Minna Canth was born in Tampere as the daughter of Gustaf Wilhelm Johnson and Ulrika... Johnson. Her father was a worker at the Finlayson cotton factory. He rose in the position of a foreman and in 1853 the family moved to Kuopio, a small but culturally active town 500 kilometers from Helsinki. Johnson worked in Kuopio as a shop manager, and was able to provide his daughter a good education. Canth studied at Jyväskylä Teachers' Seminary, but left her studies and married in 1865 her teacher Johan Ferdinand Canth, nine years her senior. From 1874 to 1876 she wrote for the regional publications Keski-Suomi and later for Päijänne (1878-79).After the death of her husband in 1879, Canth moved with her seven children to Kuopio. She took charge of her father's shop - he had died a few year earlier, and the business was doing poorly. The draper's shop, the 'Tampereen Lankakauppa', selling Finlayson's fabrics, started to flourish, and Canth found more time to literary aspirations. Her first book, a collection of short stories, appeared in 1879. Canth's first drama, MURTOVARKAUS, was produced next year. It gained a huge success, and was produced in 1897 also in Sweden. With Murtovarkaus Canth started her ten year cooperation with Kaarlo Bergbom (1843-1906), who had founded the Finnish Theatre. He encouraged Canth to write ethnological, rustic comedies for the broad audience, but this was not what the author herself wanted to do. However, her next play, ROINILAN TALOSSA (1885), delighted Bergbom with its lively characters and folkdances.In the beginning of the 1880's, Canth adopted ideas from such authors as Taine, Ibsen, Strindberg and Zola. She read widely social sciences, ethics, psychology, natural sciences, religious thinkers. Canth become interested in the position of women and workers, and the conflict between religion and Darwin's ideas of evolution. Her new, more socially concerned plays, were attacked by conservative and religious authorities. Among them was the influential... party director Agathon Meurman, who also persecuted Juhani Aho and other liberal writers. Social criticism was a relatively new phenomenon in Finnish literature, and Canth was more outspoken than contemporary male writers.Canth's KOVAN ONNEN LAPSIA (1888, 'Hard luck's children') was banned immediately. Her most famous play, PAPIN PERHE (1891, The pastor's family) depicted crisis in a bourgeois family. TYÖMIEHEN VAIMO (1885, The worker's wife), revealed the misery of a poor and submissive wife, Johanna, her husband's alcoholism, and the evils of prostitution. Johanna is exploited by her husband Risto, who controls her savings, spends the family's money on drink, and eventually steals the cloth his wife has woven. When Johanna is threatened by imprisonment, she breaks down and dies. Kerttu or "Homsantuu", the gipsy girl, represents another type of woman. She is ready to kill Risto, who has betrayed her.Homsantuu. Did you have mercy on me, scoundrel? You deceived me treacherously a second time, seduced me worse than before. You thought: she is the scum of the world, you won't be punished for it if you ruin her. But you are mistaken. This scum of the world for whom nobody cares, takes her vengeance upon you herself.Risto. Take it in some other way. Spare my life.Homsantuu. No, you must die. And so must I."(from The Worker's Wife)However, Kerttu's bullet misses, and she is arrested. Risto goes back to tavern without feeling pity. In Canth's dark vision there is clear contrast between the prevailing social order and women's rights. In Papin perhe (The Parson's family) Canth studied ideological battle inside a middle-class family. The old-fashioned father, Henrik Valtari, does not accept his daughter's theatrical career. His son Jussi refuses to join the reactionary newspaper which his father supports and choses instead a progressive newspaper. When his children have began their own life, Valtari starts a reconciliation process.Although Canth championed for many ideas, she left the debate about language and nationality (i.e. between Swedish- and Finnish-speakers) to other writers, such as Juhani Aho, who shared her anticlerical and reformist views. Juhani Aho had been her protégé as a student, but Canth's guidance was more important for Heikki Kauppinen, later known as Kauppis-Heikki. He worked at her store as a sales assistant, and started his own career as a writers.Canth portrayed her characters with understanding and realism. Women were more or less victims of circumstances or the patriarchal order. However, her suffering wives were not Madonna figures. They did not fit well in the ideological struggle for national unity. Among Canth's most famous literary figures are the independent and rebellious Homsantuu from The Workers Wife, Hanna, a young girl depressed by narrow-minded life in a small city from a short story (1886), and Kauppa-Lopo, a warm-hearted proletarian woman living outside the norms of bourgeois society. The family was in Canth's writings the basis, which mirrored larger social problems. With her brave approach to topical, polemic issues Canth was a constant target of conservative critics, especially clergymen, but at the same time her home in Kuopio attracted such writers and artists as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Jean Sibelius, K.A. Tavastsjerna, and the Halonen family.In 1889-90 Canth edited in collaboration with A.B. Mäkelä her own journal, Vapaita aatteita (Free ideas). It published - without asking - writings from Maupassant, Brandes, Tolstoy, and Hamsun, and introduced to Finnish readers new findings in astronomy, psychiatry, biology, meteorology and other sciences. Canth showed also understanding toward lighter literature. Although Canth was full of energy as a business woman and writer, her heath started to deteriorate in the 1890s, and she died on May 12, 1897 in Kuopio.
Sunday, August 2, 2009
Ulrika Wilhelmina (Minna) Canth, (1844-1897) was a famous, influential Finnish playwright and author of short stories. She was passionately preoccupied with social problems and, in particular, the oppression of women in 19th century Finland. Her work was often dark and tragic. Here is a biography, courtesy of Petri Liukkonen: