Karl Ristikivi Vahemere-ruum / Karl Ristikivi’s Mediterranean space


  • Brita Melts University of Tartu




Karl Ristikivi, Mediterranean countries, islands, autobiography, literary mindscape (Umwelt)


Karl Ristikivi (1912–1977) was a well-travelled Estonian writer whose imaginative spatial images are based equally on landscapes he actually experienced and on journeys he perhaps traced on a map with his finger and followed in his imagination. After 1956, Mediterranean countries became his most frequent travel destinations and the most significant settings of his works, starting with the first of his historical novels, The Burning Flag (1961), the landscapes of which were based more or less on his personal experiences. This article focuses on the Mediterranean landscapes of Ristikivi’s life and works in order to discover the links between his personal and his literary journeys; the interlacing – even clashing – of actual and imagined landscape experiences; as well as the writer’s fictionalized intellectual epiphanies. I focus first on the Greek and Italian landscape, particularly the islands (Capri, Sicily, Corfu, Rhodes, Crete and Mallorca), and thereafter on people and characters – friends made on trips and Greeks portrayed in his novels. Third, I briefly touch on Ristikivi’s Arcadia motif, both mythical and actual. Comparing literary and autobiographical experiences documented in journals and letters reveals how the spatial interconnections that Ristikivi actually experienced and then echoed in his literature are intertwined perceptively in a unified Mediterranean space: autobiographical experiences become part of literary journeys, mental maps supplement actual geography, and images are backed by physically experienced spaces. This could also be interpreted as the writer’s imaginary self-centred world, a literary mindscape, which is based on actual perceived physical environments and geographical landscapes, but which is not identical to firsthand reality but rather its personal interpretation; a conscious and selective version of physical surroundings. In addition to making landscape connections, Ristikivi creatively meshes actual people (Greek friends) and fictional stereotypes (secondary characters in his novels) in this self-centred world that unites autobiographical and creative spaces. In his novels, Ristikivi introduces environments and details infused with intimate significance, and records precisely those landscapes, journeys and characters that meant something to him and his spirituality. The carefully constructed interweaving of landscapes based on Ristikivi’s autobiographical circumstances are a sign that the writer envisaged the Mediterranean countries as a unified space. In particular the Greek and Italian landscape-related, emotional, temporal and perceived experiences enable readers to view in Ristikivi’s Mediterranean space the writer’s Umwelt, his literary mindscape that is embodied in his work, as an analogy of the real landscape. 


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