marshtide: (Too-ticki)
Another image-heavy post, I'm afraid! This became some kind of odd scrapbook business. & Tove Jansson is essentially one of our house-gods, so there was no chance I was ever going to keep this brief.

Written for [personal profile] ar's She's Kind of a Big Deal: Women Worth Knowing About!


She's Kind of a Big Deal: Tove Jansson
[Photo: a woman sits at a cluttered desk. She's holding a cigarette and looking at the camera.]

Who she was: Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki in 1914 to parents who were both artists. Her father was a Finland-Swedish sculptor (that is to say, a part of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland) and her mother was a Swedish illustrator.

Read more... )

What she did: Tove was both an artist and a writer, although she's mostly remembered for her Moomin books, which are by this time cultural icons. They're often reported to be about little white trolls who have harmless adventures and are very sweet. This is questionable.

Read more... )

Ways to appreciate her:


Many of Tove Jansson's books are translated to English (and plenty of other languages). All of the Moomin story books are currently in print in the US and the UK, and the three picture books she did in the Moomin world are also in print in the UK, although possibly not the US.

A tiny publishing company called Sort Of Books is releasing her other books right now in the UK, and I gather a buch of them have been re-released in the US at the same time, though I'm not sure exactly which are available there. They've put out new editions of or translated for the first time:

The Summer Book (an old woman and her granddaughter spend a summer on an island together)
A Winter Book (a collection of short stories drawn from various different collections)
Fair Play (my favourite - a depiction of two women growing old together, living and working and travelling. a love story. kind of.)
The True Deceiver (a very tense, terrifying book, which takes place in a little village which is completely snowbound for the winter. A young woman who is seen by the village as an outsider moves into the home of an elderly artist on the edge of town. Full of deception and manipulation - but who is manipulating who?)
Travelling Light (Collection of short stories)

I'm kind of hoping that they'll pick out Sculptor's Daughter for release, which is one of her close-to-autobiographical books about her childhood. It has been published in English, but has been out of print for years; I did manage to find a copy in my local library when I lived in the UK, though!


To see her artwork you need to go to Finland, which isn't something I've managed yet myself! (Even though it's just across the water.) The Tampere Art Museum has a collection of her works.

Associated reading: English

There's very little available in English when it comes to academic texts about Tove Jansson's work, biography, or anything else really.

But here's the one that does exist:

Tove Jansson Rediscovered, edited by Kate McLoughlin and Malin Lindström Brock, published 2007 by Cambridge Scholars Publishing, is a collection of papers about many different aspects of Tove Jansson's life and work. The papers aren't of even quality, but many of them are brilliant. The essays cover disciplines from queer studies to art history and beyond.

Associated reading: Swedish

In Swedish there are, conversely, about a million books about Tove Jansson's life and work.

My personal favourites are the books by Boel Westin:

Tove Jansson: ord, bild, liv, published in 2007 by Schildts, is an extensive biography, well-written and full of great information and pictures.

Familjen i dalen: Tove Janssons muminvärld, published in 1988 by Bonnier, is an analysis of Tove's Mumin books.

Links: English

- A virtual gallery with information, art and photographs relating to Tove Jansson

- Information put together in connection with a Moomin 65th anniversary exhibition

- A collection of Tove Jansson's illustrations

[Image: A short-haired Tove Jansson looks off to one side of the photographer. She's holding her glasses, one arm of them against her mouth.]
marshtide: (Default)
1. It is -7 degrees outside, and it is laundry day, and I have no proper clothes left. I have just stolen a small pile of Val's, as I refuse to leave the house with less than five tops on right now. -7 will seem a lot less terrifying later in winter, but it's November, damn it. We also seem to have completely lost the path outside our flat in the night. The more it snows (tiddly-pom), etc. In short: winter is here and it is not fucking around.

2. P3 kultur, aka Nördorama, is a pretty fantastic radio program. I've been downloading old episodes through itunes to listen to while I walk to school, and hearing conversations on such fascinating and varied topics as spiderman's girlfriends and the alarming mortality rate of female characters in comics, fascism-fetishism in electronica, gay cowboys, and "muminmugg vänstern" (the mumin-mug left)! Basically it's a culture programme which takes an extremely broad view of what constitutes culture and discusses all of it with a blend of the sort of serious analysis usually reserved for Proper Art and nerd humour. You guys, it is like it was made for me.

3. Got my hands on the first volume of Andromeda stories. O, I want more!

4. Current reading:

Simone och jag by Åsa Moberg
Flickan och skulden by Katarina Wennstam (but slowly, because it is a book about rape culture, basically, and oh god, how depressing. it's not things that I didn't know but it's laid out very clearly and gives an incredibly sharp picture of how fucked up the whole thing is. This book is focused on the victims of rape; she's written another book focused on rapists. Which I'm sure will be even more depressing, but I'll probably learn more from it, so I think I should read it.)
Pappan och havet by Tove Jansson you guys, I think I maybe need something to read in Swedish which is not quite so depressing.

5. I've been getting good feedback on my writing in Swedish from school lately. I still have a relatively limited pool of the language to play in, but here are my primary mistakes:

a) I sometimes mix up infinitive and present tense when writing, because it's often a difference of one letter. But I don't do it consistently and I do know which is which; if I'm not concentrating it just sort of wanders around in a random way.
b) I sometimes muck up word order slightly in sub-clauses, i.e. "inte" ends up in a strange place or something.

Which is, you know... not so catastrophic!

The other thing about Swedish is that it seems to have freed up something in my brain that was stuck fast, and suddenly if I have a writing task I can just do it. And it'll be in quite simple language but it'll read fairly naturally and my thoughs will be there on paper. I've lost that ability in English because I overthink it.

We'll see what happens when I get better at writing in Swedish, but I think it will always be a kind of different experience to writing in English (and possibly more enjoyable).

6. A week ago I gave a short talk about my experience of swedish lit in school. Now everyone wants book recs. Evil laughter goes here?

Next week I'm giving a talk about Greta Garbo, apparently, as we all got given someone famous from Sweden to talk about over the next month. Greta Garbo I can totally live with! ♥ (and on the same day someone else is talking about Queen Christina, so that should be a delightfully queer afternoon.)
marshtide: (Default)
Things are still shifting around in my head. Settling in new shapes.


Anteckningar från en ö (Notes from an island) by Tove Jansson and Tuulikki Pietilä. Fairly miscellaneous assortment of notes on and thoughts about their summer home out on a tiny island, written by Tove and illustrated by Tuulikki. I really loved it, though obviously it's one for people who already have some investment in the whole thing!

Now reading: Lyssnerskan by Tove Jansson, Simone och jag by Åsa Moberg.


Solanin by Asano Inio is manga which is about dissatisfied university graduates trying to get their lives together and figure out what they want. I rather enjoyed it, and it gave me a pretty good kick of emotional response, both good and bad, so I'll call that a success. (I've read a few manga which are basically aiming for realism lately, but I can't even remember the names of the others. Yes, that has prompted me to finally begin listing manga I read on librarything as well.) It's one solid volume, pretty big but easy to read. I read it in an afternoon and then I felt melancholy. But maybe that was partly November's fault.

Paradise Kiss by Yazawa Ai (as in Nana) didn't have characters I really fell for in the way I fell for Nana, but the manga as a whole really worked for me. Somehow. I'm not absolutely clear on how, but I suspect it's that as melodramatic as Yazawa Ai can be there's something in there which feels basically believable to me in the way people related to each other (and struggle to relate to each other).

Flower of Life by Yoshinaga Fumi has a similar kind of honesty coupled with absolute ridiculousness. It also delights in presenting the reader with a stereotype and then going BUT WAIT! and it did it in a way that surprised me and cracked me up. The whole thing cracked me up. A lot. One of the things I really do appreciate Yoshinaga Fumi for is her ability to tackle fucked up ideas while fully recognising precisely how fucked up they are. It appeals to me, in a "yes, sometimes people really do do stupid things" kind of way.

To Terra by Takemiya Keiko I'd read a whole chunk of before but lost track of somewhere in moving countries, so I picked it up from the beginning again and read it all in one go. I think this one is pretty much brilliant, category-defying and a giant metaphor for homosexaulity well put together.

Banana Fish is stupid. But kind of hypnotic. In a really, really 80s way.

I'm pretty sure I've got more but I should actually go and have breakfast now.

(We have a day off school for teacher training. And I've had a rather ill and sleep deprived weekend. I totally get to lie in bed being lazy. Right?
marshtide: (Snufkin - The traveller)
Tove Jansson är så jävla duktig. Gud!

Hemulen vaknade långsamt och kände igen sig själv och önskade att han hade varit nån som han inte kände. Han var ännu tröttare än när han gick och lade sig och här var nu en ny dag som skulle fortsätta ändå till kvällen och sen kom det en till och en till som fortsätte på samma sätt som dagar gör när de fylls av en hemul.

Han krop under täcket och borrade in nosen i kudden, sen flyttade han magen till sängkanten där lakanet var svalt. Hemulen ägde hela sängen med utbredda armar och ben, han väntade på en trevlig dröm som inte kom. Han rullade ihop sig och gjorde sig liten men det hjälpte inte. Han försökte vara hemulen som alla tyckte om, han försökte vara den stackars hemulen som ingen tyckte om. Men han var och förblev bara en hemul som gjorde sitt bästa utan att nånting blev riktigt bra. Till slut steg han upp och drog på sig byxorna.


Han såg på fotografiet av honom själv och segelbåten, de hade blivit avbildade tillsammans vid sjösättningen. Det var en vacker tavla men den gjorde honom ännu mer sorgsen.

Jag borde lära mig segla, tänkte hemulen. Men jag har ju aldrig tid...

Plötsligt tyckte hemulen att allt han höll på med inte var någonting annat än att flytta saker från ett ställe till ett annat eller tala om var de skulle stå oc han undrade i ett ögonblick av klarsyn vad som skulle hända ifall han lät bli.

...november, va?
marshtide: (Default)
10 months ago I read, with great difficult & a lot of help from Val, a short Swedish picture-book called Nasse hittar en stol ("Nasse finds a chair", where "Nasse" means "piglet" but is in this case the name of a bear. I clearly picked a completely straightforward starting point...). In it, Nasse finds a chair and tries to work out what it is and what to do with it. Hilarity ensues.

Over the last week I read Resa med lätt bagage by Tove Jansson ("Travelling Light" is the offical English title; it's just been released in English, possibly for the first time, if I remember right.), which is a fairly slim book of short stories but one definitely aimed at adults. I'd read a couple of stories from this volume before in English - the title story, and another called "Correspondence" - and thoroughly enjoyed them; I enjoyed quite a bit of the rest of the book as well, and one story randomly tripped me over into some kind of panic, and some stories I should probably read again to get more of the nuance. Tove is writing here about freedom and responsibility; being away and being at home and being in between places; things we carry with us. Enjoyed, though I'd still give people Sommarboken/The Summer Book & Rent spel/Fair Play to read for preference. Though several of Tove Jansson's books for adults do take the form of short stories - all three mentioned here qualify - The Summer Book and Fair Play are also single coherent works which focus on one pair of characters each, and I think of them more as novels than as short stories, whereas Travelling Light has a much looser theme. The stories aren't connected together in the same way, so I would talk about loving individual stories from it rather than loving it as a whole book.

Which was a rather long-winded way of reminding myself that I've come some way.

LibraryThing is providing some kind of map of my progress through the Swedish language (though I've a sneaking suspicion I've left one or two things off; notably, I've been reading quite a bit of manga in Swedish and for some reason I've never put manga on my librarything account - not sure why).

(& note to self, while I'm still on books: following a conversation a while ago on [personal profile] cimorene's journal and a Tiger Beatdown post which felt like it had missed the mark by several thousand miles for me I am pretty sure I'll be reading the Millennium Trilogy in Swedish soon, for compare-and-contrast fun. Since I hear there are meant to be problems with the English translation and am now wondering exactly which bits don't match up. Curiosity. I has it.)

Lately I've been having this odd feeling that I've hit some kind of a block with Swedish. No-one else seems to feel like this is true, & I'm told I'm using a lot of new words all the time and that my grammar is improving constantly as well. I'm trying to work out where, then, the feeling is coming from. I think my best theory is that all the new stuff I'm saying I've been able to understand for a while already, so being able to say it is a kind of progress that hardly registers; it just feels like something I "should" have been able to do already. Which is ridiculous; the gap between what one can understand and what one can use can be huge, and making progress in that respect is really important. I suppose it's harder for me to measure myself, though.

Also, the more you know the more you are aware of how much you get wrong. *g* I think that I have a reasonable understanding of grammar in principal now, but relatively poor practical application. So there's that; I can hear myself speaking incorrectly. It takes other people pointing out how I can do x now when I couldn't before for me to go "Oh! I see! Cool!"

Positive self-awareness has never been my strongest point, though I'm pretty good at awareness of my failings. (Stop laughing.)
marshtide: (Default)
[personal profile] eggcrack wanted to know how I think the Moomin books compare to Tove Jansson's books for adults, if any comparison can be made. I certainly think it can be. Let's see how this goes. I'm going to have trouble citing sources for this at times because a lot of them have just been read out loud to me from books written in Swedish which are way above my current reading comprehension level.

Also, on the topic of Tove Jansson's books, if you haven't spotted it yet you may be interested to know that Travelling Light (Resa med lätt baggage, I think) is being released in English this summer. I'm looking forward to it, because while I can read texts in Swedish it's really laborious and sometimes you want to just experience the book.


Tove Jansson spent the earlier part of her career writing about and drawing the Moomins, who began their life as a happy family who could pretty much deal with anything cheerfully, in a way which probably contained a fairly strong element of escapism. Even the earlier ones are about disasters and danger, not always in a way entirely disconnected from the real world (there's an essay titled Tove Jansson's 'Comet in Moominland' as War Text by Kate McLoughlin, in Tove Jansson Rediscovered, which talks about the use of a flaming red comet from the east threatening to wipe everyone out when used in a book published in Finland in 1946 - look, do I really need to spell this one out?) - but it's about disasters that are survived, and in pretty good humour on the whole. People have grand adventures along the way, and there's always a good ending. Her books for adults are not about grand adventures; they're about people, and philosophy. So on the surface of it, they're very different - or at least, say, Comet in Moominvalley (Kometen kommer, originally Kometjakten, the second moomin book and the earliest widely avaliable in English), from the 40s, is very different from Fair Play (Rent spel), from 1989. But why wouldn't it be? Apart from the presence or absence of small happy trolls, there are 35 years of life between them.

What I actually feel happens is not that there's a disconnect between her writing which is marketed for children (not sure it really is so much For Children, in fact, but that's another argument) and her writing for adults so much as that there's a fairly logical progression. The idealised world of the happy family of Moomins breaks down over the course of the moomin series, and if the early books held up a fairly traditional family structure and made it look wonderful the later books almost seem to show that as having been largely an illusion - maybe even all along.

Moominpappa at Sea (Pappan och havet - 1965) is the obvious example, with Moominmamma withdrawing into herself and her art because she's unhappy with their situation and Moominpappa coming across as obsessive and insecure about his (perceived) role as the protector of the family. Moominvalley in November (Sent i november - 1970, and the very last novel to be written about Moominvalley) is also about this illusion of the Moomin family as opposed to the reality; people from all around gather at the moomins' home expecting the family to be there to provide whatever it is they feel they need, but what most of them are after, as far as I remember, is actually mostly fictitious. They cling to the bits that suit whatever it is they need, not the reality of the family, so that the family are more a symbol than anything. The tone of both books is melancholy and philosophical, and there aren't any particularly grand adventures; possibly Moominpappa tried to force one in Moominpappa at Sea by taking his whole family off to the lighthouse, but the character of the thing is very different.

Unsurprisingly, Tove talked about becoming unable to recapture the happiness of Moominvalley. To me it feels like something she probably needed at one time, and outgrew.

The first of her books for adults, Sculptor's Daughter (Bildhuggarens dotter) was published in 1968, so a couple of years before Moominvalley in November, and I think it has things in common with the Moomin books, actually. It's an at least semi autobiographical book, and in it one can feel pieces of the family structure of the Moomins - her father, the sculptor, comes across to me as rather like Moominpappa, the troubled writer, at times. I don't have a copy of this book - it's long out of print in English, and I got hold of it as a very old and battered library copy when I lived in the UK. I haven't read it in a while, though some of the essays I've read more recently have touched on it, so forgive me if I get this wrong.

It's a set of stories narrated by a child, who takes a kind of idealistic view of her family and their work and their relationships - but the adult Tove colours the text rather, and you can feel that there are problems there which are not being looked at straight on. It has an idealistic element to it, from the child, but possibly quiet cynicism in the background, from the adult. For example, the emphasis on the father's work and the father's sense of importance is emphasised, but it's actually the mother's hard work that keeps things together - I don't remember if it was actually spelled out in the book (I fancy it may be strongly implied), but it's certainly the way the Jansson family worked, with Tove's mother Signe providing most of their income with graphic design work. At this stage I'll just direct you to the book itself if you can find a copy, and to the essay Bohemia and Beyond: Creativity and the Artistic Lifestyle in 'Sculptor's Daughter' by Sonia Wichmann, again in Tove Jansson Rediscovered.

Basically, it feels like a real transition piece, and I'm actually tempted to argue that in some ways it doesn't have much more in common with other pieces of her adult fiction than, say, Moominvalley in November*, except for the coincidence of not containing Hemulen et al. Moominvalley in November is the more philosophical book, and although it's about the little creatures of Moominvalley it's actually an awful lot about people, while Sculptor's Daughter contains a less strongly questioned nostalgia for childhood but is a move towards the fairly unveiled autobiography that comes out in a number of her later books. This isn't to say that I don't think the Moomin books contain elements of Tove's actual life; see above. I think Tove was a number of the characters from the Moomin books at different times... one is even named after her, and two are named after people she was in love with or in a relationship with.**

Beyond this sort of transitory period, there are also themes that Tove kept playing with right through her life that tie the Moomin books together with her books for adults, though there are of course big areas in which they don't overlap. All the same: creativity is permanently present, in The Exploits of Moominpappa (Muminpappans memoarer) and in Moominsummer Madness (Farlig midsommar) when Moominpappa works on his memoirs and tries to write a play, respectively, and in Tales from Moominvalley when Snufkin struggles with the balance between creative freedom and responsibility to one's audience, and in others besides; I won't get into listing which of her later books count, because it's basically all of them, or at least every single one I've been able to get hold of and read.

Tove wrote, when it comes right down to it, about work, which for her was always creative work, and love. (The introduction by Ali Smith to the English edition of Fair Play says that a young Tove used Labora et amare as a moto in her personal bookplate design, and that "As she told an interviewer in 1994, 'The most important thing for me has been work. And then love.'") And I think that pretty much counts for the vast majority of her books, whatever the apparent target audience - although there's a shift in focus. While the Moomin books focus on relationships that centre in around the family unit of the Moomins themselves (whether they're present or not) her later books move towards relationships between women. This isn't universally the case (Sculptor's Daughter is still about the family as a whole, and while I haven't read Sun City I understand that it has a different focus, to name just a couple), but here are the books that I own of her later ones:

- Fair Play is about the relationship between two ageing women who live and work together
- The True Deceiver is about a young woman, Katri, and an elderly artist, Anna, and a kind of strange power struggle between them over the course of a winter in a remote Swedish village; it's a tense sort of book, where one feels that something terrible might happen at any moment, and it's the nuances of their relationship which do that
- A Winter Book is a collection of short stories, and the emphasis varies story by story, but there are, for example, stories composed entirely of letters between women.
- The Summer Book is about three people living on an island for the summer, but two of them take centre-stage, and those two are a child called Sophia her grandmother, who irritate each other and help each other understand things and much more.

(Which is to say, if anyone was feeling the need for books which pass the bechdel test with absolutely flying colours, here you go. Work and small animals and creativity and religion and money and friends and haiku and many other things are discussed. And sometimes men. But mostly other stuff, to be honest. Have at.)

There's also a move towards openly gay characters, for a varying value of optimistic representation (...again, I haven't actually read Sun City, but...). Fair Play is clearly the obvious choice to illustrate this point; see description above.

At first glance the moomin books are much more conventional when it comes to gender and sexuality than her later books. But you don't have to squint that hard to get hold of signs of other things, as proved by the essay Roses, Beads and Bones: Gender, Borders and Slippage in Tove Jansson's Moomin Comic-Strips by K.A. Laity (Guess which book of essays this is in! Go on! Guess! ...that's right! The only book of essays about Tove Jansson's work avaliable in the English language, as referenced several times already...), which basically talks about a series of comic strips which can be read as undermining expectations about gender, age and desire. There's also an essay about homoerotic themes in the Moomin books at large, but it's in Swedish only, and also I've lost the title, so you're going to have to take my word for it. I haven't read it, so I don't know what points it makes. But it exists! (Further information from People Who Know welcomed.)

Returning to more definitely common themes, though, is a kind of respect and love for nature which gets in everywhere. There is a kind of sentimentality to it, and an attachment to the dramatic extremes of storms, for example, but also a constant presence of practicality, grounding it just a little: that you can enjoy a storm but only if you're sure of the moorings on your boat and you haven't left your fishing nets in the water. Some of her characters get carried away in their sentimentality over nature - Moominpappa is one such - but many take a more grounded and practical approach even while loving it, and Snufkin the traveller is one of those. In her later books, characters try to balance the two feelings, and Tove often comes across as critical of people from the cities who come out to the islands for the summer without understanding how things work there; perhaps partly about snobbishness (in the way her child self was snobbish about people living less bohemian lives than her own in Sculptor's Daughter) but partly about the damage that people can do and have done to them when they only think of nature as something beautiful. This comes back a lot, in The Summer Book particularly, and in Moominvalley in November with the Hemulen who thinks he loves sailing and boats, and perhaps with Moominpappa's rather fumbling attempts to understand the sea around the lighthouse in Moominpappa at Sea. But there's a real love of the sea especially and the natural world in general that I got from all of her books, and the tone of it coincides happily with my feelings about the whole thing, actually.

I think my overall point is that I do think of Tove Jansson's works as a fairly coherent unit, actually, with a lot of common themes and what feels like a natural progression through the course of Tove's life, from young artist through to old age (she was in her 70s when she published Fair Play). There are changing concerns and changing needs but there's not such a giant disconnect between what people think of as the two bodies of (written) work she produced.

Or that's how I feel about it, anyway.

* Interestingly, I also almost feel as though Moominvalley in November is edging a little towards the structure used in Sculptor's Daughter as well as in many of her other books for adults, which is chapters which are fairly loosely connected but build together to form a story. In this case it's mostly a product of tracing the stories and concerns of individual characters, as opposed to the Moomins on an adventure style of earlier Moomin books.
** Those characters are: Tofslan for herself and Vifslan for... damn, I can't find the exact name. There was a woman she was in love with who had a name like Violet or Violetta or something. Can anyone help me? This info comes from the 2007 biography by Boel Westin, which I do not have on hand and cannot read properly anyway, but which seems excellent. Anyway, those are the characters who in English are Thingumy and Bob, the two mischievous ones who talk in their own nonsense-language only they understand. In English they switch the order of syllables around. In Swedish they add -sla or -slan onto the end of words. It is not uncommon for people in this household to spontaneously begin talking like that, which is what comes of there being a ten year old child and two adults who barely qualify for the term. Anyway, the final character named for someone in Tove's life that I'm aware of is Too-ticki/Too-ticky, for Finnish artist Tuulikki Pietilä, her long-term partner. Of these Too-ticki has the biggest role and is recognisable as a similar character to, say, Jonna in Fair Play.


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