- Parties as Heterotopias in Tove Jansson’s Moomin Illustrations and Texts
How nice it is to prepare for a party that you know will be fun, and to which all the right people are coming!(Finn Family Moomintroll 151)
This article aims to analyze the depiction of the festive space in Jansson’s art and authorship, and to demonstrate the significance of parties in the process of characterization and Jansson’s means of creating special atmospheres and aesthetics for her individual books. I will focus on three social gatherings that occur in three Moomin books: Finn Family Moomintroll (1948), Moominland Midwinter (1957), and Moominvalley in November (1970). The discussion is framed by the concept of heterotopia, which, according to Michel Foucault, is a place outside of all places, simultaneously both concrete and abstract. On equal terms with the lighthouse, boats, or explorations of unsettled islands, the parties in Moomin books can be considered as heterotopias. What I would call the “primordial” Moomin party will be both inverted and reconstructed in Jansson’s later production. The collective happiness depicted in her earliest books becomes, finally, represented as fragments of divided experience. Jansson’s use of light, movement, and negative space characterizes each party not only in her illustrations but also in her writing, which also has a strong sense of place.
Tove Jansson loved parties. This is what her friends and relatives remember about her, and it can also be seen in her biographically oriented texts and paintings, such as the short stories “Hippa” (1968, “Parties”) and “Avslutningsdag” (1998, “Graduation Day”), which describe bohemian celebrations [End Page 182] in Jansson’s childhood home and in the restaurants and parks of Helsinki. In a mural for the restaurant of the City Hall of Helsinki, Jansson portrays herself in a festive setting, a terrace filled with flowers, vegetation, and dancing people. This decorative painting, originating from 1947, can be seen as a reaction against the reality of Finland in the depressed and grey postwar context. At the same time, it stages the bourgeois-bohemian life style of a group of artists, some of Jansson’s friends. She depicts herself at a table in the front, smoking a cigarette with a small Moomintroll beside her drink. In one of the full-page illustrations of Comet in Moominland (1950) Jansson depicts Tofslan (Thingumy) and Vifslan (Bob) dancing in the foreground. Vifslan was based on her beloved Vivica Bandler (a theater director whose figure is also central in the mural) and Tofslan was Tove—both vibrant partygoers in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories regularly depict festive occasions—in fact, almost every book she produced includes a party scene. In the early Moomin books, published in the 1940s, the party functions as a rather traditional children’s literary scene: the moment of return and reunion as the characters come together, usually at the end of the adventure. The desire to celebrate sometimes even makes the characters forget the exciting journey they have been involved in: even if a comet is about to destroy the Moominvalley in Comet in Moominland (1946), or—following a yet more decadent approach, also natural for the Moomins—because of this destruction, there is time for a dance.
Over time, as the Moomin books become more realistic and their landscape more Nordic (for this is how Tove Jansson developed her fantasy world in the late 1950s and the 1960s),1 their parties no longer convey such absolute collective euphoria. However, the significance of a party is even more central because it is performed as part of a ritual, and because it often indicates a point of transition. The Fillyjonk’s lonely midsummer table in Midsummer Madness (1954), where even the pancake has turned black after excessive waiting, already forecasts this change in the Moomin suite. Her relatives will not visit her this year either, but she receives two unexpected visitors, the Moomintroll and the Snorkmaiden, who teach her the art of midsummer celebration: the tradition of picking up nine different flowers, making a midsummer bonfire, and the fun of ignoring the authorities and their regulations.
The carnivalesque features of turning things upside down and...