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  • The Student as a Representation of Masculinity in Nineteenth-Century Finnish Literature
  • Eira Juntti

The student (ylioppilas in Finnish) was a central image of masculinity in Finnish culture in the nineteenth century. At that time, the young male student was a ubiquitous character in Finnish culture and literature, and students were the protagonists of many novels, particularly at the end of the century. But as a literary motif, they had already appeared in the early part of the century (Lappalainen 1999b, 51). In this article, I analyze the image of the student as a representation of masculinity.

The image of the student has attracted the attention of literary scholars interested in its representation in different literary trends: how it metamorphosed from an idealized figure in national romanticism in the early and mid-nineteenth century to a decadent philanderer in realist literature in the late nineteenth century (Molarius 1996; 2000, xvi–xvii; also Lyytikäinen 1997). This drastic metamorphosis has been interpreted as a sign of a change in literary trends: the new decadent student characters of the 1880s signaled the arrival of literary realism, adopted by a new generation of Finnish authors. However, turning the student into a self-centered philandering man—the opposite of a national hero—was a sign of more than the adoption of a new realistic view of students and student life or culture, particularly elite upper-class (male) student culture. It has been argued that this metamorphosis was a reflection of political tensions within the Finnish nationalist movement: starting in the 1880s, the younger generation began critiquing [End Page 301] the older generation for its conservatism and pushing for social reforms (Molarius 1996; Lappalainen 1999b, 51).

University students had played an important role in the development of Finnish nationalism since the early nineteenth century, and the image of the student as a patriotic hero had been created in the early decades of that century. Because the image of the patriotic student was so closely connected with Finnish nationalism, it took courage from the realist authors to strip away its heroic mantle. The contemporary audience did not embrace the realist student characters and could be quite critical of them. Though the connection between the student image and political struggles within the Finnish nationalist movement have been previously noted and are somewhat obvious, the ideological message that the realist student image was meant to convey is not entirely clear. This paper will primarily explore what the metamorphosis tells us about changes in the idea of masculinity in the nineteenth century. Because the student was always represented as a man, the contemporary view of masculinity was a central issue in this process.

Though the primary source material is literature, I argue from the perspective of a social scientist and historian. I seek to chart the history of the student image in the nineteenth century, but also to draw on theories of representation and masculinity to help understand how changes in a particular representation of masculinity were connected to changes in contemporary ideals of masculinity.

What makes analyzing representations both interesting and challenging is that images are recycled, re-created, and re-imagined in slightly different forms (e.g., Hall 1997b; 1997c; Nixon 1997). In writing the history of an image, it is important to situate it among other comparable images to understand what it is intended to convey. Since the student is a gendered image, the gender aspect cannot be excluded from this analysis.

But what does the gendering of an image mean, or why are images gendered? Teresa de Lauretis explains that "gender is the representation of a relation, or … gender constructs a relation between one entity and other entities" (1987, 4). Joan Scott has argued that in social relationships, "gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power" (1999, 42). That is, when an image is gendered, it positions the represented "entity" within the gendered power order of that society. However, gender is intersectionally linked to other "entities," such as class, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, and can never truly [End Page 302] be separated from them (e.g., Crenshaw 1989; Hill Collins 1990). An intersectional approach to gender moves the focus away from comparing...


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