Friday, 14 May 2010

Mirjam Tuominen - 3

By Tuva Korsström

Mirjam Tuominen's Fiction

I have focused on two of Mirjam Tuominen's earliest short stories in order to highlight something that characterizes all her writing from the very beginning: a continuous study of life's inner essence, a deep penetration into its nerve. Perhaps this is what Hagar Olsson had in mind when she characterized Mirjam Tuominen's earliest short stories as 'not products of literature', but as objects that 'contain within their form the living word.'

During the 1940s the two early books were followed by a steady flow of short stories and essays: Visshet (Certainty, 1942), Mörka gudar (Dark Gods, 1944), Kris (Crisis, 1946), Besk brygd (Bitter Brew, 1947), Bliva ingen (Become No One, 1949), Stadier (Stages, 1949). Shortly after the outbreak of the Winter War Mirjam Tuominen had entered into an impulsive marriage, typical of those days, with Torsten Korsström, the man she had loved for several years. Since before the outbreak of war Torsten Korsström had obtained an art teaching post at the Teachers' Training College in Nykarleby, Ostrobothnia, his young wife had to spend the war years there, isolated in Finland's smallest town, far from her family, her friends and the intellectual circles of Helsingfors. Their daughter Kyra was born in 1941, their daughter Tuva in 1946. For most of that time Mirjam Tuominen's husband was fighting at the front. Contact was kept up through letters and short, intense visits.

This biographical background permeates the stories of the '40s. She depicts love between man and woman with all its eroticism, tenderness, struggle for power, and jealousy. She depicts childbirth and the mysterious closeness between child and mother. She depicts the small town and the Ostrobothnian plain. She depicts the war and the alarming upsurge of Nazi sympathies in the Finland of her day.

In routine literary contexts it was often pointed out that in her short stories Mirjam Tuominen specialized in describing children, animals, women and sick people. She certainly described and analysed all these beings with great psychological acuity, but it cannot be emphasized enough that at the same time she gave a picture of the whole society of that time. Through the deviant, who precisely because they stand slightly outside are particularly sensitive, Mirjam Tuominen registers the normal. Through the child she sees the adult, through the animal human beings, through the sick she describes the healthy, through the woman the man.

One of her most fascinating short stories is called 'Bara en hund' ('Only a Dog', from Walls, 1939). It is the long monologue of a dog, like many of Mirjam Tuominen's characters struggling to choose between its desire for independence and its need for love. At the same time the dog is witnessing his master's and mistress's painful divorce. The most obvious dissident and outsider in human society is the witch ('Jan and Marietta', from Certainty, 1942). Mirjam Tuominen was to return to this subject later on in her poetry, making it clear that her witches are consumed not only by the pyres that society lights, but also by an inner, ineluctable flame.

In the book that can be considered her farewell to the short story, Bliva ingen (Become No One, 1949) she summarizes and anticipates all her themes within one short tale, called 'In Absurdum'. It tells the story of a dancer who strives for absolute skill in her dancing and for absolute solitude in her life, who falls and badly injures herself, and who sees God as she is dying.

(to be continued)

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