„Vana tuuletallaja”: August Kitzbergi mälestused eesti autobiograafia tüvitekstina. ”The Windhover in Youth and Age”: August Kitzberg and the Founding Texts of Estonian Autobiography

Tiina Ann Kirss

Abstract


In 1924, renowned Estonian author August Kitzberg (1855-1927), whose “village tales”, plays, and journalistic pieces had been favourite reading material among the people for some 50 years, published his autobiography, entitled Ühe vana “tuuletallaja” noorpõlve mälestused (”An Old Windhover’s Memories of Youth”). Ostensibly, as Kitzberg claims in his foreword, the text was never meant to be published, and constituted his attempt, in 1916, to write “something like a family chronicle”. Compositionally heteroclite, Kitzberg’s life story is a sampling of a wide range of narrative strategies and styles, always hovering on the borders of written and oral discourse and not pretending to achieve stringent coherence. This is by no means to deny the text its “artfulness”: its very rusticality and simplicity is an effective ruse. Skilfully manoeuvring a ”tailor’s needle,” the author threads the piecework of his own life story into the heftier canvas of “History” (recalling the subtitle of Märt Mitt’s life story from the 1870s). More importantly, Kitzberg’s text is authored by a consummate journalist who astutely and deliberately makes visible broader dynamics driving social and cultural history in Estonia in the second half of the 19th century. ”The windhover” as autobiographical persona thus complements the public figure of the author, who had made his mark in the world of Estonian letters through his journalism, literary criticism, and theatre, as well as his original prose. In this paper I argue that Kitzberg’s autobiography is a foundation text of a ”national” autobiographical canon, and explore the implications of that statement. First, Kitzberg’s “Windhover” offered a formal “sampler” for narrative techniques at the threshold of oral and written culture. Also, the text makes visible models for telling a life: behind Kitzberg’s text one senses his own reading culture, which includes autobiographical texts and essays, by Baltic Germans. As explained in the foreword, the title of the memoir alludes to Wilhelm von Kügelgen’s “Jugenderinnerungen eines alten Mannes.” Second, as ethnographer Ilmar Talve has pointed out, Kitzberg’s text stands in for a local ethnography, eloquent about Baltic-German/peasant relations, technological innovation, and the harbingers of modernization. The third issue analysed in the article is the literary and cultural meaning of the trope of “windhover”, in folk parlance a metaphor for the “do-nothing”, the opposite of the hard-working, financially enterprising, successful new farm owners who began purchasing homesteads in the 1870s. Kitzberg’s memoir is built around the legitimate alternative self-image of the “windhover”, whose work is not in the fields, but rather in the world of printed books and literate culture, on the way from the village to the city.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v4i5-6.517

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