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|Ilmari Kianto (1874-1970) - surname Calamnius until 1906 - wrote also as Antero Avomieli, I-Calamnius-Kianto|
Finnish writer, whose best known novels are Punainen viiva (1909) (The Red Line) and Ryysyrannan Jooseppi (1924) (Jooseppi from Ryysyranta), both strong portrayals of rural characters. Kianto's depiction of the poverty in the backwoods criticized the gap between political visions and true living conditions of the poor. He did not idealize peasants as Maila Talvio did in her work, but wanted to show an undistorted picture of the people to crush the upper classes' unrealistic Runebergian beliefs.
"The inner sufferings of poor backwoods dwellers cannot be imagined by many people in the great world. If an omniscient being exists, he it is who alone knows them, but perhaps tells nobody." (from The Red Line)
Ilmari Kianto was born at Pulkkila in northern Finland, near the birthplace of Pentti Haapää. His father, August Benjamin Calamnius, was a Lutheran minister, from a family filled with a long line of ministers and learned men. One of Kianto's forefather's, Gabriel Calamnius, wrote the first collection of wordly poems, entitled Suru-Runot Suomalaiset (1755). The family moved in 1879 to Suomussalmi, into Karhula's parsonage. Kianto's childhood was happy. During these years he developed a life long affection to the Russian Carelia, where he also travelled, but the miserable, moonshining people of Kainuu, were closest to his heart.
In 1893 Kianto served in the famous Fusilier Battalion of the Finnish Guards. His first book, Väärällä uralla (On the wrong track), came out in 1897. In this partly autobiographical novel the narrator plans and starts a military career but at the same time perceives that it is wrong. After studies at the University of Helsinki, Kianto received his M.A. in 1900. From 1901 to 1903 he studied Russian literature in Moscow, in order to enter a career as a Russian teacher. Later he published Finnish translations of Pushkin's and Lermontov's poems. Before becoming a full-time writer, Kianto worked in the town of Kajaani in northern Finland as a teacher, and then as a journalist and freelance writer.
Several of Kianto's books were based on his own experiences and literature critics have considered the confessional roman à clef as his primary genre. During his sexual crisis at the shift of the centuries, Kianto published his fourth poetry collection, Margareeta, and a confessional book, Vapaauskoisen psalttari. Developing views in total opposition to the church and his ecclestiastic family, Kianto wrote Pyhä viha (1908), a book of "Holy wrath", which criticized the lifestyle of the upper classes and especially the clergy. At one point of the book, the steeple of a church is brought down by a very strong sermon. Kianto had adopted ideas of Emilé Zola, Georg Brandes, Björnstjerne Björnson and others, which shocked his readers as well as the religious worldview of his sister Aina and his mother. Under the influence of his Tolstoyan friend Arvid Järnefelt, Kianto seceded from the church. He also started a correspondence with Leo Tolstoy. When Kianto married for the first time in 1904, he went with his fiancée to Sweden, where a civil cermony was legal. In the same year, when his marriage disintegrated, he published the novel Avioliitto (1917), in which he supported the practice of multiple marriage.
"The gentry and the rich folks have been having it all their own way there, just like everywhere else, grindling the faces of the poor - and how do we know all these forests really belong to the crown, whatever the forest inspectors may say? They can all be chopped down or burnt to cinders for all I care, if it means the small man hereabouts can get some decent bread and not to have to live on this everlasting pinebark to keep body and soul together. And look at all these parsons - how do we know they are all God's chosen people..." (from The Red Line, 1909)
In 1909 Kianto settled in Suomussalmi, where he had spent his early years, and published in the same year his first major work, Punainen viiva (The Red Line). Nothing much happens in the book, except in the end. The Red Line is the mark of illiterate voters, used when equal rights for voting were first granted. And it is the bloody mark of a mortal wound when a bear kills the central character, Topi of Korpiloukko. In 1910 Kianto travelled in Germany and Switzerland, and started to build his own house, Turjanlinna (Turja's Castle), on the shore of lake Kianta. The house was finished in 1912.
In 1914 Kianto made a big journey in Russian Carelia and wrote an interesting book about it. His first marriage ended practically in 1917 (officially 1932), when he publicly took a second wife. He was married three times, widowed twice and divorced once, and he had altogether 12 children.
Under the pressure of his family affairs and financial crisis in the 1920s, Kianto travelled compulsively. He started to keep "a secret diary" again in 1926-27, which was published in 1980. In it Kianto analyses his relationships with his three wives, their moods and quarrels, and states defying that "this diary is not written for chickens." Kianto's open support of polygamy did not surprise his closest friends, and Kianto was also disappointed with the prohibition law, expressing his protest in K.H.P.V. (1925), meaning "The Holy Fraternal Order of the Moderate Drunks. When the author did not have any liquor in his cellar, he could write a poem to the local pharmacist to get some spiritus fortis: "Taas on viina loppununnan / Turjanlinnan kellarista. / Tynnyr tyhjäks tippununna / Tai lie päässyt vantehista, / Ai ai ai, voi voi voi..." In these conditions Kianto compiled his second masterwork, Ryysyrannan Jooseppi. The lazy protagonist, Jooseppi, is a bootlegger and the father of too many children. This distant relative of Rousseau's "noble savage" is treated with humour, pity, and contempt. Jooseppi is well aware that God is not on his side. At the end he is killed by a falling tree.
During the 1930s Kianto concentrated his writing on diaries, letters and published several books. His big house Turjanlinna went bankrupt and personal worries about his children and wives burdened his days. On the eve of the Winter War (1939-40), the 65-year-old author moved from his house and left a note, written in Russian, for the Soviet Army not to destroy a poor writer's home. "Venäläiset toverit! Kunnioittakaa sivumenolla köyhän kirjailijan kotia. Tuossa on saari autiona ynnä huvila itäänpäin muine rakennuksineen. – Olen minäkin ollut Moskovassa v. 1901-1903." However, the Russians never reached Turja's Castle and Finnish soldiers found the message. Kianto was imprisoned for treason. Although Kianto was pardoned and after the war rehabilitated, this event depressed him deeply. He wrote about his experiences in Omat koirat purivat (Bitten by own dogs) (1948). Mikko Niskanen made the book into a television film in 1974. Earlier Kianto's main works (Punainen viiva and Ryysyrannan Jooseppi) had both been made into films. Punainen viiva has also been made into an opera, the music composed by the Finnish Aulis Sallinen.
A new Turja's Castle was built in 1949, but it burned down the same year – uninsured.
In 1956 Kianto married Ella Mirjam ('Mirkku') Lähteinen – she had entered the author's life in the early 1950s and died in June 1961. She was the last lady of the house in Turja's Castle. After the war he had had several female secretaries, whom he mostly recruited by newspaper advertisements. According to the author's son Uolevi Kianto, most of them could even use the typewriter, but more important were their rowing skills and intimate company with the author, who did not want to spend his nights alone.
The last decades of his life Kianto spent as a celebrated author, the patriarch of Finnish literature, who ironically called himself a "writer of the woods." His works were reprinted and also adapted into screen. Kianto died in Helsinki on April 27, 1970. He was buried near Turja's Castle in Suomussalmi, where his statue, by sculptor Kain Tapper, is situated. – Some 15 of Kianto's works are still unpublished, 67 works have been published, including collected works.
For further reading: A History of Finland's Literature, ed. by George C. Schoolfield (1998); Ilmari Kianto: Anarkisti ja ihmisyyden puolustaja by Maria-Liisa Nevala (1986); Tervetuloa kotiin, Iki by Uolevi Kianto (1978); Kansanrakastaja vai kansanvihollinen by Juhani Niemi (1977); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Ilmari Kianto ja Vienan Karjala by Hannes Sihvo (1969); Saat kertoa kaiken, sanoi Iki-Kianto by Uolevi Kianto (1967); Huumorin sukupolvi by Unto Kupiainen (1954); Voices from Finland, ed. by Elli Tompuri (1947); Ilmari Kianto by Vihtori Laurila (1944) - Note: Kianto's house Turjanlinna (Turja's Castle) is nowadays popular visiting place for tourists. Film: Omat koirat purivat, dir. by Mikko Niskanen (1974), television play by Mikko Niskanen, Panu Rajala, Uolevi Kianto - Note: Kianto also translated works from such authors as Tolstoi (Kuolema, 1905) and Gontsharov (Oblomov, 1908) - Kiitokset: Parhaat kiitokset Raija-Liisa Kiannolle avusta - itse asiassa perusteellisesta toimitustyöstä - tämän sivun kanssa. Ilmari Kianto -seuran sivut kertovat lisää kirjailijasta.
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