Wuolijoki, Hella (1886–1954)

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Wuolijoki, Hella (1886–1954)

Estonian-born Finnish writer, social critic, and unofficial diplomat . Name variations: (pseudonyms) Juhani Tervapää or Juhani Tervapaa; Felix Tuli. Born Ella Maria Murrik on July 22, 1886, in Helme, Estonia; died on February 20, 1954, in Helsinki, Finland.

Born Ella Maria Murrik in Estonia in July 1886, Hella Wuolijoki witnessed the cultural repression of the Estonian nation by tsarist Russia while she was growing up. By the early 1900s, she was moving in radical circles and had befriended, among other writers, the noted novelist Maxim Gorky. Wuolijoki moved to Finland at age 18 in order to continue her education, enrolling at the University of Helsinki. Here she mastered the Finnish language and became intrigued with Finland's rich traditions of epic poetry.

A wealthy Communist, she was arrested by the Finns on charges of treason during the bloody Finnish-Soviet conflict and sentenced to death. Bertolt Brecht's statements on her behalf, made to the Swedish consul in Los Angeles, were relayed to Finland and played a major role in saving her life. (Her play The Sawdust Princess had served as model for Bertolt Brecht's Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti, but Brecht had declined to pay her a share of the royalties even though Wuolijoki was then impoverished.) Released in 1944, Wuolijoki soon became involved in international diplomacy, using her friendship with Alexandra Kollontai to initiate contacts between Helsinki and Moscow that led to an armistice between Finland and the USSR. Her radical social commentaries and sharp critiques of patriarchal society made her a controversial writer who was often ahead of her time.


Kitching, Laurence P.A. "Brecht's Der kaukasische Kreidekreis and Wuolikoji's Das estnische Kriegslied," in Journal of Baltic Studies. Vol. 13, no. 4, 1982, pp. 314–326.

Kummituksia ja kajavia. Helsinki, 1947.

Laitinen, K. Suomen kirjallisuus 1917–1967. Helsinki, 1967.

Lasilla, Pertti, and Risto Hannula. "Hella Wuolijoki: A Versatile Talent," in Books from Finland. Vol. 20, no. 2, 1986, pp. 90–95.

Lounela, Pekka, and David Barrett. "Hella Wuolijoki (1886–1954): A Woman of Contrasts," in Books from Finland. Vol. 13, 1979, pp. 120–129.

Wuolijoki, Hella. Und ich war nicht Gefangene: Memoiren und Skizzen. Ed. by Richard Semrau. Trans. by Regine Pirschel. Rostock: Hinstorff, 1987.

"Wuolijoki, Hella," in Olli Alho, Hildi Hawkins and Päivi Vallisaari, eds., Finland: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Trans. by Hildi Hawkins and David McDuff. Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 1997.

John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia