Aleksis Kivi paves the way for Finnish lit

Every year on October 10, the Finnish flag is raised in honour of author Aleksis Kivi (Oct 10, 1834–Dec 31, 1872), who wrote the first novel in Finnish. The anniversary of his birth is also celebrated as Finnish Literature Day.

Born Alexis Stenvall in Palojoki, a village 33 kilometres (20 miles) north of Helsinki, Kivi was the son of a tailor. He was one of the few boys from his area to pass the university entrance exams in the mid-1800s, and the only commoner; the others who achieved that level were all from upper-class families.

While much of his education took place in Swedish, he is recognised for his literary works in Finnish, and used the pen name Aleksis Kivi, a Finnish version of his birth name. (The spelling and origin of “Alexis Stenvall” are linguistically Swedish.)

Kivi wrote poems, stories and especially plays, but is best known for the novel Seven Brothers, which was published in 1870. It has been described as the first novel in Finnish and Finland’s national novel, just as Kivi is often called the first professional Finnish-language writer and Finland’s national author. It seems natural that his birthday is also Finnish Literature Day.

Despite the great acclaim his work later received, Kivi never attained enough income for luxuries such as travelling abroad. During his lifetime, he had both adherents and detractors. One of his foremost supporters was professor Fredrik Cygnaeus, who is also said to have encouraged Kivi to choose to write in Finnish.

By ThisisFINLAND staff, source: Nurmijärvi Municipality Cultural Services website on Aleksis Kivi