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Olavi (Lauri) Paavolainen (1903-1964)


Finnish essayist, journalist, travel book writer, poet, and cosmopolitan, who ironically called himself a sälli (fellow). Paavolainen was the central figure of the literary group Tulenkantajat (The Flame Bearers) and one of the most influential literary opinion leaders between the World Wars in Finland. He represented liberal and Europe oriented views of culture and had an eclectic eye for new ideas. In the late 1920s Paavolainen praised urban life, technology, and roaring cars as the Italian Futurist poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) had done two decades earlier. A metropolis with its high skyscrapers was for Paavolainen the greatest cultural achievement, a manifest of modern times.

"Eikö pilvenpiirtäjä ole yhtä ihmeellinen kuin Keopsin pyramidi? Eikö lentokoneessa ole toteutunut "Tuhannen ja yhden yön" satujen unelma lentävästä taikamatosta?" (from 'Nykyaikaa etsimässä', Aitta VII)

Olavi Paavolainen was born in Kivennapa, Carelia, (Russian Finland). His father, Pietari (Pekka) Paavolainen, was a lawyer and member of parliament; his mother, Alice Laura (Löfgrén) Paavolainen descended from a family of civil servants and soldiers. In 1914 the family moved to Helsinki, where Paavolainen began to write poems at the age of twelve. From 1921 to 1925, he studied aesthetics and literature at the University of Helsinki, without graduating.

While studying at the university, Paavolainen began to publish critics and poems. The young poet Katri Vala, whose first book came out in 1924, encouraged Paavolainen in his choice of literary career. In his letters to Vala, Paavolainen expressed his interest in nice suits, and mocked himself as a dandy. Paavolainen contributed in 1924 to the anthology Nuoret runoilijat I (young poets) under the pseudonym Olavi Lauri, which he used some years. During this early period, Paavolainen was interested in nudism, and he found the works of Comtesse de Noailles important for his development. Later the thoughts of André Gide, Aldous Huxley, and especially D.H.Lawrence became close to him. In 1927 he traveled to Paris and published his impressions in the magazine Ylioppilaslehti, edited by Urho Kekkonen. The poet and folklorist Martti Haavio read his writings without believing his sincerity and dismissed Paavolainen's cosmopolitanism as empty and ponderous. In the future, these two writers would clash many times in the struggle between old schools and modernist trends.

Paavolainen's first book, Valtatiet (1928), cowritten with Mika Waltari, was inspired by Marinetti's automobilism and Futurist manifestos. Artistically, Waltari dominated the collection, but Paavolainen hada decisive role in the shaping of its literary vision , its machine romantic impressions: the poet speeds through the countries of Europe in his red Fiat car, which explodes into a star over the Sahara Desert. This works has enjoyed a kind of cult status, but at the time of its appearance, it was greeted with lukewarm reviews.

Valtatiet was followed by a collection of essays, Nykyaikaa etsimässä (1929, Looking for modern times), in which subjects varied from jazz, women's fashion, outdoor life to Blok, Esenin and Mayakovsky. Paavolainen eagerly welcomed the modernization of Europe after the horrors of World War I. In 1928-29, Paavolainen served in the army. When the writer Pentti Haanpää attacked the military discipline in his book Kenttä ja kasarmi (1928), Paavolainen dismissed his views as exaggerated and malicious.

In 1930 Paavolainen worked for a short time as the editor of the magazine Tulenkantajat. His financial problems continued, and as a freelance writer he had no regular incomes. In the conservative atmosphere of the 1930s Paavolainen felt himself lonely. He bewailed the backwardness of Finland and stated it was time to "give voice to the new era of speed, mechanisation, cosmopolitanism, collectivism, and the European experience." In 1932 he published two books, Keulakuvat, a collection of poetry, and Suursiivous, a literary housecleaning and adissection of the Tulenkantajat group.

Paavolainen made a journey to England in 1932, but did not have the energy to write the travel book which his published expected. When his father died in 1930, Paavolainen saw an Oedipal dream and confessed that from that moment he fully believed in Freud. Elder women attracted Paavolainen, and among his friends was the notorious Minna Craucher, a spy, whose salon attracted a wide array of intellectuals, writers, and members of the extremist right-wing Lapua movement. Craucher was murdered in 1932 by one of her guests. In the late 1930s, Paavolainen had an affair with the writer Helvi Hämäläinen; their paths eventually separated in 1941. Hämäläinen was the only woman, "who dared to leave him," as Paavolainen later said. In 1945 Paavolainen married poet Sirkka-Liisa Virtamo (Sirkka Selja); the marriage ended officially eight years later.

"On vanha totuus, että uskonkiihko ei siedä leikinlaskua. Nuoret natsit, jotka tavallisissa oloissa olivat niin iloisia, välittömiä ja suuria humoristeja, muuttuivat heti haudanvakaviksi kuin katujamunkit puheen kääntyessä kansallissosialistisiin uskonkappaleisiin." (from Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana, 1936)

From 1933 to 1934 Paavolainen worked at an advertising agency in Helsinki, and then in 1935 in Turku as the advertising manager of a clothing company – Paavolainen himself always dressed elegantly. After resigning, he returned to Helsinki without any work. Next year he made a journey to Nazi Germany, depicting his critical impressions in the travel book Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana (1936). Paavolainen met politicians, writers, young Nazis, and intellectuals. He noticed that green – the color of uniforms – was in fashion in suits. Paavolainen also attended a political meeting where Josef Goebbels made a speech. "This small man is all nerves and brain – heart and soul are missing. His vanity is also obvious." Paavolainen's style was ironic. He felt himself uncomfortable in the solemn atmosphere and missed signs of good humour.

Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana was a huge success. Also the right wing radicals, who drew inspiration from Nazism, reviewed it objectively. However, the book was never translated into German and he never openly sympathized with the German cause like the most prominent poet of the period, V.A. Koskenniemi. With the help of the publishing company Gummerus, Paavolainen sailed in 1937 to South America. In Rio de Janeiro, Paavolainen spent a night in a giant brothel. His account of the journey Paavolainen gave in Lähtö ja loitsu (1938, The spell and the separation), in which he expressed in every turn his disgust of European culture.

Just before the Winter War, in 1939, Paavolainen also travelled in the Soviet Union. In Moscow he admired its new houses, streets, and the Underground. (It took 43 years before the Helsinki Metro was opened.)

During WW II Paavolainen served at the Information Department of the Headquartes. He was posted after the outbreak of the Winter War to Mikkeli, eastern Finland, as adjutant to an infantry general. In 1940 he was wounded when Russian planes bombed Mikkeli: a filing cabinet fell on top of him and he broke his tail bone. For a long time he had to sit on a rubber ring to avoid direct pressure on the anus. Paavolainen was awarded the Finnish Cross of Freedom. The poet Yrjö Jylhä, who served as a company commander in the infernal fights of Taipaleenjoki (the Taipale River), often spoke ironically of his friend's cross. In 1944, Paavolainen visited Vienola. His childhood home with its famous palm tree room was destroyed. It was the last time he saw his place of birth.

Paavolainen's critical World War II diary Synkkä yksinpuhelu (1946, Gloomy monologue), was attacked because of its unpopular opinions of the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, and hidden anticipation of the defeat in the early war years. While the tone of Paavolainen's travel book from Germany was more or less enthusiastic, in this work he had his own reservations about the Finland's alliance with Nazi Germany. Paavolainen was generally called a traitor, V.A. Koskenniemi compared him with an old gossiping lady and labelled him in a letter as a hermaphrodite and fool. Koskenniemi's wife attacked Paavolainen behind the pseudonym of Pentti Hilli in the magazine Valvoja. She questioned the authenticity of the diary, and dismissed him as a writer whose literary status is not esteemed very high. The polemic against the book was so strong that eventually ten leading critics protested against the attacks. After the heavy criticism Paavolainen did not publish more books.

"At home, I do not have the heart to draw the blackout curtains. The room is lit only by the snowy roofs shining through the window. I sit in the darkness and smoke. Deathly silence. Somewhere, through the wall, a telephone is ringing, but no one rushes to answer. Once again, I have that strange feeling that I am the only person in a dead city, a dead world." (from Synkkä yksinpuhelu, translated by Hildi Hawkins)

In 1947 Paavolainen was appointed director of theatre department of Yleisradio (the Finnish Broadcasting Company) by his friend Hella Wuolijoki, at that time director of Yleisradio. Under Paavolainen, who reluctantly accepted the post, the radio theatre programs gained a wide audience. In the 1950s Paavolainen had a close relationship with the Communist politician Hertta Kuusinen, the daughter of Otto-Ville Kuusinen, who was member of the central committee of the Soviet Union.

During his last years Paavolainen often compained that he felt tired. He drank, ocasionally didn't bother to go to work, and nostalgically planned to write the history of Tulenkantajat. When he received the Eino Leino award in 1960, President Urho Kekkonen congratulated him, calling him a "man pushed into oblivion". Olavi Paavolainen died on August 19, 1964, in Helsinki. Paavolainen's friend Matti Kurjensaari published in 1974 a vivid, but coldly received portrait on him. It was born after exhaustive struggles with Paavolainen's heirs. Jaakko Paavolainen's biography from 1991 gave much new information about the childhood and youth of the author, whose Apollonic intelligence never found any true recognition.

For further reading: Paavolaisen katse: tulkintoja Olavi Paavolaisesta, ed. by Ritva Hapuli (2012);  Paavolaisen paikat, ed. by Henri Terho (2003); Hamlet ystävänI: kirjeitä Olavi Paavolaiselle by Hertta Kuusinen, ed. by Marja-Leena Mikkola (1999); Sota ja maisema: tutkimus Olavi Paavolaisen 1940-luvun tuotannosta by H. K. Riikonen (1995); Nykyajan sininen kukka: Olavi Paavolainen ja nykyaika by Ritva Hapuli (1995); Olavi Paavolainen - keulakuva by Jaakko Paavolainen (1991); Rajamaa by Johannes Salminen (1984); Metsästä kaupunkiin by Kai Laitinen (1984); Loistava Olavi Paavolainen by Matti Kurjensaari (1975); A History of Finnish Literature by Jaakko Ahokas (1973); Tulenkantajat by Kerttu Saarenheimo (1966) - The Flame Bearers: Lauri Viljanen, Katri Vala, Elina Vaara, Yrjö Jylhä, Ilmari Pimiä, Viljo Kajava

Selected works:

  • Valtatiet, 1928 (with Mika Waltari)
  • Nykyaikaa etsimässä, 1929
  • Keulakuvat, 1932
  • Suursiivous eli kirjallisessa lastenkamarissa, 1932
  • Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana: rapsodia, 1936
    - Som gäst i Tredje riket: en rapsodi (övers. av Bertel Gripenberg och Stig Malmström, 1937)
  • Lähtö ja loitsu: kirja suuresta levottomuudesta, 1938
    - Flykten till en ny värld (övers. av Olof Enckell, 1938)
  • Risti ja hakaristi: uutta maailmankuvaa kohti, 1938
    - Korset och hakkorset: inför en ny världsbild (övers. av Bertel Gripenberg, 1939)
  • Karjala, muistojen maa, 1940 (toim., avust. Maija Suova)
    - Karelen, landet som var (med bistånd av Nils-Gustav Hahl, 1941)
  • Rakas entinen Karjala, 1942 (toim., avustajana Ilmari Pimiä)
  • Jännittävin sotaelämykseni: Syvärin miehet kertovat, 1942 (kuvittanut: A. Lindeberg; toimittaneet: Yrjö Jylhä, Päivö Oksala, Olavi Paavolainen)
  • Täältä jostakian: Suomen kenttäarmeijan runoja, 1943 (toim.)
  • Synkkä yksinpuhelu: päiväkirjan lehtiä vuosilta 1941-1944, I-II, 1946
    - Finlandia i moll: dagboksblad från åren 1941-1944 (övers. av Ralf Parland med Lars Hjalmarsson Dahl och Atos Wirtanen, 1947)
  • Katri Vala - tulipatsas: muistojulkaisu, 1946 (toim.)
  • Parhaat suomalaiset radiokuunnelmat 1948-49, 1950 (toim.)
  • Kivennapa kuvina, 1954 (toim., avust. Ilmari Pimiä)
  • Suomalaisia radiokuunnelmia, 1950-51, 1952 (toim.)
  • Valitut teokset 1-4, 1961
  • Taistelu Aunuksesta, 2011 (toimittajat: Martti Haavio ja Olavi Paavolainen; aineiston uudelleen koonnut Helena Pilke)

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