. 5, ed. by Stanley Hochman (1984); 'Wuolijoki's and Bertolt Brecht's Politization of the Volksstück' by M. Deschner, in Bertolt Brecht: Political Theory and Literary Practice, ed. by H. Heinen and B.N. Weber, (1980); Niskavuoren talosta Juurakon torppaan by Jukka Ammondt (1980); 'Hella Wuolijoki: A Woman of Contrasts' by Pekka Lounela, in Books From Finland (1979); Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon, ed. by Toivo Pekkanen and Reino Rauanheimo (1947) - Huom.: Hella Wuolijoesta on virolainen kirjailija ja tutkija Oskar Kruus julkaissut 1999 elämäkertateoksen. Hän pitää teoksessaan Wuolijokea 'virolaissuomalaisena yhteiskirjailijana' Aino Kallaksen tavoin. See also: Olavi Paavolainen, director of Theatre Department of Finnish Broadcasting company (1947-1964), Wuolijoki's friend.