Jutustuse ja romaani vahel: Elisabeth Aspe linn. Between a story and a novel : Elisabeth Aspe’ s town


  • Elle-Mari Talivee Underi ja Tuglase Kirjanduskeskus Tallinna Ülikool




The following article analyses the description of towns in the short novels of Elisabeth Aspe: Kasuõde (Stepsister, 1887), Ennosaare Ain (Ain From Ennosaare Farm, 1888), Anna Dorothea (1891) and Aastate pärast (After Many Years, 1910). Aspe (1860–1927), one of the first Estonian female writers and an early realist, lived on the town border of Pärnu in south-west Estonia. During this historically interesting period, towns grew rapidly, but the ideology initiated by the national awakening movement concentrated on the idea of a nation being tightly bound to the countryside. Aspe’s works are like a litmus test of her time, and were influenced by German authors (Ottilie Wildermuth, W. Heimburg and Eugenie Marlitt), as well as by the Estonian national awakening period. Her first (epistolary) novel is based on a pure opposition between the city and the country; in her later novels, the emphasis has changed: the contrasts are suddenly more ambivalent. One possible explanation is the impelling emergence of city thematics, and the early city novel replacing the village story – a process that began in Estonian literature at that time – resulting in a more complicated picture than a simple black-and-white opposition. This was a period of mapping, describing and exploring the townscape with curiosity and eagerness; also, it was a period of warning social criticism. For example, Eduard Vilde wrote a novel about factories consuming their workers, and men from country villages coming to a town. It was also a time of a fight for Estonia’s own town space, persuading the Estonian reader that he/she had the same right to live in towns, and even to govern towns, as the existing upper classes from other nationalities. In Ain From Ennosaare Farm, the protagonist has a double Estonian- German identity, belonging simultaneously to the town and to the countryside; finally, he acknowledges his ethnic origin. Throughout Aspe’s novels, the word “city” has a controversial meaning. However, the importance of the city does not preclude the importance of other landscape details in her work. Aspe’s novels do not depict the anticipated problems of the city as an industrial monster destroying the health of workers; in fact, the word factory is mentioned only once, and the novels reflect the strong inviting glow around towns. In her novels, the cityscape changes pivotally, from a medieval burg into an open space. Aspe describes two cityscapes in parallel: first, a very visual, safe and protected space with walls, where the inner safety is protected from outsiders, and then an already changed, open world with its hazards. Her characters are well aware of the changing town structure: the disappearance of walls and gates, and the loss of the borders of the previous world, which divided the world into the (free) townspeople and the peasants, the wild and the civilized. The importance of moving into cities is also anticipated in the level of language as a keyword of the era. Aspe’s novels may also be seen as momentary still-lifes during the final outbreak of city-life: fundamental changes had already taken place, but their direction was uncertain. The vision of the urban future might also have been illuminated by the attraction of other cities Aspe mentions by name, but which she had not herself had a chance to visit: for example, she describes Moscow, the old capital of the Russian emperors, as an old painting of a holy city. For closer examination of Aspe's short novels, the theoretical works of Mikhail Bakhtin, Franco Moretti and Yuri Lotman were used; the language-based survey was carried out by means of building a corpus of three novels (Stepsister, Ain From Ennosaare Farm and After Many Years) digitalized by the Estonian Literary Museum and using computer-assisted corpus-based analysis.


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