- Nummisuutarit: komedia viidessä näytöksessä by Aleksis Kivi, and: Kirjeet by Aleksis Kivi
Three years ago, the Finnish Literary Society published the first volume in a groundbreaking series of classic Finnish literary works. The new series, called “Edith,” is a set of critical editions that, as the Edith publishers state, “perustuvat käsikirjoitusten, ensipainosten ja muun alkuperäisaineiston tutkimukseen, ja ne avaavat kirjallista kulttuuria tutkijoille, opettajille ja muille kirjallisuudesta kiinostuneille” (elias.finlit.fi/nummisuutarit/) [grounded in research on manuscripts, first editions, and other primary sources and are intended to introduce literary culture to students, teachers, and others interested in literature]. While critical editions of literary texts have long been a tradition in European literary history—they are mainstays of Shakespeare studies, for example—they have not, as yet, been a presence in Finnish literary history. With the 2010 publication of a critical edition of Aleksis Kivi’s play Nummisuutarit: komedia viidessä näytöksessä (The Heath Cobblers: A Comedy in Five Acts, Finnish Literary Society, 1864) and the 2012 publication of a critical edition of Kivi’s letters, Kirjeet (Letters), Edith has inaugurated a new age in Finnish literary studies. These two volumes and the many that will follow are an important step in promoting, expanding, and deepening the study of Finnish literature and its history. [End Page 120]
With only two volumes published so far, it is difficult to say too much about the scope of the series, but there is plenty to commend in these first offerings. Fittingly, the first two volumes in the series are dedicated to one of the pioneering figures of Finnish literature, novelist (Seitsemän veljestä/The Seven Brothers, Finnish Literature Society, 1871) and playwright Aleksis Kivi (1834–1872). Also fitting is that the first of those two volumes treats one of Kivi’s first and most important plays, Nummisuutarit. Kivi wrote Nummisuutarit in 1864 and entered it into a statewide writing competition, where it took first place, beating out renowned literary figures John Ludvig Runeberg and August (Oksanen) Ahlqvist. In the century and a half since, Nummisuutarit has become one of Finland’s most beloved comedies. The second volume, Kirjeet, is precisely as its title suggests: it is a collection of all the extant letters that Kivi wrote and received from 1855 to 1871. The Nummisuutarit volume presents a funny and dynamic dramatic text from one of Finland’s most significant literary figures, and the Kirjeet volume provides further context both for that text and also for the series of other Kivi critical editions that Edith already has in the works: three full-length plays, Karkurit (1866; The Runaways), Olviretki Schleusingenissä (1866; Pub Crawl in Schleusingen), Kullervo (1859), and three short plays, Kihlaus (1866; The Engagement), Leo ja Liina (1916; Leo and Liina), and Selman juonet (1916; Selma’s Deception) (edith.fi).
The first half of the Nummisuutarit volume comprises a strong collection of chapters presenting significant features of the play’s history and aesthetics. The second half contains the play text itself, followed by a series of appendices. Each of the primary chapters has its own author—although the volume’s main editor, Jyrki Nummi, authors two chapters—and the chapters contain a wealth of information. They include historical background on the reception of the play; the publication and stage histories of the play; literary and historical analyses of the play’s genre, dialogue, characters, and plot(s); and information on film adaptations of the play. Although there is not a chapter dedicated to a biography of Kivi, there is a good amount of his biography woven into the chapters. The text of the play—included in its entirety, and with line numbers—is meticulously annotated, with the focus of the footnotes directed on linguistic matters: idiosyncrasies of dialect, inter-textual references, idiomatic expressions, and so forth. Issues connected to theme, plot, or other...