Aleksis Kivi

Aleksis Kivi (pronunciation ), born Alexis Stenvall, (10 October 1834 – 31 December 1872[1]) was a Finnish author who wrote the first significant novel in the Finnish language, Seitsemän veljestä ("Seven Brothers") in 1870. Although Kivi was among the very earliest authors of prose and lyrics in Finnish, he is still considered one of the greatest.

Aleksis Kivi
Earliest known image of Kivi, almost certainly by Albert Edelfelt (1873)
Born(1834-10-10)10 October 1834
Died31 December 1872(1872-12-31) (aged 38)
Notable work
Seitsemän veljestä ("Seven Brothers")


Aleksis Kivi was born in Nurmijärvi, Grand Duchy of Finland, into a tailor's family.[1] In 1846 he left for school in Helsinki, and in 1859 he was accepted into the University of Helsinki, where he studied literature and developed an interest in the theatre. His first play was Kullervo, based on a tragic tale from the Kalevala. He also met the famous journalist and statesman Johan Vilhelm Snellman who became his supporter.[2]

During his time at school Kivi read world literature from the library of his landlord, and during his University studies, he saw plays by Molière and Schiller at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki.[3] Kivi also had friends such as Fredrik Cygnaeus and Elias Lönnrot.[3]

From 1863 onwards, Kivi devoted his time to writing. He wrote 12 plays and a collection of poetry. The novel Seitsemän veljestä ("Seven Brothers"}[4]). took him ten years to write. Literary critics, especially the prominent August Ahlqvist, disapproved of the book, at least nominally because of its "rudeness" Romanticism was at its height at the time.[2] Ahlqvist wrote "It is a ridiculous work and a blot on the name of Finnish literature"[3] The Fennomans also disapproved of its depiction of not-so-virtuous rural life that was far from their idealized point of view,[2] and Kivi's excessive drinking may have alienated some.

In 1865 Kivi won the State Prize for his still often performed comedy Nummisuutarit ('The Cobblers on the Heath', translated as Heath Cobblers by Douglas Robinson[5]). However, the less than enthusiastic reception of his books was taking its toll and he was already drinking heavily. His main benefactor Charlotta Lönnqvist could not help him after the 1860s.

Kivi's health had failed completely in 1870. The collapse was accelerated by typhoid and attacks of delirium and in 1871 he was admitted to the New Clinic, from where he was transferred to the Lapinlahti psychiatric hospital. The doctor treating him, A. T. Saelan, diagnosed him as suffering from melancholia resulting from "injured dignity as a writer". On the basis of the available documents, Kalle Achté concludes that it was a classic case of schizophrenia, triggered by severe states of anxiety.[2] It has also been suggested, however, that Kivi's mental illness may have been caused by advanced borreliosis.[6] Kivi died in poverty at the age of 38.


In the early 20th century young writers Volter Kilpi and Eino Leino raised Kivi to the status of national icon. Eino Leino – and later Väinö Linna and Veijo Meri – also identified with Kivi's fate as an author.[2]

In 1939 the Aleksis Kivi Memorial, a bronze statue of Kivi by Wäinö Aaltonen, was erected in front of the Finnish National Theatre.[7]

In 1995 to 1996, Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara wrote an opera about Kivi's life and works. In 2002, director Jari Halonen's film The Life of Aleksis Kivi (Finnish title: Aleksis Kiven elämä) premiered in Finnish cinemas.

Kivi in English

  • Impola, Richard A., trans. Aleksis Kivi, Seven Brothers (English translation of Seitsemän veljestä). New Paltz, NY: Finnish-American Translators Association, 1991.
  • Matson, Alex, trans. Aleksis Kivi, Seven Brothers (English translation of Seitsemän veljestä). 1st edition, New York: Coward-McCann, 1929. 2nd edition, Helsinki: Tammi, 1952. 3rd edition, edited by Irma Rantavaara, Helsinki: Tammi, 1973.
  • Robinson, Douglas, trans. Aleksis Kivi's Heath Cobblers and Kullervo. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1993.
  • Robinson, Douglas, trans. The Brothers Seven. Bucharest, Romania: Zeta Books, 2017


  1. Aleksis Kivi at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. Sihvo, Hannes (2014). "Kivi, Aleksis (1834–1872)". The National Biography of Finland. Retrieved 1 May 2016.
  3. Liukkonen, Petri (2008). "Kivi, Aleksis (1834–1872)". Authors' Calendar. Retrieved 9 May 2016.
  4. Translated twice, in 1929 by Alex. Matson and in 1991 by Richard Impola, as Seven Brothers, again in 2017 by Douglas Robinson as The Brothers Seven.
  5. Douglas Robinson, trans., Aleksis Kivi's Heath Cobblers and Kullervo (St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1993).
  6. "Yle Teema". Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  7. "Aleksis Kiven muistopatsas : Wäinö Aaltonen – HAM" (in Finnish). Retrieved 11 September 2017.

Secondary sources

  • Robinson, Douglas, Aleksis Kivi and/as World Literature. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2017.
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