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|Friedebert Tuglas (1886-1971) - surname until 1923 MIKHELSON|
Estonian author, scholar, critic, national writer of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (1946). Tuglas published only two novels, Felix Ormusson (1915) and Väike Illimar (1937). However, he became a highly influental culture figure in his country. Tuglas' other works include short stories, poems, literature studies, and travel books, written mostly during his long period of exile. He also introduced the essay and aphorism into Estonian literature as serious literary genres.
"They all are, of course, very progressive. It's a pity, that their progressive thinking limps twenty-thirty years behind the times. What they nowadays praise, was attacked by their kindred spirits twenty years ago. And what they now haul over the coals, will be praised by their descendants." (from Marginaalia, 1966)
Friedebert Tuglas was born Friedebert Mihkelson in Ahja, near the city of Tartu. His father was a carpenter. Tuglas studied in Tarto and attended the Cymnasium of Treffner in 1904-1905. The evenings he spent in the secret meetings of the Russian Social-Democatic Workers' Party. After becoming involved in revolutionary activities in 1905, his early ecucation was cut short. For some time he was imprisoned in Toompea Gaol in Tallinn by the Czarist authorities.
Following his release from prison, Tuglas went into exile, which lasted over ten years (1906-1917). This was a difficult period for Tuglas, both economically and mentally. He was a wanderer, who lived in several countries, and occasionally visited Estonia by using false passports. In Paris he had a room in a building called La Ruche. Developing his own esthetic views, Tuglas read intensively.
Tuglas's first major work was the prose poem Jumala saar (1905, Island of God), published in Noor-Eesti album I. As a short story writer Tuglas made his debut in 1906 with 'Hingemaa.' 'His Own Plot of Land' was a realistic story about rural proletariat. Two years later appeared a collection of short stories, Kaheksi, in which had found his own voice, subtle intimacy and impressionistic depiction of human emotions. The literary group Noor-Eesti was for Tuglas an important channel to advocate his theories of literature and he became one of its leading members with such names as Gustav Suits (1883-1956), Ernst Enno (1875-1943), and Willem Ridala (1885-1942), among others.
"Absolute beauty is something throughout masculine: solid, severe, ascetic. It don't look at a mirror, it don't control itself, it just exists. It has it's own purpose, or rather it don't have any." (from Marginaalia)
During the years of World War I, Tuglas published his resigned novel Felix Ormusson (1915), in which the central character realizes the uselessness of his romantic ideals but cannot change himself. The events take place during the summer months, when the writer Felix Ormusson, self-centered aesthete, visits his friend's summer house and falls for his wife and then her sister. Felix is not a realiable narrator – he considers his friend Johannes clumsy petty-bourgeois, but the reader realizes that Johannes is good husband, industrious and has progressive ideas. "Life is not an aesthetic phenomena," Felix eventually admits. "It is only comical."
The novel has been considered one of the most consistent examples of impressionistic technique in Estonian prose. Tuglas began to work on the novel in Finland in 1907-08, continued in Paris four years later, and finished it in 1914 on the shores of Lake Ladoga, after returning to Finland. By that time the book had taken the form of a diary. Originally Tuglas planned this volume as the first part of a trilogy (Puuhobu ratsanik, Prantsuse daam, Vabade kunstnike kodu), but he never wrote the sequels. Only two fragments were published posthumously in Rahutu rada (1973, The restkess path). The Finnish writer Aino Kallas found in Felix Ormusson autobiographical traits – Tuglas's colleagues called him Felix, but the author himself rejected straightforward similarities between him and his character. "Tee oma elust meistriteos..." Ha-ha-haa!' (from Tuglas's notebook). Fragments dealing with Felix's life in Paris from the sequels reveal, that his tragi-comic life would become merely tragic.
Jälle laulik rahva keskel,
When Estonia gained independence from Russian rule in 1917, Tuglas returned to home. In 1918, he married Elo Oinas; she died in 1970. Tuglas edited several literary magazines, among them Odamees, Ilo, Tarapita. He attacked against dilettantism, provincial narrowness, confusion of styles, and advocated for a short time among others Georg Brandes's literary theories. Tuglas's wartime stories were collected in Saatus (1917, Fate) and Raskuse vaim (1920, Spirit of heaviness). Tuglas mixed in these works horror and supernatural elements with real world. This line continued in the following stories in the 1920s. From 1923 to 1926, Tuglas was the chief editor of the Looming, which he founded. He served also Chairman of the Estonian Writers' Union. Known widely under his nom-de-plume "Tuglas," he finally turned it into his official surname.
Tuglas' study Juhan Liiv (1927) was a major contribution to the growing body of Estonian literary research. In 1928, he made a long trip to North Africa, recording his experiences and impressions in the three volume travelogue Teekond Põhja-Aafrika (1928-30). After a long silence as a novelist Tuglas published in 1937 Pikku Illimar (Little Illimar), based on his childhood memories. Tuglas looked the bygone life of a manor through the eyes of a small boy, often in humorous light. In the same year he was made an honorary member of the PEN Club in London.
"So you are defending folk poetry. Let me tell you that especially your "defence" is harmful for folk poetry. It is a backhand service." (from Marginaalia)
During the bombing of Tartu in 1944, several of his manuscripts were destroyed. After WW II, Tuglas was expelled from the Writers' Union, and for some time before he was rehabilitated, he was not allowed to publish his works. Tuglas earned his living as a translator, but he also continued to write short prose pieces. However, his first book did not appear until 1960. It was his memoirs, Mälestused, which dealt with politically neutral period, the years between 1885-1910. Translations of his chief works found eventually their way into many European countries. Moreover, as a correspondent member of the Academy of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, Tuglas was able to be in contact with writers outside Estonia. Tuglas died in Tallinn on April 15, 1971. His home, which had formerly belonged to the poet Marie Under and her husband, was turned into the Tuglas Museum, and renamed in 1991 the Tuglas and Under Museum.
Tuglas's works have been translated into Finnish, English, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, Lithuanian, Bulgarian, Latvian, Serbo-Croatian, Esperanto and other languages. In Finland Tuglas became first known for his collection of short stories, Kohtalo (1919), which was translated into Finnish by Aino Kallas. During Estonia's independence period between the world wars and after 1945, when Estonia was incorporated into the the USSR as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, Tuglas maintained wide official and unofficial contacts with Finnish writers. Because of the postal censorship, personal contacts were more important than formal. An edition of Tuglas's collected works in eight volumes came out between 1957 and 1962. Previously suppressed or abridged material has been published in the new edition of collected works. The project began in 1986.
For further reading: Nuori-Viro by Aino Kallas (1918); Mälestused by F. Tuglas (1960); Friedebert Tuglas by Nigel Andresen (1968); Katri Vala ja Friedebert Tuglas: varhaisia kosketuskohtia by Kerttu Saarenheimo (1971); Friedebert Tuglas: kultuurilooline essee by August Eelmäe (1986); 'Kesän ja rakkauden helle' by Kai Laitinen (afterword in Felix Ormusson by Friedebert Tuglas, 1988); Elukiri: 1952-1958 by Elo Tuglas (1993); Kultuurisild u?¨le Soome lahe: Eesti-Soome akadeemilised ja kultuurisuhted 1918-1944, ed. by Sirje Olesk (2005); Tuglaksen tuli palaa: Tuglas-seuran ja suomalais-virolaisten suhteiden historiaa by Heikki Rausmaa (2007) - Note 1: Tuglas Award for short stories is delivered annually. Note 2: Tuglas translated also works from such writers as Aleksis Kivi (Seitsemän veljestä) and Leo Tolstoy (Pietari I). Suom.: Valtaosa Tuglasin novellituotannosta ilmestynyt suomeksi teoksissa Vilkkuva tuli ja Kohtalo ja Kultainen rengas.