Tove Jansson: Life Art Words by Boel Westin; book review

Trans. Silvester Mazzarella;

‘All Moomintrolls go to sleep about November. This is a good idea, too, if you don’t like the cold and the winter darkness.’ So the Preface to Finn Family Moomintroll (1948), characteristically both matter-of-fact and imaginatively irresistible, tells us. The Moomins’ emergence from hibernation makes their adventures, once the cuckoo has called, ‘rather hoarsely to be sure’, above Moominhouse’s blue roof, only the more delectably liberating. But now, thanks to Boel Westin’s biography of Tove Jansson, with its detailed analyses of its subject’s distinguished work in several media, we can view the  joyous springtime experiences of these hippopotamus-like creatures in historical and  personal terms. ‘It was the utterly hellish war years that made me, an artist, write fairy-tales,’ Tove Jansson, born 1914, confessed.

It was scarcely surprising Tove Jansson thought of herself an artist first. Her father, ‘Faffan’, Finland-Swede and zealous Finnish nationalist, was a well-regarded sculptor, her mother, a Swedish Swede, was an illustrator and cartoonist. Tove was intimately bound up with both parents, and also with her two brothers, the younger of whom, Lasse, would eventually take on the Moomin strip-cartoons, and other projects threatening to swamp her creativity. We can learn so much from Tove’s marvellous painting ‘The Family’ (1942) - used as back end-papers for this stunningly illustrated book - under Westin’s well-informed guidance. At its centre Tove’s stance speaks of indissoluble familial involvement but reveals her pressurising need, if not exactly for flight, then for some cathartic release.

Such feelings were intensified by endurance of Finland’s terrible ‘Winter’ and ‘Continuation’ Wars. ‘Faffan’ was intensely proud of his daughter, yet, an autocrat by disposition, he became, as time and history advanced, significantly uncongenial to her. As a young man he fought against the Red Army, and detestation of the Soviet Union, indeed of Communism altogether, led him to a pro-German position not excluding anti-Semitism. Tove’s mother, ‘Ham’, however, was in outlook the product of her own enlightened, ‘mainland’ Swedish family. Fuelling tensions further was membership of the often claustrophobic Finland-Swedish minority. Though Tove stands now as Finland’s most successful-ever writer, her relationship to its majority language was for many years diffident. Small wonder then that she, though provocative caricaturist and political activist of Left sympathies, turned to an ineffably peaceful habitat of diverse coexisting beings, to Moominvalley, never as escape, rather as a desirable atavistic reality.   

Increasingly Tove Jansson became troubled by her conviction, confirmed by observing ‘Faffan’, that war was indelibly the doing of males. Her erotic-emotional move from men – despite some intense, rewarding relationships – to women can therefore appear an inevitability, though I doubt ideological explanation is sufficient. ‘Ham’ comes over as the most important person in Tove’s life-story, even remembering the decades-long love she knew with artist, Tuulikki Pietilä (‘Tooti’), whom Westin drew on for this invaluable book. The nuclear family, like the nuclear nation, could never have satisfied this freest-ranging spirit, who was truly at home only on a remote island (in Finland’s south-east archipelago) where the elements were the demanding relatives, as they were for the Moomins.

Since her death in 2001 Tove Jansson’s reputation has arguably rested as strongly on pared, magical prose for adult readers – beginning with the wonderful Summer Book (1972) – as on her children’s stories. But Westin shows that this division is inappropriate; Tove’s unique imagination and art pervade both. Therefore she legitimately regards Snufkin – mysterious, harmonica-playing Moominvalley artist – as the most apt conductor to all Tove achieved, from large-scale murals to Chekhovian short-stories.         

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'