*Paavolainen, Olavi (Lauri)

Olavi (Lauri) Paavolainen

Olavi (Lauri) Paavolainen



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Olavi (Lauri) Paavolainen (1903-1964)

Finnish essayist, journalist, travel book writer, poet, and cosmopolitan, who ironically called himself a sälli (fellow). Paavolainen was the central figure of the literary group Tulenkantajat (The Flame Bearers) and one of the most influential literary opinion leaders between the World Wars in Finland. He represented liberal and Europe oriented views of culture and had an eclectic eye for new ideas. In the late 1920s Paavolainen praised urban life, technology, and roaring cars as the Italian Futurist poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) had done two decades earlier. A metropolis with its high skyscrapers was for Paavolainen the greatest cultural achievement, a manifest of modern times.

“Eikö pilvenpiirtäjä ole yhtä ihmeellinen kuin Keopsin pyramidi? Eikö lentokoneessa ole toteutunut “Tuhannen ja yhden yön” satujen unelma lentävästä taikamatosta?” (from ‘Nykyaikaa etsimässä’, Aitta VII)

Olavi Paavolainen was born in Kivennapa, Carelia, (Russian Finland). His father, Pietari (Pekka) Paavolainen, was a lawyer and member of parliament; his mother, Alice Laura (Löfgrén) Paavolainen descended from a family of civil servants and soldiers. In 1914 he moved to Helsinki where he started to write poems already at the age of twelve. He studied aesthetics and literature at the University of Helsinki from 1921 to 1925, without graduating. While studying at the university, Paavolainen started to publish critics and poems.

The young poet Katri Vala, whose first book appeared in 1924, encouraged him in his choice of literary career. In the same year Paavolainen contributed to the anthology Nuoret runoilijat I (young poets) under the pseudonym Olavi Lauri, which he used some years. During this early period, Paavolainen was interested in nudism, and he found the works of Comtesse de Noailles important for his development. In his letters to Vala, Paavolainen also expressed his interest in nice suits, and mocked himself as a dandy. In 1927 he traveled to Paris and wrote his impressions to the magazine Ylioppilaslehti, edited by Urho Kekkonen. His first book, VALTATIET (1928), cowritten with Mika Waltari, was a youthful manifest of machine romanticism. The poet speeds through the countries of Europe in his red Fiat car, which explodes into a star over the Sahara Desert.

Valtatiet, inspired by Marinetti’s automobilism and Futurist manifestos, was followed in 1929 by a collection of essays, NYKYAIKAA ETSIMÄSSÄ (in search of the present), which eagerly welcomed the modernization of Europe after the horrors of World War I. During this period, 1928-29, he also served in the army. When the writer Pentti Haanpää attacked the army in his book Kenttä ja kasarmi (1928), Paavolainen considered its views on military life exaggerated and malicious.

Paavolainen bewailed the backwardness of Finland and stated it was time to “give voice to the new era of speed, mechanisation, cosmopolitanism, collectivism, and the European experience.” His next book, KEULAKUVAT, a collection of poetry, appeared in 1932, and SUURSIIVOUS, a literary housecleaning, on the same year. In 1930 he had become for a short time the editor of the magazine Tulenkantajat, but his financial problems continued, and as a freelance writer he had no regular incomes. In the conservative atmosphere of the 1930s Paavolainen felt himself lonely. He made a journey to England in 1932, but did not have the energy to write the travel book which his published expected. The thoughts of André Gide, Aldous Huxley, and especially D.H.Lawrence were close to him. When his father died in 1930, Paavolainen saw an Oedipal dream and confessed that from that moment he fully believed in Freud. Elder women attracted Paavolainen, and among his friends was the notorious Minna Craucher, who had contacts to the extremist right-wing Lapua movement. Craucher was murdered in 1932.

“On vanha totuus, että uskonkiihko ei siedä leikinlaskua. Nuoret natsit, jotka tavallisissa oloissa olivat niin iloisia, välittömiä ja suuria humoristeja, muuttuivat heti haudanvakaviksi kuin katujamunkit puheen kääntyessä kansallissosialistisiin uskonkappaleisiin.” (from Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana, 1936)

From 1933 to 1934 Paavolainen worked at an advertising agency in Helsinki, and then in 1935 in Turku as the advertising manager of a clothing company – Paavolainen himself was always always elegantly dressed. After resigning, he returned to Helsinki without any work. Next year he made a journey to Nazi Germany, depicting his critical impressions in the travel book KOLMANNEN VALTAKUNNAN VIERAANA (1936). Paavolainen met politicians, writers, young Nazis, and intellectuals. He has an eye for small detail and he notices that green – the color of uniforms – is in fashion in suits. Paavolainen also attends a political meeting where Josef Goebbels makes a speech. “This small man is all nerves and brain – heart and soul are missing. His vanity is also obvious.” Paavolainen’s style is ironic. He feels himself uncomfortable in the solemn atmosphere and and misses signs of good humour. Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana was a huge success. Also the right wing radicals, who drew inspiration from Nazism, reviewed it objectively. With the help of the publishing company Gummerus, Paavolainen sailed to South America in 1937, and gave the account of his experiences in LÄHTÖ JA LOITSU (1938). Paavolainen spent a night in a giant brothel in Rio de Janeiro, and expressed in every turn his disgust of European culture. Just before the Winter War, in 1939, he also travelled in the Soviet Union. In Moscow he admired its new houses, streets, and the Underground. (It took 43 years before the Helsinki Metro was opened.) In the late 1930s Paavolainen had a close relationship with the writer Helvi Hämäläinen; she was the only woman, “who dared to leave him”, as Paavolainen later said. Their parts separated in 1941.

During WW II Paavolainen served at the Information Department of the Headquartes. He was posted after the outbreak of the Winter War to Mikkeli, eastern Finland, as adjutant to an infantry general. Paavolainen visited Vienola in 1944. His childhood home with its famous palm tree room was destroyed. It was the last time he saw his place of birth. Paavolainen’s critical World War II diary SYNKKÄ YKSINPUHELU (sombre monologue), which was published in 1946, was attacked because of its opposition, unpopular opinions of the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, and hidden anticipation of the defeat in the early war years. When Paavolainen’s travel book from Germany were more or less enthusiastic, now he had his own reservations about the Finland’s alliance with Nazi Germany. After the criticism Paavolainen didn’t publish more books. In 1945 Paavolainen married poet Sirkka-Liisa Virtamo (Sirkka Selja); the marriage ended officially eight years later.

“At home, I do not have the heart to draw the blackout curtains. The room is lit only by the snowy roofs shining through the window. I sit in the darkness and smoke. Deathly silence. Somewhere, through the wall, a telephone is ringing, but no one rushes to answer. Once again, I have that strange feeling that I am the only person in a dead city, a dead world.” (from Synkkä yksinpuhelu, trans. by Hildi Hawkins)

In 1947 Paavolainen was appointed as director of theatre department of the Finnish Broadcasting Radio by his friend Hella Wuolijoki, who was dismissed in 1949. Under Paavolainen, who reluctantly accepted the work, the radio theatre programs gained a wide audience. In the 1950s he had a close relationship with Hertta Kuusinen, the politician and parliament member, daughter of Otto-Ville Kuusinen, who was member of the central committee of the Soviet Union. During his last years Paavolainen often compained that he felt tired. He drank, ocasionally didn’t bother to go to work, and nostalgically planned to write the history of Tulenkantajat. When he received the Eino Leino award in 1960, President Urho Kekkonen congratulated him, calling him a “man pushed into oblivion”. Olavi Paavolainen died on August 19, 1964 in Helsinki. In 1975 Paavolainen’s friend Matti Kurjensaari published in 1974 a vivid portrait on him. It was born after struggles with Paavolainen’s heirs, which exhausted Kurjensaari. The work was coldly received. Jaakko Paavolainen’s biography from 1991 gave much new information about the childhood and youth of the author.

For further reading:

Paavolaisen paikat, ed. by Henri Terho (2003); Hamlet ystävänI: kirjeitä Olavi Paavolaiselle by Hertta Kuusinen, ed. by Marja-Leena Mikkola (1999); Sota ja maisema: tutkimus Olavi Paavolaisen 1940-luvun tuotannosta by H. K. Riikonen (1995); Nykyajan sininen kukka: Olavi Paavolainen ja nykyaika by Ritva Hapuli (1995); Olavi Paavolainen – keulakuva by Jaakko Paavolainen (1991); Rajamaa by Johannes Salminen (1984); Metsästä kaupunkiin by Kai Laitinen (1984); Loistava Olavi Paavolainen by Matti Kurjensaari (1975); Tulenkantajat by Kerttu Saarenheimo (1966) – The Flame Bearers: Lauri Viljanen, Katri Vala, Elina Vaara, Yrjö Jylhä, Ilmari Pimiä, Viljo Kajava

Selected works:

* VALTATIET, 1928 (with Mika Waltari)
* KOLMANNEN VALTAKUNNAN VIERAANA, 1936 – Som gäst i Tredje riket
* LÄHTÖ JA LOITSU, 1938 – Flykten till en ny värld – trans. by Olof Enckell
* RISTI JA HAKARISTI, 1938 – Korset och hakkorset
* SYNKKÄ YKSINPUHELU I-II, 1946 – Finlandia i moll: dagboksblad från åren 1941-1944, övers. av Ralf Parland med Lars Hjalmarsson Dahl och Atos Wirtanen
* ed.: (with Ilmari Pimiä): KIVENNAPA KUVINA, 1954

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