Olavi Paavolainen

Olavi Paavolainen

Olavi Paavolainen (1903 - 1964) was a Finnish essayist, journalist, travel book writer, and poet. He often went under the pseudonym of Olavi Lauri. Paavolainen was the central figure of the literary group Tulenkantajat (The Flame Bearers) and one of the most influential literary opinion leaders between the two World wars in Finland. He represented liberal and Europe oriented views of culture and had an eclectic eye for new ideas.

In the late 1920s Paavolainen praised urban life, technology, and roaring cars in his works centering around modernism as the Italian Futurist poet F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) had done two decades earlier. In the 1930s and 1940s he published a number of works that controversially criticised the members of the Nazi cabinet in Germany and later the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.


Early life

Olavi Paavolainen was born in Kivennapa, Carelia, in Russian Finland in 1903. Paavolainen descended from a family of civil servants and soldiers. His father, Pietari (Pekka) Paavolainen, was a lawyer and Member of Parliament and his mother was named Alice Laura (Löfgrén). In 1914, he moved to Helsinki where he started to write poems already at the age of twelve. He later studied aesthetics and literature at the University of Helsinki from 1921 to 1925, but without graduating. While studying at the university, Paavolainen already started to publish critics and poems.

The young poet Katri Vala, whose first book appeared in 1924, was instrumental in encouraging Paavolainen in his choice of literary career. In the same year Paavolainen contributed to the anthology Nuoret runoilijat I (young poets) under the pseudonym Olavi Lauri, which he used some years. During this early period, Paavolainen was interested in nudism, and he deemed the works of Comtesse de Noailles important for his development. In his letters to Vala, Paavolainen also expressed his interest in fine suits, and mocked himself as a dandy. However he was heterosexual, particularly attracted to older powerful women, and among his friends was the notorious Minna Craucher, who had contacts to the extremist right-wing Lapua movement. Craucher was murdered in 1932.

Career as an essayist and poet

Late 1920s

In 1927 he traveled to Paris and wrote his impressions to the magazine Ylioppilaslehti, edited by Urho Kekkonen. His first book, Valtatiet (Highways), cowritten with Mika Waltari was published in 1928, a poem which was a youthful manifest of machine romanticism. The poet speeds through the countries of Europe in his red Fiat car, which explodes into a star over the Sahara Desert.

Valtatiet, inspired by Marinetti's automobilism and Futurist manifestos, was followed in 1929 by a concoction of essays, Nykyaikaa Etsimässä (In search of modern time) which centers on the modernization of Europe after the atrocities of World War I. During this period, 1928-29, he also served in the Finnish Army. When the writer Pentti Haanpää attacked the army in his book Kenttä ja kasarmi (1928), Paavolainen considered its views on military life exaggerated and malicious.


In 1930 Paavolainen had become for a short time the editor of the magazine Tulenkantajat, but he was encountering some financial difficulty, and as a freelance writer he had no regular income. In the conservative atmosphere of the 1930s Paavolainen felt himself personally lonely. He made a journey to England in 1932, but did not have the energy to write the travel book which his publisher expected. In 1930 his father died, and Paavolainen confessed to experiencing an Oedipal dream in which from that point on he became a believer in Freud.

In the early 1930s Paavolainen discontent with the socio-economic backwardness of Finland declared it was time to "give voice to the new era of speed, mechanization, cosmopolitanism, collectivism, and the European experience." His next book, Keulakuvat, a collection of poetry, appeared in 1932, and Suursiivous the same year.

From 1933 to 1934 Paavolainen worked at an advertising agency in Helsinki, and then in 1935 in Turku as the advertising manager of a clothing company, always being interested in elegant fashion. Later in the fall of 1935 he resigned and returned to Helsinki without any work. In 1936 he made a journey to Nazi Germany, depicting his critical impressions in the travel book Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana :

On vanha totuus, että uskonkiihko ei siedä leikinlaskua. Nuoret natsit, jotka tavallisissa oloissa olivat niin iloisia, välittömiä ja suuria humoristeja, muuttuivat haudanvakaviksi kuin katujamunkit puheen kääntyessä kansallissosialistisiin uskonkappaleisiin." (from Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana, 1936)

Whilst in Germany, Paavolainen met Nazi politicians, writers, young enthusiasts, and intellectuals and attended an important political meeting where Joseph Goebbels makes a speech. The experience was ironically documented in the Kolkannen book:

This small man is all nerves and brain - heart and soul are missing. His vanity is obvious.
Paavolainen in reference to Joseph Goebbels in Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana, 1936

Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana however was a major success and but right wing radicals, who drew inspiration from Nazism, reviewed it objectively.

With the financial assistance of the publishing company Gummerus, Paavolainen was able to travel to South America in 1937, and gave the account of his experiences in Lahto Ja Loitsu in 1938. One of his experiences in a giant brothel in downtown Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, was covered in the book expressing disdain and disgust of the influence of European culture. Shortly before the Winter War, in 1939, he also travelled in the Soviet Union and greatly admired Stalin's modernism in the city.

In the late 1930s Paavolainen had a close relationship with the writer Helvi Hämäläinen; she was the only woman, "who dared to leave him", as Paavolainen later said and they separated in 1941.


During the Second World War Paavolainen was posted to Mikkeli in eastern Finland

During World War II Paavolainen served at the Information Department of the Headquarters. He was posted after the outbreak of the Winter War to Mikkeli in eastern Finland, as adjutant to an infantry general and visited Vienola in 1944. His childhood home with its famous palm tree room was destroyed. It was the last time he saw his place of birth. Paavolainen's critical World War II diary Synkkä Yksinpuhelu which was published in 1946, was attacked domestically because of its opposition and surmounted opinions of the war between Finland and the Soviet Union, and hidden anticipation of the defeat in the early war years. When Paavolainen's travel book from Germany were more or less enthusiastic, now he had his own reservations about the Finland's alliance with Nazi Germany. After the major criticism in Finland, Paavolainen made the decision to publish no more books and retreated. In 1945 Paavolainen married journalist Sirkka-Liisa Virtamo; but the marriage ended officially eight years later in 1953.

1947-:A change in direction

In 1947 was appointed as director of theatre department of the Finnish Broadcasting Radio by noted writer Hella Wuolijoki

In 1947 Paavolainen changed direction and was appointed as director of theatre department of the Finnish Broadcasting Radio by his acquaintance Hella Wuolijoki, who was dismissed in 1949. Under Paavolainen, who reluctantly accepted the work, the radio theatre programs gained a wide audience. In the mid to late 1950s he had a close relationship with Hertta Kuusinen, the politician and parliament member, daughter of Otto Ville Kuusinen, who was one of the top leaders of Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

During his last years Paavolainen often complained that he felt exhausted and drank heavily, and occasionally didn't bother to go to work, and nostalgically planned to write the history of Tulenkantajat.

In 1960 Paavolainen received the coveted Eino Leino award personally from President Urho Kekkonen congratulated him, calling him a "man pushed into oblivion".

Olavi Paavolainen died on August 19, 1964 at his home in Helsinki.

Aftermath and legacy

In 1974 Paavolainen's friend Matti Kurjensaari published a vivid portrait on him.[1] The account encountered significant objection from Paavolainen's heirs, a cold and callous affair which exhausted Kurjensaari to the point that he almost didn't publish it. The work, despite his efforts was also coldly received. by critics. In 1991 Jaakko Paavolainen's official biography was published this time with greater acknowledgment and reception, giving much new information about the childhood and youth of the author.


  • Valtatiet, 1928 (Mika Waltarin kanssa)
  • Nykyaikaa etsimässä, 1929
  • Keulakuvat, 1932
  • Suursiivous eli kirjallisessa lastenkamarissa, 1932
  • Kolmannen valtakunnan vieraana, 1936
  • Lähtö ja loitsu, 1937
  • Risti ja hakaristi, 1938
  • Karjala - Muistojen maa, 1940 (toim.)
  • Rakas entinen Karjala, 1942 (toim.)
  • Synkkä yksinpuhelu I–II, 1946


  1. ^ Kurjensaari, Matti (1975). Loistava Olavi Paavolainen: henkilö- ja ajankuva. Tammi. ISBN 9513027538. 

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