Tammsaare noored naishinged [Young Souls of Tammsaare: Modelling Women’s Characters]

Elo Lindsalu


This article will examine the female characters in the short stories of the early period (1908–1917) of the Grand Old Man of Estonian literature, Anton Hansen Tammsaare (AHT). The short stories “Long steps”, “Young souls”, “Over the border”, “Shades” and “Fly” have been called psychological, urban or student stories. The main aim of this article is to reveal the new understandings which were brought by AHT into the literary discourse of his time on women. This article also aims to start a discussion with earlier Tammsaare study, by att empting to amend previous arguments. Analysis of these short stories has supported the hypothesis that the female characters of AHT urban stories are not stereotypical or misogynistic, but quite modern for their time. Even though Sonja in “Shades” can be mostly viewed as a femme fragile, the discourse of decadence, which spread in 19th- and 20th-century Western Europe, is not decisive in the characters in Tammsaare’s earlier work, which was more infl uenced by the writer’s own youthful experiences. It is evident that the female characters of AHT are versatile and ambivalent: in his child-women, one can also fi nd features of the madonna, muse or Femme émancipée, and they develop accordingly in these diff erent directions. Overall, AHT’s child-women do not correspond to the negative defi nition of femme-enfant which they adhere to at the start, because the characters outgrow their male partners ethically and/or sophistically. The author of this article states that the child-woman is AHT’s favourite character, because of the opportunity to play with her in such a way that everything seems real. AHT gives one of his fi rst thorough insights into the mind and emotional life of a young woman in the character Tiksi in his story “Fly”. In polemisizing on the question of females, AHT entered into a dialogue with his contemporary, the great realist Eduard Vilde: AHT’s most emancipated female character, Hedvig, is a parallel and expansion to Vilde’s character in the story “Against the Stinger” (1898). Vilde’s character resembles the new woman known from English and Scandinavian literature, an educated woman who is psychologically and fi nancially independent. It is remarkable that the new woman brings with her a new ethics, based on searching for her own happiness, rather than on outdated patriarchal mores.


women’s emancipation and roles in Estonian society at the beginning of the 20th century, aspirations of women’s education, women characters, sexual ethics, child-woman, femme fragile, new woman

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ISSN 2504-6616 (print/trükis)

ISSN 2504-6624 (online/võrguväljaanne)