Writer inspires not one, but two statues in the Finnish capital

Author and academic Zacharias Topelius is remembered for his poetry, prose and children’s stories. The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Zacharias Topelius (January 14, 1818–March 12, 1898) was a Finnish writer whose first language was Swedish (in modern-day Finland, both Finnish and Swedish are official languages). Born outside of the town of Nykarleby (Uusikaarlepyy in Finnish) in the western central coastal region of Ostrobothnia, he showed an early interest in reading.

He moved to Helsinki for school in 1831, and met the poet J.L. Runeberg and other literary and cultural greats of the era. In time, he was considered one of their successors.

Starting in 1841, Topelius made a career as a journalist, writing factual pieces and serial stories for the Swedish-language newspaper Helsingfors Tidningar. The publication’s circulation grew enormously during his tenure there.

In 1854 he was appointed to a professorship in Finnish history at the Imperial Alexander University in Helsinki. Much later he served as rector of the university.

He is known today as a prolific writer of poetry, prose and children’s books. Two public sculptures in his honour were unveiled in the Finnish capital in 1932. One, by Ville Vallgren, stands across from the Design Museum and shows the author reading with several girls and boys. The other, by Gunnar Finne, is located on the Esplanade and portrays two female figures representing truth and fiction.