The Bibliography, the early years 1936-45 of Killa

By Minna Henriksson

Minna Henriksson, Kiila / The Wedge, Feminist Archive, 2019/2021

This Kiila bibliography consists of a compilation of texts ranging from anthologies and novels to short stories and poetry. Included are also magazines and articles. The years in focus are between 1936 and 1945, from when the Kiila organisation was founded, until it was legislatively free to practice cultural activities in an officially “non-fascistic” Finland.

Being a political organisation of artists and writers, national and global politics influenced its course significantly. The 1930s was a time of extreme right hegemony in Finland, when communist laws were put in place, banning any pro-communist organisations and activities. Also, it was a time of increasing militarisation, and it was clear already early on which side Finland would choose in the forthcoming war.

Kiila was born in this general climate in Finland that was explosive to war and fascism. The manifested values of Kiila were socialism, anti-fascism, and pacifism. The group aimed to address the issues of the proletariat and to speak to the working class. During the Second World War, 40% of Kiila members were put to prison as a preventive measure against sabotage to the war that Finland was participating in.

The archives of Kiila from these same years, 1936–45, have gone missing. Historian Jouko Jokisalo writes in the introduction to Kiila archives in the archival index of the “People’s Archives” that it is not known where the early archives are, or how and when they were destroyed. They might have been confiscated by the Finnish Secret Police, or they could still be part of someone’s unorganised personal archive. Or they were destroyed in the chaos and violence of the war.

An interesting statistical fact within the composition of Kiila is that the majority of its founding members were women. [One of Kiila’s history writers, Matti Rinne, counts 7 founding members, out of which 4 were women, in another Kiila’s history, Kari Sallamaa counts 9, out of which 5 were women. Both use as criterium the joining as members in spring 1936.] This interesting fact of women in majority is perhaps not only statistical, and it may be a result of women experiencing the threatening right-wing climate even stronger than men, as they were double oppressed—not just by their politics and class status, but also by their gender. Also, the women majority might have an influence on what was the hegemonic discourse within Kiila in its early years. The history of Kiila has been written by several famous male members of Kiila starting right after WW2. In these histories, the specific women’s point of view in the class conscious literature of Kiila has not been adequately recognised. This bibliography at hand aims to do just that, to read the productions of early Kiila members from a feminist point of view and to find moments where feminism and class politics came together.

Here we need to acknowledge that early Kiila members did not call themselves feminist, although they addressed women’s issues and the specific oppression that women were subject to due to their gender. In the early socialist movement, in a broad sense, women’s emancipation was understood as part of emancipation of all people from capitalist exploitation: when humanity is free, the woman is free. The divide between working-class women and bourgeois women was bigger than that between working-class women and working-class men. Feminism was a term largely adopted by the bourgeois women’s movement that only guarded its own benefits, not equality for all women.

The bibliography contains not only texts produced in this specific time, but also texts from later years that address the production in that time period, particularly those that are important regarding the gender issues in question.

The texts are almost without exception in the Finnish language, however, this bibliography is in English. It is part of my artistic work Kiila, Feminist Archive, which is a compilation of material from and about early Kiila from the gender perspective, and an attempt to find moments where class issues and feminism came together. It also includes a number of illustrations that I have made, realised with linocut. Also, it includes an audio recording of a discussion among several current members of Kiila. Kiila, Feminist Archive is based on large amount of translations from Finnish to English, and summaries and analysis in the English language.


UURTO, Iris: Ruumiin ikävä, Otava Helsinki, 1930, 380 p.
[Title: Longing of the body]

About the English translation of the book’s name: the Finnish word ‘ikävä’ has two meanings; on the one hand, it can signify longing or yearning, and on another, ennui or boredom. In my reading of the book, the title clearly signifies a longing of the body rather than its ennui. This is because female sexuality is a central focus of the book.

The book is about a woman who has bodily needs and desires that she is unable to fulfill with either her first or the second husband. Both men display signs of misogyny. Paula dies because she has a will to live because neither of the men could capture her as their domestic wife who is available when it suits them and who is invisible when she is on their way. As a female character in early 20th Century literature, Paula is not a typical main character, either Virgin Mary or suffragette. She is not sexually passive. But she doesn’t feel herself to be more sinful than the Virgin Mary; she does not feel she betrayed anyone or did anything immoral. Also, she is not a female leader who has a male-kind of rationality. The binaries of spirit-body and madonna-whore are strange to the character of Paula; she is a much more complex character than those simplifications.

SALMINEN, Tyyne Maija: Elämä jatkuu, WSOY, Porvoo & Helsinki, 1933, 241 p.
[Title: Life Continues]

VALA, Katri: Paluu, WSOY, Porvoo, 1934
[Title: The Return]

Katri Vala addressed her attitude to social changes, comparing herself to a willow swaying at the edge of a river: she identified with the tree, through which the winds blew and in whose branches the rebellious spirit of the world whistled a tune which contained ‘storm, suffering, love and a piece of the dawn.’ According to Lauri Viljanen, Vala’s radical humanitarian poetry was part of a wider leftist stream that dominated the poetry of the Nordic countries, Great Britain, and America, among others, in the 1930s. Although Vala’s concerns were different in the 1930s from the previous decade, there was, according to Viljanen, a connection between these two selves. Vala’s radicalism was, according to him, instinctive.

Katri Vala’s particular social themes were the peace principle, defense of the women’s movement, and opposition to the death penalty. Questions concerning the church, religion, and society also interested her. Vala took a liberal attitude to religion, but she must have been irritated by the shackling of religions to institutions such as the church and the papacy. Katri Vala’s pacifism had already emerged strongly in the 1920s. The rightist, militarist ideal of the Greater Finland, which gained many adherents among her contemporaries, also received a harsh judgment from her: the Greater Finns were not seeking to enlarge the spirit, but only territory, which was already in Finland, per head of population, among the largest in Europe.

Women had a unique task, which Vala described later in a piece entitled “Utopia naisten maailmasta” [Utopia from a woman’s world, 19 October 1938]; since women at last awoken from their ‘soulful slumber,’ they must decide for themselves whether they wanted to ‘join that masculine procession.’ Participation would certainly ensure riches and honour, but ‘it would be criminal to join it, because it certainly, now as before, leads to war, the misuse of power, and destruction.’ It was the woman’s job to distribute love instead of hatred.

SALMINEN, Tyyne Maija: Tehtaantyttö, WSOY, Porvoo, 1934, 319 p.
[Title: Factory girl]

Mimmi is on the verge of womanhood. She has a battle of the mind with her coming of age and the negative perception she has of motherhood and being a wife. She is a factory worker, aiming to be independent and emancipated. She does not want to end up like her mother—with five children, an alcoholic husband, doing reproductive work all day, and the only leisure activity being merely gossiping with the neighbour over a cup of coffee.

Slowly, living through various experiences and relationships, Mimmi learns that love and home do not need to mean becoming a miserable wrinkled housewife. She also understands that she has the reproductive instinct, like every woman, which she cannot escape anymore.

UURTO, Iris: Kypsyminen, Otava, Helsinki, 1935, 409 p.
[Title: Maturing]

This is the first novel in a series of two, where the main characters are the Pallas family Pallas. The main character in this novel is Lauri Pallas, whose languishing love affair with Maria is followed to its painful end. The affair nearly destroys Lauri; he loses meaning in work and starves; he even thinks about suicide. The side story in the book is Lauri’s father’s radical move to leave his family and move together with widow Berg, to whose children Lauri gives evening lessons. Lauri’s step-mother, Mrs. Pallas, is portrayed as a selfish middle-class person who is more concerned about how it will appear to outsiders that her husband has left her than the very fact that he is living with another woman in another family. Slowly, Lauri starts to understand that Maria is also petit-bourgeois, not brave enough to leave her husband, whom she does not love, but stays together with him out of responsibility. Her true love is Lauri, but she lacks the courage to take the necessary step to follow her feelings; instead, she sacrifices herself for the unhappy marriage. In the end, Maria loses her beauty and becomes completely unhappy. Lauri decides to direct his energy to political fight for the unemployed and exploited workers. This is clearly what the title “Maturing” refers to in the case of Lauri. For Mrs. Pallas and Maria maturing, on the other hand, means becoming hopeless and bitter, which is driven by a fake illusion of happiness that suppresses women.

UURTO, Iris: Rakkaus ja pelko, Otava, Helsinki, 1936, 308 p.
[Title: Love and Fear]

SINERVO Elvi: Runo Söörnäisistä, Gummerus, Jyväskylä 1937, 373 p.
[Title: Poem about Söörnäinen]

Sinervo’s first work, “Runo Söörnäisistä,” is a collection of short stories about working-class life in Helsinki. According to Kari Sallamaa (“Kansanrintaman valo,” 1994), it has two main themes, the everyday life of the workers and life struggle. Children-themed texts have a significant part in the collection. Sinervo shows that childhood is not an innocent and uncontradictory state of existence, at least not among the poor.

SALMINEN, Tyyne Maija: Kolmen naisen talo, WSOY, Porvoo, 1937, 176 p.
[Title: House of Three Women]

A matriarchal novel based in Puodinkylä, outskirts of Helsinki. The women are strong and unselfish. Women carry all the responsibility. Men are weak, ill, blind, and unable to think of the common good. Women are independent of men. Generational difference is shown, how for Esteri, the house is everything, and to lose focus and follow a sexual drive is a terrible punishable thing, which she deep down wants to do, but is scared of even to admit to herself. For Ritva, the house is a burden, and it stops her self-realisation. Ritva wants freedom from the home—it represents heritage, wealth, class status, life mission, supposed woman’s role, which the mother and grandmother failed to achieve because they had to take on the role of a ‘man of the house.’

TURTIAINEN, Arvo, Rautakourat: Kertomus eräästä lakosta, Kiila, Helsinki, 1938.
[Title: Iron fists: Story of a Strike]

A fictional novel based on real-life events of the metal strike of 1937.
Published by Kiila. Illustrations by Tapio Tapiovaara.

SINERVO, Elvi: Palavankylän seppä, Gummerus, Jyväskylä, 1939, 279 p.
[Title: Smith of Palavankylä]

The novel is political in the sense that the father of the family is a weak character who gave up his principles and cannot earn a living for the whole family. The mother keeps the large family together and alive, with strength, patience, and warmth but is invisible and taken for granted. The growing children, those who have already become old enough to move away, and the young ones have different energy and ambitions. They will not get stuck like their parents. The book is Sinervo’s first novel, and largely autobiographical work, a way of coming to terms with her parents’ choices in life.

UURTO, Iris: Ruumiin viisaus, Otava, Helsinki, 1942, 388 p.
[Title: Wisdom of the body]

Elias and Lea marry without loving each other. Elias has a background as a political activist and a poet. He is intellectual. Lea finds it hard to be in a relationship; she misses her freedom. They learn to like each other and their family life. They seem happy. Lea becomes pregnant. Elias devotes all his life to the family and stops caring about himself. Lea senses that Elias will not live long. Elias dies. After this event, Lea finds her freedom and is finally truly happy.

UURTO, Iris: Sudet, Otava, Helsinki, 1944, 135 p.
[Title: Wolfes]

Collection of poetry from novelist Iris Uurto, who was one of the central figures in early Kiila and many ways, the most daring and norm-breaking member. By this time, Uurto had left Kiila, disappointed with the hypocrisy and male dominance in the organisation.

SINERVO, Elvi: Pilvet, Tammi, Helsinki, 1944.
[Title: Clouds]

Collection of poems by Sinervo written while she was in prison during WW2.

TURTIAINEN, Arvo: Laulu kiven ja raudan ympyrässä, Tammi, Helsinki, 1945, 111 p.
[Title: Song in the Circle of Stone and Iron]

Turtiainen’s poetry about his time in the prison during WW2. He himself admitted that Elvi Sinervo’s Pilvet is better literature, but was left with much less attention than his book.

PEKKANEN, Toivo et al: Uuno Kailaasta Aila Meriluotoon: Suomalaisten kirjailijain elämäkertoja, WSOY, Porvoo & Helsinki, 1947, 659 p.
[Title: From Uuno Kailas to Aila Meriluoto: Biographies of Finnish Writers]

KOLU, Ere: Karua elämää, Kansankulttuuri Oy, Nelopaino Helsinki, 1948, 161 p.
[Title: Harsh Life]

Worker writer’s poetry.

SINERVO, Elvi: Vuorelle nousu, Tammi, Helsinki, 1948, 242 p.
[Title: Ascending to the Mountain]

A collection of short stories by Sinervo in three parts: first about the angst of a worker girl, second about Sinervo’s experiences in prison, and third about motherhood and womanhood.

LINNILÄ, Kai: Kiila 30, Tammi, Helsinki, 1966, 320 p.

Edited by Kai Linnilä, “Kiila 30” is the Kiila album from 1966. In various texts, it looks back to the 30 years of history of the association. The early years are the subject of the texts by Jarno Pennanen and Aarne Laurila. Pennanen’s text does not mention any of the female writers in the group.

SALLAMAA, Kari: Kiila 1936-1976, 1976, 24 p.

Exhibition catalogue, Kluuvin galleria, Helsinki, 22.10.1976.

RINNE, Matti et al: Kiila 1936-1986, 1986, 98 p.

Exhibition catalogue, Helsingin Taidehalli, 21.5.-15.6.1986.

NEVALA, Maria-Liisa: “Sain roolin johon en mahdu”: Suomalaisen naiskirjallisuuden linjoja, Otava, Helsinki, 1989, 787 p.
[Title: “I received a role I do not fit in”: Lines in Finnish female literature]

SALLAMAA, Kari: Kansanrintaman valo: Kirjailijaryhmä Kiilan maailmankatsomus ja esteettinen ohjelma vuosina 1933-1943, SKS, Helsinki, 1994, 400 p.
[Title: The light of the People’s Front: Writers’ group Kiila’s world view and aesthetic programme in years 1933-1943]

An excellent and thorough analysis of early Kiila from many aspects.

SPINKKILÄ, Tuula: “Elämän pitäisi olla toisenlaista”: Iris Uurto ja sukupuolten sota, SKS, Helsinki, 2000, 256 p.
[Title: Life should be another kind]

The first and perhaps the only thorough reading of Iris Uurto’s work recognises the feminist radicalness in Uurto’s class-conscious production.

RINNE, Matti: Kiila 1936-2006: Taidetta ja taistelua, Tammi, Helsinki, 2006, 352 p.
[Title: Kiila 1936-2006: Art and Struggle]

The extensive popular historical book of the Kiila association, “Kiila 1936-2006: Taidetta ja taistelua,” lacks reference sources. It lays a rather superficial treatment of the history of Kiila and does not bring anything new to history writing of early Kiila, from that of Kari Sallamaa. It repeats and verifies the existing claims about its history.

Minna Henriksson, Kiila / The Wedge, Feminist Archive, 2019/2021
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