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Aino Kallas: A flight to and from history



Aino Kallas (1878–1956) is considered a Finnish as well as an Estonian author. Her borderline status between the two cultures and her ambivalent oeuvre continue to provide substance for diverse literary historical interpretations, neither has reader interest waned, which has even led to talk of a renaissance of Aino Kallas. The article discusses the writer’s relations with (Estonian) history on which her masterpieces were based. Aino Kallas arrived at the themes from the 14th–17th centuries after a creative crisis making her realize that lack of the blood bond prevented her from delving into specifically Estonian problems and that realism was not her cup of tea. She found an escape in history, which allowed her to use dramatic plots and legends of the past offering timeless themes such as forbidden love, fatal passion, and death, well fitting the romantic genre of prose ballad. At the same time, autobiographical facts as well as reflections of contemporary social conditions and ideas remain an important part of her work. The oeuvre of Aino Kallas stands out on the background of Estonian historical narrative, offering a foretaste of the boom of historical fiction due in the mid-1930s, yet avoiding the themes pregnant with a national approach and ideology. Nevertheless, in 1935 a play of hers, despite following a classical example, caused a sharp conflict, as its plot was placed in the time of the 14th-century popular uprising in Estonia. The resentment rooted in national traumas resembled part of the Estonian response to the „Purge” by Sofi Oksanen. Still, the avoidance of social, national and political themes has protected Aino Kallas’s oeuvre from aging. Also, her archaistic usage, imitating old chronicles, which has been mediated to the Estonian reader by Friedebert Tuglas, has a fresh appeal. There is reason to believe that the works of Aino Kallas and her archaistic style have influenced the brilliant Estonian historical novelist Jaan Kross.