Tove Jansson: Work and Love, by Tuula Karjalainen

Review published on November 21, 2014. Reviewed by Kirsty Hewitt

The best part of Tove Jansson’s centenary celebrations is, for me, the plethora of new books released, which showcase both her own work and her life. The second biography of Jansson, written by Finnish art historian Tuula Karjalainen, is released on the 27th of November by Particular Books, and follows Boel Westin’s work, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words, which was released in January. Whilst the titles of both books are similar, it is Karjalainen’s which stands out, and which, I feel, provides the best insight into Jansson’s work.

Jansson was born in Paris in 1914, and moved to Finland in her early childhood. The blurb of Tove Jansson: Work and Love states that she ‘led a long, colourful and productive life, shaped by the political, social and cultural landscape of 20th-century Finland’. The blurb of the book says, quite rightly, that Karjalainen has conjured up ‘a vivid picture of Jansson’s extraordinary life’. Rather than focus solely on Jansson’s literary output, as Westin’s work largely does, Karjalainen has taken into account her writing and artwork in equal measure: ‘Her life’s work is enormous. It should really be discussed in the plural, because she had several careers – as an author of fairytales, as an illustrator, painter, writer, stage designer, dramaturge, poet, political caricaturist and cartoonist’. Much of Tove Jansson: Work and Love has been built around the ‘decades of personal correspondence and journals’ which she was able to examine following Jansson’s death in 2001.

Tove Jansson: Work and Love was first published in Finland last year. In her book, Karjalainen begins with a lovely section entitled ‘To the Reader’, which speaks of the early days of the relationship between Tove’s parents, Signe and Viktor. She goes on to write about the things which she has personally gained from peering into Jansson’s life: ‘Stepping in… has been a rich and wonderful experience, though I had constantly to be aware that I might not necessarily be welcome. Tove has been the subject of biographies, studies and dissertations written from many different points of view. She permitted it during her lifetime, despite not always being very interested’. The structure of the book is interesting, and certainly works well; it hovers somewhere between being a chronological and thematic account, Karjalainen believing that these elements are of equal importance in such a biography.

Tove Jansson: Work and Love is incredibly well written, and such care has been given to its translation. Lovely photographs and beautiful specimens of Jansson’s art, all in beautiful colour, have been interspersed throughout. Karjalainen adds new information and thoughtful musings to the impression previously given of Jansson’s life and work. Quotes have been included from those who knew her best, and who have devoted time to examining her life. Karjalainen has even given such thought to the book’s title; it is based upon Tove’s ex libris motto, ‘Laborare et Amare’, the two elements of paramount importance for her.

It is clear throughout that Karjalainen has such respect for Jansson and her work, and sums her up perfectly in the following paragraph: ‘Tove’s life was fascinating. She challenged conventional ways of thinking and moral rules in a country where old prejudices, especially on the subject of sexual behaviour, maintained a strict hold… She influenced the values and attitudes of her time, but was no flag-bearer – instead, she was a quiet person who remained uncompromising in her own life choices’.

Tove Jansson: Work and Love is a sheer joy for all of Tove’s admirers; it is in depth, compassionate, far-reaching and absolutely stunning. The book itself is absolutely beautiful, and its gloriously colourful back and spine are sure to delight every Moomin fan.

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