WHAT DID MINNA CANTH READ?
Exhibition 8 May–31 December 2019, Café Rotunda
“I try to read and develop independently as much as I can.” (Minna Canth to Kaarlo Bergbom on 3 October 1884)
Minna Canth (1844–1897) was one of the most important Finnish writers of her time. She was also a journalist, a successful shopkeeper and a single parent to seven children, a prominent voice in cultural debates, a conduit for new ideas and the hostess of her own literary salon.
Minna Canth was educated in both Finnish and Swedish, and she was fluently bilingual. In the school intended for the daughters of educated Kuopio residents, she studied German, French and Russian, in addition to which she studied other languages independently.
Through her husband, lecturer J.F. Canth (1835–1879), Minna was introduced to the world of publishing and journalism, and she wrote her first articles. This opened her eyes to a whole new world.
After offering the script of her play Murtovarkaus to the Finnish Theatre in 1882, Canth met theatre director Kaarlo Bergbom. Bergbom encouraged Canth to follow European literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Whenever she had time to spare between attending to the store and her family, Minna began to enthusiastically delve into the ideas and philosophies of the time. Packages from European publishers began to arrive at Kanttila on a weekly basis.
At first, Minna would report on her reading to her school-age children and their friends, and later to her salon. She wrote summaries, translated texts into Finnish, wrote for newspapers and gave lectures. Her role in disseminating literary trends and ideas was significant not just in Kuopio but in all of Finland.
For her literary output, Minna Canth absorbed influences from Norwegian and Swedish literature in particular, but she also studied German, French, Russian and English literature and literary history in depth.
Canth was passionate about highlighting society’s ills. She studied what people elsewhere were writing on the position of women and social inequality. She was equally interested in philosophy, mental and spiritual issues, and she read a great deal on the fundamental questions of Christianity, theosophy and spiritism.
Some of Minna Canth’s personal library has been preserved in her home museum in Kuopio. The library that survives features more than a hundred works of fiction and non-fiction as well as journals in several languages discussing literary topics, women’s rights and philosophy. Canth’s letters and newspaper articles also provide a good overview into what Minna Canth was reading and what she thought about the things she read. She would be excited, delighted or appalled – and shared her feelings with her correspondents.
The exhibition at the National Library compiles information on Minna Canth’s life and works along with her literary salon and its members. The cases display books that she read, assembled under eight themes, complete with brief descriptions of the authors and comments from Minna Canth. Her opinions on the works are often quite unexpected and sharp.
We are grateful for the support of
The Kuopio Cultural History Museum
The Finnish Literature Society SKS, Archive
Helsinki University Library
Helsinki University Language Centre/ English translation Emma Voutilainen
Päivi Vallisaari, Marjut Hjelt
The National Library:
Marketing Coordinator Sisko Vuorikari, Communications Manager Tiina Lehmikoski-Pessa, Conservator Marleena Vihakara
In cooperation with the Minna Canth Society.