Skip to main content

Finnish literature

Finnish literature: The first printed work in Finnish was the ABC book published c.1542 by Bishop Michael Agricola (1508–57). In 1642 the first complete translation of the Bible in Finnish appeared in Stockholm. Until the 19th cent. most of the writing done by Finns was in Swedish, since from the 13th cent. to 1809 Finland was in political vassalage to Sweden. The linguistic researches of Alexander Castrén (1813–53), as well as the historical writings of Henry Gabriel Porthan (1739–1804) and the publication (1835) by Elias Lönnrot of the Kalevala, helped to feed interest in Finnish as a literary vehicle. Still many continued to write in Swedish, among them Zacharias Topelius and J. L. Runeberg, the national poet of Finland. Others who preferred Swedish were the romantic novelist Topelius; Arvid Mörne (1876–1946), poet, novelist, and playwright; Jarl Hemmer, poet; and the prose writer Runar Schildt (1888–1925). To the first generation of those writing in Finnish belong the novelist Pietari Päivärinta (1827–1913) and Alexis Stenvall (pseud. Kivi, 1834–72), who originated Finnish tragic and comic drama. He is known abroad for The Seven Brothers (1870, tr. 1929), a masterpiece combining elements of romanticism and realism. Eino Leino (1878–1926), Finland's most original lyricist, produced some 30 collections of poetry reflecting the influence of folklore. The poet Edith Södergran (1892–1923), inspired by the European symbolists and by her Russian childhood, had great influence on modern Finnish and Swedish poetry. The first Finnish writer to express modern realism was the playwright and champion of women's rights, Minna Canth (1844–97). Also influenced by realistic as well as radical literary currents in the 1880s was Juhani Aho (1861–1921), a novelist who gave literary Finnish a new maturity and artistic standard. The novelist and poet Ilmari Kianto depicted the bitter struggle for existence among the poor peasantry in N Finland. Also concerned with rural life were the novelists Joel Lehtonen (1881–1934) and Pentti Haanpää (1905–55). A champion of social reform was the Swedish-language poet Arvid Mörne. The conflicts rising from the civil war (1918) inspired the playwright and short-story writer Runar Schildt. The tensions of 20th-century industrial society are reflected in the novels of Toivo Pekkanen (1902–57). Frans Sillanpää, who won the 1939 Nobel Prize in Literature, gained fame for his lyrical impressionist novels. Dominating Finnish literature in the mid-20th cent. were the novelist Väinö Linna and the prolific novelist, poet, and playwright Mika Waltari.

See P. I. Ravila, ed., Finnish Literary Reader (1965); A. Rubulis, Baltic Literature (1970); J. Ahokas, A History of Finnish Literature (1972).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Finnish literature." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 22 Jan. 2018 <>.

"Finnish literature." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (January 22, 2018).

"Finnish literature." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved January 22, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.