The first words of the novel in Finnish.
|Translator||Alex Matson, Richard Impola|
Seitsemän veljestä (Finnish for "seven brothers") is the first and only novel by Aleksis Kivi, the national author of Finland, and it is widely regarded as the first significant novel written in Finnish and by a Finnish-speaking author. Indeed many regard it still today as the greatest Finnish novel ever written.
Published in 1870, Seitsemän veljestä ended an era dominated by Swedish-speaking authors, most notable of whom was J.L. Runeberg, and created a solid basis for new Finnish authors like Minna Canth and Juhani Aho, who were, together with Aleksis Kivi, the first authors to depict ordinary Finns in a realistic way. Seitsemän veljestä has been translated twice into English, first by Alex. Matson, later by Richard Impola, and more than thirty other languages.
The novel was particularly reviled by the literary circles of Kivi's time, who disliked the unflattering image of Finns it presented. The titular characters were seen as crude caricatures of the nationalistic ideals of the time. Foremost in this hostile backlash was the influential critic August Ahlqvist, who called the book a "ridiculous work and a blot on the name of Finnish literature". Since the early 20th century, it has been considered so brilliant as to be virtually untranslatable.
- Juhani – the oldest brother, also the most stubborn
- Aapo – twin-brother of Tuomas, logical and peaceful
- Tuomas – scrupulous, strong as a bull, although Juhani claims to be the strongest brother
- Simeoni – alcoholic and the most religious brother
- Timo – twin-brother of Lauri, simple and earnest
- Lauri – the most solemn brother, friend of nature and a loner
- Eero – the youngest brother, intelligent, clever, quarrelsome when confronted with Juhani
At first, the brothers are not a particularly peaceful lot and end up quarreling with the local constable, jury, vicar, churchwarden, and teachers—not to mention their neighbours in the village of Toukola. No wonder young girls' mothers do not regard them as good suitors. When the brothers are required to learn to read before they can accept church confirmation and therefore official adulthood—and the right to marry—they decide to run away.
Eventually they end up moving to distant Impivaara in the middle of relative wilderness, but their first efforts are shoddy—one Christmas Eve they end up burning down their new house. The next spring they try again, but are forced to kill a nearby lord's herd of bulls. Ten years of hard work clearing the forest for fields, hard drinking—and Simeoni’s apocalyptic visions from delirium tremens—eventually lead them to mend their ways. They learn to read on their own and eventually return to Jukola.
In the end most of them become pillars of the community and family men. Still, the tone of the tale is not particularly moralistic.
- Aleksis Kivi, Seven Brothers. 1st edition, New York: Coward-McCann, 1929. 2nd edition, Helsinki: Tammi, 1952. 3rd edition, edited by Irma Rantavaara, Helsinki: Tammi, 1973. Note that Matson wrote his first name with the period ("Alex.") to indicate that it was a short form.
- Aleksis Kivi, Seven Brothers. New Paltz, NY: Finnish-American Translators Association, 1991.
- Aleksis Kivi, the national author - web portal