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Life in the mist
May 31, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

Tove Jansson's short stories about artistic creation are often chillingly cold. The artists she portrays have become lost in their isolated solitude, their creativity, which shuts other people out. Portraits of such loneliness are drawn in three short stories in the collection Lyssnerskan ('The listener', 1971), 'Ekorren' ('The squirrel'), 'Svart & vitt' ('Black & white') and 'Vargen' ('The wolf’), which probably frightened many readers - particularly those who knew and loved her Moomin books - away from Jansson's work. In their cosmos, warmth is unknown; their landscapes are frozen, just like the people who seek expression for their artistic dreams.

Tove Jansson didn't just write the Moomin books (previously). In her later career, she mostly wrote novels and short stories for adults, although these books are less popular in the English-speaking world.

Art in nature and Writing letters are two of those stories, available alongside the article linked above. The daughter - published by Books from Finland, as well as the article and the first two stories - and Snow [PDF] - from the UK's Booktrust - are also available online.
posted by smcg (19 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I just recently read one of the Moomin stories to my son and he loved it. I'm looking forward to digging into these links. Thanks.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:39 AM on May 31, 2012


But of course there's always The Summer Book if you want Tove Jansson in wistful joyous mood. That's a happy carefree book.
posted by ambrosen at 7:40 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I just read the three novels republished by New York Review Classics, and I thought they were jus fabulous.
posted by OmieWise at 7:45 AM on May 31, 2012


It was easy to love Tove Jansson

Yes. And now I love her more.
posted by Artw at 7:46 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Along the lines of The Summer Book, consider Sillanpää's People in the Summer Night. I think it was translated some time ago. Sillanpää is Finnish rather than Swedish like Jansson, but the climate is the same.
posted by Nomyte at 7:56 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


OmieWise: I just read the three novels republished by New York Review Classics, and I thought they were jus fabulous.

They are! I didn't include this in the post (because Pepsi Blue etc.) but the only reason I know about Tove Jansson's adult fiction is because I also read those Thomas Teal translations, published in the UK by Sort of books. They are publishing a 'new' short story collection, again translated by Thomas Teal and including Art of nature, next month.
posted by smcg at 7:56 AM on May 31, 2012


That's excellent news! And this post reminds me to track down some of the OP story collections that I had meant to order here in the US. Thanks.
posted by OmieWise at 8:09 AM on May 31, 2012


Tove Jansson was Finnish, although of the Swedish minority.

"The Summer Book", while not overly gloomy, is centered around a fact that is pretty grim although hardly mentioned: the reason the little girl is spending the season with her grandmother is not spelled out but it comes through.

I remember reading the description off the back of a copy of Moominvalley in November (I think it must've been) to a friend in a bookshop. Honestly, it sounds like an Ingmar Bergman flick for the under-7 set.
posted by zadcat at 8:28 AM on May 31, 2012


Moominpappa at Sea is a haunting, lovely book. I read the Winter Book and wished that my Swedish were good enough to fully read Jansson untranslated, but since it isn't, I just buy and read whatever Kingsley Hart translated.
posted by annathea at 8:33 AM on May 31, 2012


Portraits of such loneliness . . . which probably frightened many readers - particularly those who knew and loved her Moomin books - away from Jansson's work.

You know, anyone who read Moominland Midwinter shouldn't have been surprised at ALL by these other works. For (ostensibly) a children's book, that one's very much about the same kind of isolation and coldness (at least with the hope of making it through at the end).

I now feel like I should reread that one (possibly with some of these other more adult works) and consider the portrayal of solitary figure dealing with cold, isolation, one's background that pops up when it shouldn't (i.e., the ancestor in the broom closet), occasionally annoying visitors from the outside world, trying to avoid freezing up in the process and yet seeing beauty around him--it really is about artistic creation in a way that I hadn't considered.
posted by dlugoczaj at 8:35 AM on May 31, 2012


The Groke!
posted by Artw at 8:37 AM on May 31, 2012 [4 favorites]


Great post!

I learned about Tove's books for adults from OmieWise in an askme thread and loved the one I've read so far. Adore the Moomin books.

It was kind of a big thing for me to realize that Tove was a lesbian, it's nice to have a few queer role models in life. I'd love to see one of the films that was apparently made about the island where she spent her summers with her partner, Tooticky. Can't find the films though and not sure they're available subtitled anyway.
posted by latkes at 10:17 AM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, the Groke still haunts my dreams, along with the Hattifatteners. I love Tove Jansson and wish she were better known in the US. Looking forward to reading more of her work for adults, but yes, her work for kids was pretty dark. I remember one story in particular, "The Hemulen who Believed in Disasters", in which the title character's home, and all her possessions except a chipped china cat, are destroyed in, I think, a hurricane. This was par for the course in a Jansson story, although at least in the Moomin books there was always Moominmama to make everything okay.
posted by OolooKitty at 11:16 AM on May 31, 2012


Most melancholy Groke moment: Sitting on a midwinter fire to warm herself, extinguishing it.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on May 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I remember one story in particular, "The Hemulen who Believed in Disasters", in which the title character's home, and all her possessions except a chipped china cat, are destroyed in, I think, a hurricane.

It was a Fillyjonk, but, yeah, that was exactly the same story I thought of when the OP talked about people lost in the solitude of their own minds.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:08 PM on May 31, 2012


I always enjoyed the melancholy tone of some Moomin stories. I didn't know that Tove Jansson had written any adult books, though, so I'm really looking forward to reading these if I can find them.
posted by snorkmaiden at 3:08 PM on May 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


FILLYJONK! Yes. I can't believe I got that wrong.
posted by OolooKitty at 3:55 PM on May 31, 2012


I mindlessly like Tove, because she speaks to my soul...
posted by ovvl at 6:48 PM on May 31, 2012


FILLYJONK! Yes. I can't believe I got that wrong.

I love that you can immediately tell that a Hemulen would never do such a thing; they are such system-followers and wouldn't have the self-doubt of a Fillyjonk. Tove Jansson created all these made-up creatures whose personalities are so familiar: Mymbles, Gaffsies, Creeps (not what you think!), Hattifatteners, "the lonely and the rum."
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 12:29 AM on June 1, 2012 [1 favorite]


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