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  • The Visible and Invisible Lives of Kerstin SöderholmThe Year in Finland
  • Kirsi Tuohela (bio) and Maarit Leskelä-Kärki (bio)

Kan du någonsin känna hur vårt liv är som invävt i det osynligas garn liksom i det synligas?

(Can you sometimes feel how it's as if our lives are woven in the yarn of the invisible as well as the visible?)

Kerstin Söderholm

In the early 2000s, while participating in a research project on the cultural history of women's writing in Finland and other Nordic countries, we were both inspired by working with letters and diaries. Fascinated by this new territory, we developed the idea of a cultural history of writing based on American scholar Richard Brodhead's social and material contextualization of literature, as well as on the rich tradition of feminist literary studies. Our material consisted of various autobiographical collections of women writers in Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark produced from the 1880s to the mid-1900s. We were interested in marginalized histories, and we were looking for voices hidden in those histories.

Against this background, we were thrilled to notice that in 2021 the Svenska Littaratursällskapet (SLS, Society of Swedish Literature in Finland) had completed the online critical edition of Kerstin Söderholm's diaries and published a small collection of her poems and diary notes under the title vara mänska: Kerstin Söderholm i urval. Although we had been studying the interwar years and Finnish women writers of the 1920s and 1930s, Söderholm had remained in the shadows for us. The website Kerstin Söderholm (soderholm.sls.fi) consists of a critical edition of her whole diary and a facsimile version of the original diary, as well as other archival material including her letters and manuscripts as facsimile versions. [End Page 25]

Söderholm wrote in Swedish, reminding us that Finland has a history with two languages. In his recent summing up of the Swedish story in Finland, Martin Hårdstedt refers to the more than thousand years of Swedish history in Finland: first as Finland was an eastern part of the Swedish kingdom, and then as it became a rising new nation after separating from Sweden in 1809. With its own political, cultural, and linguistic history, Finland became a nation-state with two official languages. Its Swedish heritage is essential to the history of Finland—not only as a political entity. The strong presence of Swedish-speaking people in Finland increased during the time of the autonomous Grand Duchy of Russia (1809–1917) and has been lively ever since, even though Finnish language and culture have long been the clear majority. Founded in 1885, the SLS is an important institution supporting historical and contemporary linguistic and cultural Swedish identity in Finland, and its rich archive lies behind vara mänska and the online edition of Söderholm's diaries.

"What is the human?": The Legacy of Kerstin Söderholm

Kerstin Söderholm debuted in 1923 with a collection of poems, Röster ur tingen. During the 1920s and the 1930s, she continued writing poetry and published four more collections, one play, and a collection of short stories. During her active writing years, Söderholm was involved in the Swedish Writers' Union, getting to know many of the writers and intellectuals of her time. Her last collection of poems, Mörkret och människan (1941), was written in the middle of the war years. After the 1939–1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union—and on the threshold of another war that started in June 1941—Söderholm's tone in the poems is sad and dark, but not altogether hopeless. The question "Vad är människan?" (What is the human?) arises in this last collection more clearly than in her earlier work. Some argue that this is the question Söderholm considered and wrote about throughout her life, both in her poems and diary. Söderholm's diary was first published posthumously in 1947–1948 with the title Endast för mig själv. In the 2020s, the SLS published a new digital edition of her journal intime as Kerstin S...

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