Frans Eemil Sillanpää
(1888-1964)


Frans Eemil Sillanpää was a Finnish writer. Drawing greatly from scientific laws regarding the physical harmony with of world, his works deal deeply with nature, and the common farmers ties with his land. His writing style is extremely terse and simplistic, but at the same time highly artistic and with a deeply personal feel to it. It was this artistic style, and his deep understanding of Finland, that won him the 1939 Nobel Prize In Literature.


Tough And Remarkable Beginning

Frans Eemil Sillanpää was born on the 16th of September 1888, in the Hämeenkyrö Parish of Finland. His family was very poor, and lived in a cottage that they built ten years earlier. The Sillanpää family had it extremely hard, with their crops and livestock being killed by the bitter cold of winter, just like many of the other families who would live during this time of Finland’s history. But unlike most, the Sillanpää family also had to deal with eight of it’s children dying, until only Frans Eemil was left.

Just as Frans Eemil had survived by chance, he also began his education career by chance as well when a mobile school for farm children took up residency near his town. Later his family decided that because he was already showing signs of high-intelligence they would send him to school in Tampere to receive a better education at the University of Helsinki. He managed to stay in school for eight years by borrowing money from his parents, who were becoming poorer and poorer every year, and from various other people he knew. While in school he studied biology, and became involved in the Young Finland movement, which involved heavy nationalistic and anti-Swedish ideology. Soon, however, the money was no longer being sent his way, and he had to leave school without taking his exams or graduating.

But during Sillanpää’s time spent in college he was exposed to the works of Strindberg, the biological theories of Ernst Haeckel, the poems of Maurice Maeterlinck, the writings of the Knut Hamsun, Decline of the West by Osvald Spengler, and Spengler's idea that civilization has a life cycles similar to the life cycle of the plants. All of the aforementioned people and works would be extremely influential in his developing writing style, and personal beliefs.

Early Writing Career

After Sillanpää left the University in 1913 he moved back to his families farm, where he devoted most of his time to his writing. Finding it difficult to start a lucrative career in Finland he traveled to Sweden and Denmark, where he took up writing articles for local newspapers.

In 1916 Frans wrote his first novel, Emämä Ja Aurinko, which became a major success, possibly due to his fellow co-workers at the newspapers he worked for giving the novel outstanding reviews. It was just after the success of this novel that Frans decided to marry his two-year girlfriend, Sigrid Maria Salomäki.

Frans Sillanpää’s first real important piece of literature came with the outbreak of Finland’s civil war. That novel was Hurskas Kurjuus, which follows a protagonist who is eventually executed for a murder he didn’t commit. The novel is full of social commentary dealing with the Finnish Civil War, even though it takes a very unbiased approach with the story.

Nobel Prize In Literature

In 1931 Frans Sillanpää’s bid to win the 1939 Nobel Prize In Literature really began, as it was in 1931 that Nuorena Nukkunut, also known as The Maid Silja, was translated into English. With the novels translation into English it received much critical acclaim in both the United States and in the United Kingdom.

After the success of The Maid Silja, more of Sillanpää’s novels were translated into English. These translated novels included Miehen Tie in 1932, and Ihmiset SuviyÖssä in 1934. Ihmiset SuviyÖssä is arguably one of the most important Sillanpää novel ever published, because it brought more and more attention to the author. The novel also had a very interesting concept, as it only spammed the time of one summer weekend.

The year 1939 was a great time for Sillanpää, and at the same time it was the very worst. With the birth of World War II he had become a voice of cultural liberalism, but was mocked by the right-wing activist and viewed with suspicion by leftist intellectuals. To make matters even worse his wife died in 1939 as well.

But Sillanpää continued to write, and with his publication of Färden till Kvarnbäcken, a collection of short stories, the Nobel Committee found a renewed interest in the writer. When the Committee finally had submitted their votes Sillanpää came out on top over Hermann Hesse and Johan Huizinga, for "his deep understanding of his country's peasantry and the exquisite art with which he has portrayed their way of life and their relationship with Nature." When Sillanpää was awarded the Nobel Prize In Literature in 1939 it gave Finland great pride, and it helped to restore some of the morale they had been lacking.

Afterwards

After Frans Eemil Sillanpää went to Sweden to pick up his Nobel Prize he became sick and was confined to a hospital for three years. This didn’t stop him from writing though, as he published a novel, Elokuu, during his stay in Sweden. This novel was a direct reflection of his illness, as it revolved around nostalgia of lost youth and ideals.

After World War II Sillanpää didn’t write any prose, as he had found a new medium for his artistic expression with the advent of the radio. During this time he also grew a full, white beard and children often confused him with Santa Clause; he had also taken the new nickname "Grandpa". Sillanpää’s final published works were his memoirs.

Frans Eemil Sillanpää died on June 3, 1964, in Helsinki. But his works would later be translated into over 30 different languages, and also adapted for various film works.


Selected Works

Sources:

http://www.nobel-winners.com/Literature/eemil_sillanpaa.html
http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1939/index.html
http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi/fesillan.htm