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Anton Tammsaare (1878-1940) - originally Anton Hansen


Estonian writer, whose novel Tõde ja õigus I-V (1926-33) is considered one of the major works of Estonian literature. Tammsaare's social epic captured the evolution of Estonia from tsarist province to independent state. It was based partly on the author's own life and centered on the contrast between the urban bourgeoisie and hard-working peasantry. The protagonist, Indrek Paas, moves from a farm to a city, witnesses revolutionary upheavals, tries to find peace in marriage and the bourgeois life-style, but returns disappointed to his roots for a new start. Although a realist at heart, Tammsaare also wrote artistic fairy tales and used allegorical fantasy in his stories. In his popular novel The Misadventures of the New Satan (1939) he combined rural Estonian life with Biblical themes, mythology and folklore.

"... The very first spring, when the prison was built, a nightingale began to sing in an alder-tree in front of the prison-house.
This was at once reported to the King by his faithful henchmen.
"What is the burden of the song?" the King asked.
"Love and freedom, Your Majesty," answered the henchmen, bowing to the ground.
For a moment the wise King was deep in thought. They they heard him say:
"Life is captivity, and it would be wrong to sing of freedom. Life is vengeance, and it would be a crime to glorify love. I, your king, do not know what freedom is, for I am a slave of slaves. I, your master, do not know what love is, for I have only obligations. Therefore, take my fiercest falcon and set it on the nightingale."
(from Miniatures, 1977)

Anton Tammsaare was born in Albu, the son of a farmer. His father, Peeter Hansen, bought on hire purchase a stony and swampy farm, and decided to make it prosper, in spite of an ongoing quarrel with his neighbor, Jakob Sikenberg. Tammsaare came from a poor background, but he managed to collect enough money for his education in Tartu with the help of his family and by working in different jobs.

In 1903 Tammsaare graduated from high school and published his first book, Vanad ja noored. After working as a journalist in Tallinn with such cultural and political figures as K. Päts, M. Martna, Eduard Vilder and H. Pöögelman, he entered the University of Tartu, where he studied law. Tammsaare's studies were interrupted by tuberculosis in 1911. He spent over a year in a sanatorium in the Caucasus – his only journey abroad – and the following six years in his brother's farm in Koitjärve, reading works of Cervantes, Shakespeare and Homer. From Koitjärve he found the name vargamäe, central in his novel Tõde ja õigus.

In 1918, when Estonia became independent, Tammsaare had moved to Tallinn. He lived the next 20 years with his family in a house situated between Köhler Street and Koidula Street. Käthe Weltman, whom he married, was a determined woman. She, before the writer knew about it, had announced their marriage in a newspaper advertisement. In Tallinn Tammsaare wrote the works which have gained a permanent place in Estonian literature. Although he took his subjects from the history and life of the Estonian people, his novels have deep connections with the ideas of Henri Bergson, Jung and Freud, and such writers as Knut Hamsun, André Gide, D.H. Lawrence and F.E. Sillanpää.

Tammsaare's early works are characterized by rural "poetic" realism. He continued the literary tradition of Vilde and Kitzberg, but he was interested as well in the psychology of his characters. Some of his stories also reflected the atmosphere of the revolutionary year of 1905. During his second period from 1908 to 1919 he wrote several short urban novels and collections of miniatures. In Poiss ja liblik (1915, The Boy and the Butterfly) Tammsaare was clearly influenced by Oscar Wilde.

Tammsaare's works from the 1920s explore moral concerns. In his drama Juudit (1921) the heroine kills Holofernes for selfish motives. Unlike the heroine in the Bible, Tammsaare's Judith hides her true motives under patriotic phrases – she wants to become the ancestress of a new dynasty, and kills Holofernes in revenge when the famous general rejects her. Kõrboja peremees (1922) was set in the rural milieu especially close to his heart. The love story of a young man from the country and an educated young woman ends tragically.

According to Tammsaare, the first volume of Tõde ja õigus (truth and justice) depicts man's struggle with the earth, the second with God, the third with society, the fourth with himself – the fifth ends with resignation. Tammsaare's view was skeptical, in general he saw things as a natural scientist would, his approach being biological rather than psychological. Although the work was deeply rooted in Estonian life, it dealt with many contemporary literary and philosophical issues. With Tõde ja õigus Tammsaare gained a reputation as one of the most original thinkers and novelists in northern Europe. The last two volumes especially contained more reasoning on the struggle for truth and justice than autobiographical material.

In Tõde ja õigus Tammsaare draws an ironic portrait of urban intellectuals who have absorbed bourgeois mores and abandoned their moral principles. The novel was written in a time which saw the rise of dictators – Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini – and the decline of truth and justice. Indrek, the protagonist, is not a man of action, but through his life story Tammsaare examines the same humanistic ideals of the early 20th century as Romain Roland, Thomas Mann and John Galsworthy do in their works. In the first part Indrek is actually a minor character, while the protagonist is his father, Andres Paas wiht his first wife Krõõt, who dies after giving birth to their first son. Anders, who wants to defend what he considers right, eventually loses his vision of right and wrong, and manages to cheat his archenemy, Pearu.

In the second part Indrek enters a private school in a town, actually Tartu, although Tammsaare doesn't mention its name. Indrek falls in love with Ramilda, the daughter of the school director. She dies of tuberculosis and Indrek is expelled from the school after writing an atheistic article. In the third part Indrek participates in the revolutionary events of 1905 but is terrified by its frenzy. The fourth part is set in independent Estonia. Indrek has married Karin; they have two children. After he finds out that Karin has been unfaithful, he nearly kills her. Indrek is released on probation. Karin dies in a traffic accident. In the fifth part Indrek returns to his native village.

In the 1930s Tammsaare published such neo-realistic novels as Elu ja armastus (1934) and Ma armastasin sakslast (1935). The play Kuningal on külm (1936) was about an old king who suffered from cold, and warned, in the form of a religious idol (a double-headed calf ), of the threats posed by anti-democratic movements. His last and most widely read work was Põrgupõhja uus vanapagan (1939, The Misadventures of the New Satan), a satirical novel about the Satan who becomes a farmer to win a bet with St. Peter. But even with his superhuman physical strength the Satan has problems with a world full of demagogy and hypocrisy.

"The Satan started to leave, but then he turned, looked at his friend St. Peter and said sadly: 
 I feel that I have lived in vain on the earth. 
But now you have at least hope."
(from The Misadventures of the New Satan, 1939)

Tammsaare was able to read in six foreign languages; Shakespeare and Goethe in particular influenced him deeply. He also translated works from writers such as Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, John Galsworthy, Joseph Conrad. In addition to his work as a novelist, he was for many decades a prolific publicist and essayist. Tammsaare died on March 1, 1940, in Tallinn. Although he was celebrated as a national writer, Tammsaare avoided all publicity, and when his 50th birthday was celebrated at the Estonia theatre, Tammsaare never appeared on the scene.

For further reading: Dekadentlik modernsuskogemus A. H. Tammsaare ja nooreestlaste loomingus by Mirjam Hinrikus (2011);  Irratsionaalsuse poeetika A. H. Tammsaare loomingus by M. Vaino (2011); Tammsaare elu härra Hansenina: pühendatud A. H. Tammsaare 125. sünniaastapäevale, ed. Elem Treier (2002); Tammsaare maailmakirjanikuna: kolm välismaa Tammsaare-uurijat, ed. E. Treier (2001); A.H. Tammsaare, nagu teda tundsin by L. Trett (1998); Viron kirjallisuus by Endel Nirk (1986); Estonian Literature by E. Nirk (1987); A. H. Tammsaare in Estonian Literature by E. Siirak (1978); Lühike eesti kirjanduslugu I-II by Arvo Mägi (1965); Geschichte der estnischen Literatur by H. Jänes (1965); A. H. Tammsaare - lühimonograafia by Helene Siimisker (1962); Lühike eesti kirjanduslugu by Friedebert Tuglas (1934) - Note: Tammsaare's statue by sculptor Jaak Soans was unveiled in Tallin on January 1, 1978. Earlier in 1936 a statue by F. Sannamees was erected in Albu.  Lisätietoja: 'A. H. Tammsaare – meillä tuntematon Viron mestari ja hänen pääteoksensa' by J.J. Marjanen, 2006 (hieman lyhennetty versio artikkelista joka ilmestyi Karhunkierros -lehden erikoisnumerossa 2/1999). Note: Tammsaare wrote in his article 'Culture and Democracy' (1933) that "as a matter of fact, few, very few people have been interested or are interested in culture. Culture involves hard, consistent and tedious work, but work has always been regarded as drudgery, and held in little respect."

Selected works:

  • Kaks paari ja üksainus, 1902
  • Vanad ja noored, 1903
  • Raha-auk, 1907
  • Uurimisel, 1907
  • Pikad sammud, 1908
  • Üle piiri, 1910
  • Noored hinged, 1909
  • Poiss ja liblik, 1915
    - 'The Boy and the Butterfly' (in Miniatures, translated by Melania Rauk, 1977)
  • Keelest ja luulest, 1915
  • Kärbes, 1917
  • Varjundid, 1917
  • Sõjamõtted, 1919
  • Juudit, 1921
  • Kõrboja peremees, 1922
    - Korpiojan isäntä (suom. Ida Grünthal, 1929)
    - film: Kõrboja peremees / The Master of Kõrboja (1979), prod. Tallinnfilm, dir. Villuna Leida Laius, screenplay by Leida Laius & Paul-Eerik Rummo, featuring Kaie Mihkelson, Lembit Peterson, Ants Eskola, Elo Tamul, Oskar Liigand
  • Pöialpoiss, 1923
  • Sic Transit, 1924
  • Tõde ja õigus I-V, 1926-33
    - Totuus ja oikeus 1 (suom. Erkki Reijonen, 1932), Totuus ja oikeus 5 (suom. Erkki Reijonen, 1935) / Totuus ja oikeus. 1: Maan lupaus (suom. Juhani Salokannel, 2002), Totuus ja oikeus. 2: Koulutie (suom. Juhani Salokannel, 2004), Totuus ja oikeus 3: Surmatulet (suom. Juhani Salokannel, 2007),  Totuus ja oikeus. 4: Kuolemantanssi (suom. Juhani Salokannel, 2011), Totuus ja oikeus. 5: Kotiinpaluu (suom. 2013)
    - film: Indrek (1975), prod. Tallinnfilm, dir. by Mikk Mikiver, featuring Harri Kõrvits, Ants Eskola, Maria Klenskaja, Kaljo Kiisk, Rein Aren, Jüri Järvet
  • Meie rebane, 1932
  • Elu ja armastus, 1934
  • Ma armastasin sakslast, 1935
  • Kuningal on külm, 1936
    - Kuninkaalla on kylmä (näytelmä, suom. Irja Typpö)
  • Hiina ja hiinlane, 1938
  • Põrgupõhja uus vanapagan, 1939
    - The Misadventures of the New Satan: A Novel (translated by Olga Shartze, 1978; revised translation by Christopher Moseley, 2009)
    - Hornanperän uusi paholainen (suom. Aino Kaasinen, 1964) / Hornanperän uusi paholainen (kuunnelma, suom. Anja Salokannel, 1978)
    - film 1964, prod. Tallinnfilm, dir. by Grigori Kromanov & Jüri Müür, screenplay by Gennadi Kaleda & Jüri Müür, featuring Elmar Salulaht, Ants Eskola, Astrid Lepa, Leida Rammo
  • Miniatuure, novelle, jutustusi, 1977
    - Miniatures (contains 'The King and the Nightingale,' 'The Boy and the Butterfly,' 'The Nightingale and the Flowers,' 'The Raven and Her Young Ones,' translated by Melania Rauk, 1977)
  • Kogutud teosed, 1977-1993 (18 vols., ed. by K Itra et al.)
  • A.H. Tammsaare on öelnud, 1999 (ed. by Age-Li Liivak, 2nd ed.)

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