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|Yrjö (Armas Kirso) Kivimies (1899-1980) - original name Uuno Armas Mattila - pen names: Kirso, Urbanus, Puumerkki|
Finnish writer, translator, columnist, and essayist, whose special fields were literature, history, and philology. As a critic Kivimies was a genuine conservative, who admired classics, and opposed all that he considered modernist. His close friend, the writer and critic Kauko Kare, once said that Kivimies had "French brains and English sense of humor." On the literary scene Kivimies stayed away from the spotlight and produced most of his writing in fields often considered marginal to literature. During the period between the world wars, when many Finnish intellectuals were German-oriented, Kivimies translated works from British and American writers.
Yrjö Kivimies was born in Joensuu, the son of Enok Mattila, a contractor, and Maria (Paavola) Mattila. At the age of fourteen Kivimies gave a public speech on the poetry of V.A. Koskenniemi, the leading poet in Finland between the world wars, at the Voluntary Fire Brigade House in Heinola. Later Koskenniemi became his lifelong friend. Kivimies graduated from a secondary school in Helsinki, and in 1919 – like Aarne Haapakoski – he participated in the independence struggle of Estonia. Kivimies made his debut as a writer with Sotureita (1921), which drew on his experiences in Estonia.
For a short time Kivimies studied at the University of Helsinki, but then dropped out and devoted his time to chess and to freelance writing and translation. In the mid-1930s he worked for the publishing company Gummerus. During his career Kivimies contributed under 50 different pseudonyms columns to Uusi Suomi, Suomen Kuvalehti, Kuva and Seura. A born conversationalist in the tradition of Samuel Johnson, he was one of the central figures of the artist café Bronda.
Kivimies read such writers as Diderot, Winckelman, and Burckhardt, whose culture historical views influenced his own thinking, but as a translator he began in the 1920s with Rudyard Kipling's stories, and continued with works by Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Edgar Wallace. He also translated non-fiction and popular science books. In 1926 Kivimies travelled with Tahko Pihkala to the United States. This journey produced a highly popular travel book, "Tahkon" mukana jenkkien maassa (1928). The friends bought a small car from Chicago, it was a Nash, and drove to Iowa City, then from Fort Benning and Augusta to New York, about 4 500 miles. There was no safety belts in the vehicle and "Tahko" started to plan "suspenders" that would keep the driver and passengers on the seat when the car was bumping on the bad roads.
Kivimies's Pidot tornissa gained a wide publicity, when it appared in 1937. In the conservative cultural atmosphere of Finland, it tried to introduce more or less fresh ideas, but at the same time the discussion is characterized by chauvinism, rejection of left-wing ideas (the Communist Party was illegal in Finland), and fundamental mistrust in the broad masses of the people, a notion that the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset had crystallized in The Revolt of the Masses (1929). For the book Kivimies collected representantives of the younger generation ('the Writer', 'the Scientist', 'the Journalist', etc.) to discuss anonymously about various subjects. The conversation was recorded by Kivimies. Among the participants were Olavi Paavolainen, Lauri Viljanen, Matti Kurjensaari, T. Vaaskivi and Urho Kekkonen. Kivimies's own pseudonym was 'the Conservative'. His skeptical comments dealt often with cultural history. Later the conversation continued with new participants and topics in Toiset pidot tornissa (edited by Eino S. Repo, 1954), Pidot Aulangolla (edited by Erno Paasilinna, 1963), and Pidot Suomessa (edited by Erno Paasilinna, 1972). Nowadays the opinions presented in Pidot tornissa are mostly outdated.
Toisen asteen ihmisiä (1938), Kivimies's first novel, developed further his comments as 'the Conservative' in Pidot tornissa. The protagonist is a student, and the novel mostly focuses on discussion of four eccentric polymaths in a second-hand bookshop. "Jos aloitat puheen sanomalla: 'Kuten elämä opettaa', niin voit jatkaa millä lailla tahansa. Ja elämä ja historia ovat yhtä. Kun historian todistukseen vedotaan, niin silloin on otettava samanlainen yksityistapaus ja sitäkin käsiteltävä varovaisesti, sillä kahtena eri aikana tai eri maassa sattunut yksityistapaus ei voi olla täysin analoginen." Kaksikymmentä, his first collection of short stories, came out1943. From 1931 onwards Kivimies published four collections of columns, Senaattorin sankarityö (1931), Tyhmyydestä sakotetaan (1937), Kantaäidin kylkiluu ja muita senttauksia (1953), and Neljäkymmentäneljä pakinaa (1959).
In the 1930s, Kivimies formed a friendship with the Russian-born film director Teuvo Tulio and wrote with him two film scripts, Taistelu Heikkilän talosta (1936), based on Johannes Linnankoski's short story about an embittered farm hand, and Nuorena nukkunut (1937), a version of F.E. Sillanpää's novel (The Maid Silja / Fallen Asleep While Young). The outcome of their cooperation was surprisingly successful, although Tulio was known for his melodramatic sense of doom and Kivimies was more subdued and had a different kind of humor. In Taistelu Heikkilän talosta Kivimies softened the story and added a prologue. Kivimies and the director received good reviews, his screenplay was considered faithful to the original work. Teuvo Tulio made a new version of the story in 1947, under the title Intohimon vallassa. Kivimies revised Nuorena nukkunut seven times, and and did not dealt with the traumatic Civil War of 1917-18, a controversial theme at that time, in the script. A scene in which a farmer peeps the young Silja, who is in sauna, was later cut out. Alone Kivimies wrote the scripts for Laulu tulipunaisesta kukasta (1938), based again on Linnankoski's work, Kiusaus (1938), love drama about a fisherman, priest and two women, and Varaventtiili (1942), based on a popular novel depicting love problems of a teacher.
During the Continuation War between Finland and the Soviet Union (1941-44), when Äänislinna was occupied by Finnish troops, Kivimies went there with the writers Toivo Pekkanen and Lauri Viljanen and the composer Sulho Ranta. He traveled also in Germany and gave an account of his impressions in Eurooppalainen veljeskunta: runoilijamatka halki Saksan (1942). As a representantive the Union of Finnish Writers, he signed the founding document of the "Europäische Schriftstellervereinigung" (European Writer's League), founded under auspices of Joseph Goebbels. Though Kivimies was not a supporter of Nazi policies, Eurooppalainen veljeskunta became after the war a banned book and it was removed from libraries.
While being employed by the publishing company Oy Suomen Kirja, Kivimies was the superior of the writer Eeva-Liisa Manner (1921-1995); he was her first great love. Between 1946 and 1948 Kivimies worked as the subeditor of the journal Suomalainen Suomi. In 1949, at the age of fifty, he married Kaarina Saarnivaara. A language purist, Kivimies became in the 1950s one of the major opponents of modernist currents in literature, firmly holding to his beliefs, despite pressures and the breakthrough of modernism and its ultimate acceptance. He attacked in 1961 Pentti Saarikoski's acclaimed translation of Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye, because of its use of slang. Kivimies also argued that Salinger was a New Yorker man and thus is inclined to make fun of the language of the low brows. "Unpleasant", was Kivimies's conclusion. However, the real problem was not the Helsinki slang ("stadin slangi"), but Saarikoski's superficial knowledge of it.
Kivimies's best-known non-fiction publications include the synonym dictionary Synonyymisanasto (1946), and the phrase dictionary Näinkin voi sanoa (1964), in which recommends a number of worn out phrases for general use, such as "ajan hammas" (teeth of time), and "näki päivän valon" (see the daylight) as a synonym for "syntyi" (born). Kivimies's etymological explanations of words reflected his wide knowledge of cultural history, but are sometimes racist. "Keltainen vaara" (yellow peril) has become according to Kivimies "political reality at present." In 1956 he received the Linnankoski Award and in 1959 the Mikael Agricola Award. He was awarded in 1960 a Ph.D. (h.c.) at the University of Turku. Kivimies was a member of the National Council for Literature (1961). He died in Helsinki on March 18, 1980.
For further reading: Ajan paineessa: kirjoituksia 1930-luvun suomalaisesta aatemaailmasta, ed. by Pertti Karkama, Hanne Koivisto (1999); Suomalaisia kirjailijoita: Jöns Buddesta Hannu Ahoon by Lasse Koskela (1990); Yrjö Kivimies 8.12.1899-18.3. 1980: Muistojulkaisu, ed. by Kauko Kare (1980); Aleksis Kivestä Martti Merenmaahan: suomalaisten kirjailijain elämäkertoja, ed. by Martti Haavio (1954)